Firefox owes much of its success to add-ons. There are thousands of third-party extensions and 1.5 million are downloaded every day. Firebug is an essential tool for web developers and I use around a dozen other add-ons which make life a little more bearable.
Unfortunately, some unscrupulous software vendors have capitalized on Firefox’s extensions system. Third-party applications often bundle sneaky add-ons which are hidden within installation settings or installed without the user’s consent. Many vendors claim their add-on is a browsing enhancement (similarly, many will claim their OS boot-time processes aid the user’s experience). The fact remains that few of these add-ons are genuinely useful; many offer poor functionality, clutter the interface, hog memory and increase start-up times.
It’s not only software from dubious vendors either. You’ll find add-ons hiding in products from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Oracle, Nokia, and most anti-virus companies. Several are Mozilla’s competitors — will those companies care if a Firefox add-on is rigorously tested, slow, unstable, or unreliable? In the worse cases, add-ons have an adverse effect on security, are rarely updated or prevent uninstallation.
Mozilla has been on the receiving end of harsh criticism regarding Firefox’s speed. While some is justified, it often comes from users running numerous add-ons which they didn’t necessarily authorize. Finally, Mozilla has decided to rectify the situation…
Browser Upgrade Opt-in
When a user upgrades to a version of Firefox with add-on blocking, they’ll be presented with a list of installed add-ons. Those not previously authorized by the user will be disabled by default:
A confirmation dialog will summarize the user’s choices.
Add-On Opt-in will Become Essential
On start-up, Firefox will disable all new add-ons which were not previously authorized by the user. To enable the functionality, the user must tick the confirmation box:
Mozilla’s Add-Ons blog states:
We understand that there are legitimate use cases for some third-party add-on installations, and that those developers have done the right thing by asking users to opt in to the add-on, following our performance best practices, and providing a good user experience. Unfortunately, the extent of unwanted add-ons installed through these methods has caused us to take action, but we’re confident that users who truly want such add-ons to be installed will opt in when Firefox prompts them.
It’s about time. To be fair, Mozilla could not have foreseen the success of add-ons or how they would be hijacked, but this feature should have been added years ago.
Add-on blocking will appear in Firefox 8.0. We’re only at version 5, but Mozilla’s rapid update schedule means it should appear during early 2012.
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.