All posts tagged ‘jetpack’

File Under: APIs, Browsers

Jetpack Edges Closer to a Starring Role in Firefox

Mozilla Labs has announced an update to its Jetpack extensions system that makes it easier for developers to write browser add-ons that more closely interact with a person’s computer desktop.

The new Jetpack SDK is version 0.7. It is quickly reaching the level of maturity required for it to become a standard feature in Firefox.

Jetpack is a new extensions framework for Mozilla’s browser designed to offer developers an easier, faster way to build browser add-ons using common web development tools like HTML, CSS and JavaScript. The Jetpack extension framework will not replace Firefox’s existing framework, which uses heavier code. But Mozilla expects to see many developers switch to the new framework once it’s complete.

While Jetpack was innovative when Mozilla first announced it, Google has since added an extension system to its Chrome browser that works on the same principles as Jetpack — using web-based tools like HTML and CSS. More recently Apple joined the fray by adding a similar extensions system to Safari 5.

Firefox’s lightweight extension framework has spent a long time in development. Jetpack graduated from Mozilla Labs (though the project is still hosted there) in March of 2010, but, while there was some speculation that Jetpack might end up in Firefox 4, that appears unlikely.

Still, the developer SDK is now at version 0.7 which brings three new APIs for developers to test. The panel API creates floating modal popups that appear on top of web content and browser chrome and persist until dismissed by users or programs. There’s also a clipboard API for interacting with the OSes clipboard and a notifications API which mimics the look of Growl to display messages to the user.

The Jetpack roadmap calls for another SDK release near the end of September and then Jetpack should hit 1.0 sometime in the fourth quarter of 2010. Once Jetpack 1.0 is stable look for it to begin working its way into Firefox.

In the mean time, if you’d like to test out Jetpack and see what the fuss is about just install the Jetpack add-on, which allows Jetpack to work within current version of Firefox. Yes, it’s a little weird, but for now Jetpack is an add-on that you use to install add-ons.

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File Under: Browsers, JavaScript

Latest Update Makes JetPack Add-ons More Powerful

Mozilla Labs has announced the release of JetPack 0.8, an update to its new, lightweight extensions framework for Firefox. Jetpack lets people use common web tools like HTML, CSS and JavaScript to build Firefox add-ons.

The latest release of JetPack brings two new APIs in the fold; the Toolbar API, which lets JetPack developers place custom buttons and controls in the Firefox UI much like traditional add-ons can do, and a new Places API, which allows JetPack add-ons to interact with Firefox’s history and bookmarking tools.

Together with the existing APIs, JetPack is starting to look like a much more capable platform for add-ons developers. While JetPack will never be able to duplicate all the functionality of the existing Firefox add-ons system, Mozilla’s plan is migrate as many developers and add-ons as possible to JetPack without eliminating the existing platform.

JetPack offers several advantages over traditional add-ons, both for developers and users. Developers get to use common web building tools like HTML, CSS and JavaScript, whereas traditional Firefox add-ons generally require knowledge of XUL markup. Users can install JetPack add-ons without restarting their browser, and the lightweight add-ons usually have less of an impact on browser performance.

Eventually, Mozilla plans to incorporate JetPack into Firefox release, most likely Firefox 4.0, due at the end of next year, though there is some chance JetPack could be part of the planned upgrades between now and then. For now though, interested developers can grab the JetPack add-on that allows JetPack to work within current version of Firefox.

While JetPack was innovative when Mozilla first announced it, Google has since added an extension system to its Chrome browser that works on the same principles as JetPack — using web-based tools like HTML and CSS. It would be nice if Chrome extensions would work with JetPack and vice versa, but differences between the underlying browsers make such compatibility unlikely.

Jetpack is still an experimental Labs project and may have some bugs, but if you’d like to take some JetPacks for a spin, head over to the Labs website, install the add-on and then browse the available JetPack extensions.

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File Under: Browsers, Software

Firefox Without Add-ons? Say it Ain’t So

If you want to know what a chorus of angry Firefox users sounds like, just make them think you’re taking away their browser add-ons.

A blog post from Mozilla’s Mike Connor, one of the company’s key browser developers, made waves Saturday and Sunday in the Firefox world for suggesting that scenario. While Connor didn’t explicitly say it would happen, his words led many readers to assume the company was considering abandoning the current Firefox add-on ecosystem in favor of JetPack-based add-ons

We asked Mozilla about this possibility and the representative we spoke to insists it’s certainly not the case. Connor’s post has been updated and much of the hubbub has settled down, but the post did spark an important discussion about browser add-ons and the relationships users have with them.

Connor’s post outlined a few lines of thought that have been going on behind the scenes among Firefox developers, as they have been strategizing about the browser’s future.

Exactly what Connor intended to say is still a little unclear. The initial post used phrases like “deprecating the old systems” and suggested that Mozilla would be “discriminating against the old systems” — that is, the current Firefox add-on ecosystem we all know and love — as it moves forward with its software releases.It certainly sounded like somebody at Mozilla was talking about killing off add-ons as we know them and replacing them with the still-beta JetPack add-on system and the Personas theming system. JetPack is Mozilla’s platform for creating simple add-ons that manipulate web page elements and UI elements within the browser’s skin, much like Greasemonkey scripts or the type of DOM-futzing that Chrome’s extension system allows. Personas, Mozilla’s theme manager, allows users to alter the look of the browser by installing a visual theme with one click.

Once a rather vocal community began reacting to the post (read the comments) Conner added an update that backpedaled a bit, but still concluded that, while the plan might be not be “set in stone,” Mozilla does intend to move in that direction. When he said that Mozilla was “discriminating against the old systems,” and added “I am personally at peace with that,” Conner was essentially throwing down the geek gauntlet, whether he meant to or not.

To understand why those statements caused an uproar, you must first understand that, as it stands, JetPack is full-fledged Firefox add-ons what Mini Me is to Dr. Evil — a cute but much less powerful sidekick.

JetPack makes it simple to build simple things, but in its current incarnation it could hardly produce a NoScript, an AdBlock Plus or any of the other popular, powerful Firefox extensions.

Presumably, long before Mozilla makes an attempt to officially migrate from the current system to the JetPack system, the company isn’t likely to turn its back on the over 5,000 add-ons currently shipping for Firefox.

But Conner’s post had an element of immediacy to it and that quickly brought out the die-hard Firefox add-on fans writing “over my dead body” and threatening to abandon Firefox in favor of Google Chrome (ironically, when we recently critiqued Chrome’s current add-on plan, we did so because it fails to offer developers exactly the tools that Conner is suggesting Mozilla might eventually take away).

Why would Mozilla want to limit developers? Well, the truth is that’s not at all what JetPack is aiming to do.

In fact, the JetPack program is an attempt to make developers’ lives easier. JetPack offers niceties like stable APIs (so new versions of Firefox won’t break all your add-ons), automatic updates, sandboxed add-ons for a more secure browser and process isolation so add-ons won’t crash Firefox.

But of course simplicity comes with a price, and this is where Conner runs afoul of the nerds.

To many, the power of Firefox is precisely in its infinite extensibility. Does infinite power bring infinite possibilities for problems? Yes, but the tradeoff is worth it, so say Firefox’s die-hard add-on users.

It’s precisely the fact that users can do whatever they want within the browser that has elevated Firefox to where it is today. Outside developers have been able to push the envelope the web browser’s capabilities, extending it to do things that even the founders of Mozilla would likely never have imagined.

The real issue might simply be whether or not Mozilla recognizes this. Writing about the reasons why Mozilla wants to eventually switch to JetPack-based add-ons Conner talks about updates and problems with add-ons. “We already know from our users,” he writes, “that incompatible add-ons are a significant factor in opting out of updates.”

The message here is not that the add-on system needs to be changed so that people will have a cleaner upgrade path for their browser, but that the browser is irrelevant and the add-ons are what matter.

Firefox, Chrome and Safari routinely swap the top spot in speed tests, and the browsers match each other pretty closely in feature breakdowns, including Firefox’s once-unique core strength — support for the latest web standards.

But there is one huge difference that sets Firefox apart — the ability to infinitely extend it through add-ons. Take away the full power of add-ons and Firefox is just another browser. It might be easier to keep up-to-date since you wouldn’t have to worry about compatibility, but there wouldn’t be anything too special about it, functionality wise.

However, despite some perhaps poor wording in Conner’s post, Mozilla is not about to abandon traditional add-ons. Will many developers chose to port their add-ons to the JetPack system? We hope so. It makes it much easier to develop and maintain simple add-ons. But for the more powerful add-ons, Mozilla will likely leave existing frameworks in place for some time.

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File Under: Browsers

Mozilla’s JetPack Prepares to Take On Chrome Extensions

Mozilla Labs has announced the release of JetPack 0.7, an update to the new extensions framework for Firefox. It lets people use common web development tools like HTML, CSS and JavaScript to build browser add-ons.

Eventually, Mozilla plans to incorporate JetPack into a future Firefox release. JetPack will most likely make its way into Firefox 3.7, which is due during summer 2010, or Firefox 4.0, due at the end of next year. At the moment, however, interested developers can grab the JetPack add-on that allows JetPack to work within current version of Firefox. Yes, for now JetPack is an add-on for installing add-ons.

JetPack is designed to make it easy for anyone with basic web developer skills to build Firefox extensions. While JetPack was innovative when Mozilla first announced it, Google has since added an extension system to its Chrome browser that works on the same principles as JetPack — using web-based tools like HTML and CSS. It would be nice if Chrome extensions would work with JetPack and vice versa, but differences between the underlying browsers make such compatibility unlikely.

Jetpack is still an experimental Labs project, but the 0.7 release sees JetPack moving closer to a stable project. Among the new features in this release are a unified first-run API that explains JetPack for new users, as well as some improvements to UI elements like status-bar widgets. The latest version also restores the debugging features available through Firebug.

There are also quite a few more working JetPack extensions available than last time we checked in with JetPack. the new extensions include a very handy tool for web developers: CSS Refresh can refresh the CSS on a page without reloading the whole page.

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File Under: Browsers, Software

Jetpack Add-ons for Firefox Get Closer to Blast Off

Mozilla Labs has released a new version of Jetpack, its system for extending Firefox using common web tools like HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Designed to simplify the process of building Firefox Add-ons, Jetpack is still an experimental Labs project, but the latest release sees Jetpack moving closer to prime time.

While Jetpack is still very much a nascent project, there’s considerable promise in even these early release. If Jetpack succeeds in its goal of making add-ons easier to develop it will mean even more developers and in turn even more add-ons for Firefox users to enjoy.

Jetpack was just launched back in May, but there’s already a sizable collection of Jetpack add-ons capable of everything from e-mail notifications to a full-fledged image editor that can grab and edit any image on the web.

Developers interested in working with Jetpack can grab the latest release from the Mozilla Labs site. The new release, Jetpack 0.6, adds a couple of new APIs — a secure preferences system and a way for Jetpack add-ons to add and modify Firefox menus.

The menu mod functionality in the new API means you can use simple JavaScript commands to add items to, for example, Firefox’s right-click context menu, which brings Jetpack much closer to the capabilities of full-fledged Firefox add-ons.

From a user’s point of view the nice thing about JetPack add-ons are their simplicity — there’s no need to restart Firefox when installing JetPack add-ons, and JetPack add-ons will be compatible across multiple versions of Firefox. Because the tools JetPack offers — namely the various APIs — are baked into Firefox, subsequent browser updates won’t affect the JetPack add-ons.

For an overview of what you can do with the new Jetpack APIs, check out the following video. Aza Raskin, head of user experience at Mozilla, shows off some of the new possibilities for Jetpack:

Jetpack Menu API Tutorial from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

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