Mozilla has issued an official statement following several days of rumor and speculation concerning Firefox’s XUL extensions. The articles suggested the current system would be scrapped and replaced by JetPack — meaning that thousands of add-ons would disappear overnight.
I’m not sure how the stories started. There’s possibly some confusion regarding the imminent release of Firefox 3.6 which will lock out rogue add-ons. Mozilla will be introducing “component directory lockdown” to prevent third-party developers sneaking useful extensions into the browser (yes Microsoft, Sun and Nokia — I’m looking at you!) Whatever the reason, the story gained its own momentum and Firefox users were horrified to hear they’d be losing their favorite add-ons.
Is JetPack the future?
The Mozilla statement makes it clear that XUL add-ons have been retained. The JetPack add-ons system has been in development for around a year and offers an evolutionary step which should make extensions easier to write, simpler to distribute, and less likely to cause speed or security issues.
In June 2009 I asked Nick Nguyen, Mozilla’s Add-Ons Director, whether JetPack would replace the XUL add-ons system. He responded:
Just as Ubiquity has been embraced by the Mozilla community, Jetpack is an experimental platform which will be driven by members of the community as well as Mozilla Labs. Because we’re trying things that haven’t been done before, we expect some things to be successful and other things to need revisions. This is much easier and safer to do on a new experimental platform than it is on the existing one, so we’ll continue to evolve both Jetpack and XUL based extensions.
We view Jetpack as complementary to the existing platform — some things we learn from Jetpack may migrate into the existing platform or Jetpack may continue to evolve as a separate path to rapid extension development.
The Mozilla statement adds:
Jetpack tries to make everything about Add-ons easier, from how they’re developed to how they’re installed and managed. If Jetpack becomes just as functional and powerful as the existing system, then we’ll talk about whether migrating all extensions to the new platform makes sense. It’s far too early to have that discussion in earnest now, and to be clear, no decision has been made about deprecating the existing system.
Developers should adopt Jetpack because they want to — not because they have to — and we’re months away from the point where Jetpack serves as a viable alternative for writing Firefox extensions.
Firefox owes much of its remarkable success to add-ons which extend the basic functionality. Many developers and users are unwilling to switch to another browser because their favorite add-on is unavailable on that platform. Don’t believe the rumors … Mozilla is not likely to abandon XUL extensions any time soon!
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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.