Let me start out by saying that I understand the need for something like WebExtensions. A cross browser extension API will be a great thing for the future of browsers. I understand why Mozilla is doing it. What I take issue with is the belief that existing Firefox only add-on developers will jump at the opportunity to use this new API. As far as I’m concerned, the only add-on developers that will benefit from this new API are Chrome developers who will find it much easier to port their extensions to Firefox.
Most Firefox extension developers do it as a hobby. Typically they have an itch about something in Firefox and that write an extension to scratch it. Then they make that extension available to everyone. Over time we all build up a set of extensions that make Firefox behave the way we (and clearly other people) want it to. (Chris Finke is a great example of this.) Every so often something changes in Firefox that breaks one of our extensions. At that point we have to make a decision; it it worth the time and energy to keep this extension going. Sometimes we keep it going, sometimes we give up (hence the ton of dead extensions on AMO). Luckily most of the time Firefox changes don’t break all our extensions, so we usually can keep going. With e10s coming up though, lots of developers have had to make decisions as to whether or not it is worth it to rewrite and some developers have gone through that pain (and it is pain - a lot of pain).
Now developers are being told in the next one to two years they will have to completely rewrite ALL of their add-ons. What are the odds that these hobby add-on developers are going to do that?
Let’s be honest. Availability of APIs isn’t the difficult part of the discussion. Availability of time and energy to even attempt to rewrite all of our add-ons is the problem. And when you add in the fact that Mozilla hasn’t given add-on developers the marketplace we’ve been promised for years (which Chrome has had since day one), you’ll end up with a lot of developers deciding that it’s simply not worth it.
But let's talk availability of APIs. I'll use two of my extensions as examples. Keyword Search accesses the wrappedJSObject of search submissions in order to manipulate the submission. Will there really be an API for that? Or what about the CCK2? Will there really be APIs that allow me to modify the built-in preferences pages including removing pages or controls? Or what about disabling private browsing? Or removing sync? Or removing access to about:config? I doubt it. There are just too many things that extensions do (most of them pretty obscure) to be able to provide an complete API.
I'll watch what goes on and hope that I'm wrong, but I'm not very optimistic.
I will say this, though. It's a great day to be a Chrome developer.
Ahmed Nefzaoui: It’s not following chrome, it’s called making the web and the web’s content more compatible
It is safe to say, that Firefox will not be Firefox anymore as far as extensions go, but instead will become yet another Chrome-clone.
A quote from a blog post I read about Firefox as a friend is going to die so I wanted to quickly echo an opinion I have off the top my head without being too technical:
I personally don’t see how implementing a common set of APIs or a spec that the rest of the browser vendors agreed on and implemented is turning Firefox into a chrome-clone.
WebExtensions’ concept is by far implemented everywhere else except in Firefox. So implementing that here is just as beneficial as when W3C publishes a spec about Flexbox or WebRTC or CSS Logical Properties (wink wink) and chrome implements that, and then Firefox implements it too: that. is. not. following. chrome, it’s called making the web and the web’s content more compatible, and if we are to sit in a corner and implement our own exclusive stuff we will only become another Microsoft of year 2000 with its ActiveX technology where the only way to have the luxury of accessing its features is if developers built their websites mainly for IE.
For this episode, Richard Milewski and I figured out the syncing issue I’d been having in Episode 9, so I had my head floating in the bottom right corner while I hacked. Now you can see what I do with my face while hacking, if that’s a thing you had been interested in.
I’ve also started mirroring the episodes to YouTube, if YouTube is your choice platform for video consumption.
So, like last week, I was under a bit of time pressure because of a meeting scheduled for 2:30PM (actually the meeting I was supposed to have the week before – it just got postponed), so that gave me 1.5 hours to move forward with the View Source work we’d started back in Episode 8.
I started the episode by explaining that the cache key stuff we’d figured out in Episode 9 was really important, and that a bug had been filed by the Necko team to get the issue fixed. At the time of the video, there was a patch up for review in that bug, and when we applied it, we were able to retrieve source code out of the network cache after POST requests! Success!
Now that we had verified that our technique was going to work, I spent the rest of the episode cleaning up the patches we’d written. I started by doing a brief self-code-review to smoke out any glaring problems, and then started to fix those problems.
We got a good chunk of the way before I had to cut off the camera.
I know back when I started working on this particular bug, I had said that I wanted to take you through right to the end on camera – but the truth of the matter is, the priority of the bug went up, and I was moving too slowly on it, since I was restricting myself to a few hours on Wednesdays. So unfortunately, after my meeting, I went back to hacking on the bug off-camera, and yesterday I put up a patch for review. Here’s the review request, if you’re interested in seeing where I got to!
I felt good about the continuity experiment, and I think I’ll try it again for the next few episodes – but I think I’ll choose a lower-priority bug; that way, I think it’s more likely that I can keep the work contained within the episodes.
How did you feel about the continuity between episodes? Did it help to engage you, or did it not matter? I’d love to hear your comments!