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Mozilla Denies Ditching Add-Ons for JetPack

By Craig Buckler

Mozilla JetpackMozilla 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!

  • starhugger

    “…Firefox 3.6 which will lock out rouge add-ons…” Don’t you mean rogue add-ons? :-)

  • Sean

    I think you meant “rogue” add-ons in your second paragraph, unless the concern is actually over red add-ons. :-) Feel free to delete this comment after correction.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    Whoops! Aren’t spell checkers rubbish.

    It’s been corrected, although many of those add-ons made me see red!

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    There are Jetpack add-ons, and there are XUL add-ons, and I think it highly unlikely that ever the twain will meet. Jetpack appeals to a completely different set of people than “traditional” XUL add-on development, and add-ons produced using Jetpack work in very different ways to do very different things.

    It’s analogous to jQuery compared with traditional JS programming – jQuery fills a niche, but it’s no replacement.

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    Ultimately, there’s no reason why JetPack extensions couldn’t offer the same power and flexibility as the XUL-based add-ons. However, that will take considerable time. For example, JetPack does not yet allow you to create custom dialogs or integrate new options into existing dialogs.

    Some existing add-ons could be converted, but many require a deeper level of integration which would be difficult — if not impossible — to develop at this time. They’re also very different: it won’t necessarily be easy to port existing code.

    I can see JetPack becoming viable within a year or two but, even then, Mozilla would have few reasons to disable the existing system. After all, Firefox is built on XUL; removing that functionality could be difficult.

  • http://fvsch.com Florent V.

    On a totally unrelated note, is there a way the contrast for blockquotes could be enhanced on the blogs? #999 on #FFF is quite uncomfortable for me (no particular vision handicap), and fails accessibility requirements. Normal paragraphs are #555, which is much easier on the eyes.

  • http://codefisher.org/ codefisher

    I had a look into what is provides, and it looks really good. I can see a lot of functionality being provided this way.

    However having said that, I don’t see how I could make any of my extensions work with this in its current form. It looks like it hides too much of the ugly details, and I need them to make what I write work.

    My current list of released extensions are at http://codefisher.org/extensions

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    JetPack does not yet allow you to create custom dialogs

    There’s an understatement! JetPack does not allow you to create any UI components at all – all it can do is add HTML to the status bar, with a proposed ability to add single menu items as well (which may now have been implemented, I don’t know).

    But JetPack is fundamentally different from XUL add-ons, and will never replace them. Even if that were the intention, there’s a staggering amount of stuff missing – never mind a year, it would take a decade or more to even come close. And for what? Why fix something that isn’t broken?

    No reason, and nobody’s trying. JetPack is like Greasemonkey – it serves a niche, but it’s no replacement. And I would be frankly amazed to hear any Mozilla developer say that JetPack is even intended as a replacement, let alone suitable as one.

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