The future of Firefox - Themes/Personas, Extensions/Jetpack

Discussion of general topics about Mozilla Firefox

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Post Posted January 10th, 2010, 11:44 pm

@ aaron...
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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 2:11 am

@ Lucy, users want themes. If users didn't want themes, they wouldn't go OUT OF THEIR WAY to find and download them or even not update their Firefox to keep their favorite theme that hasn't been updated. If users didn't want themes WE wouldn't be making them, WE wouldn't be fulfilling personal bug reports to make those users happy, WE wouldn't jump through hoops to be ready for the release of 3.6. But I'll let you in on a secret that the boys in the office didn't tell you... you listening? Whenever I have to inform my users that I do support Personas because Personas is being purposefully designed to NOT support 3rd party themes, my users tell me they can live without them. And I'm sure I'm not the only themer getting those kinds of emails. All told my themes had over 21,000 downloads this week. Maybe that's not very many to you, but I'm 100% sure that that means that SOMEONE is using them. SOMEONE is appreciating them. And despite popular opinion around the Mozilla water cooler, our users are not NOBODIES just because they would rather have a REAL theme than look at Lady Gaga's plastic face everyday.
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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 4:07 am

I don't get it. Why doesn't Mozilla have enough common sense to fully mature Jetpack/Personas technology first BEFORE announcing its intent to retire the old extensions/themes system? I suspect there wouldn't be so many ruffled feathers then.

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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 5:41 am

If Mozilla wants to play catch-up to Google, it will self-fulfil the desire, playing catch-up forever. The warning signs appeared way before this fiasco.


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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 9:04 am ... ack-oh-my/

First, let’s talk about Personas. I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but:

Personas is not lightweight theming. Personas is wallpaper.

We’ve had it since Windows 3.0 (may be even before). It’s pretty wallpaper, but it’s still wallpaper.

Lightweight theming is a different beast. Lightweight theming is the ability to theme the browser window WITHOUT theming the rest of the browser. So lightweight theming might involve changing things like browser background images (more than one), toolbar buttons, and possibly the URL bar or the tabs. I’ll be a little self serving and say that everything Brand Thunder does is lightweight theming. You can see examples at the gallery.

Personas is not a suitable replacement for Firefox theming. It doesn’t even come close. And looking at the designs for future versions of Firefox, Personas becomes irrelevant – there’s very little browser chrome to even see the background images. (Clue to Firefox developers – make the new tab window transparent like Chrome).

People point to Personas and say “look how popular it is – people must want theming that way.”

Personas’ success is about marketing.

Personas is the only extension that Mozilla markets. They market it on first run pages, download pages and home pages. It has a dedicated domain. It has special privileges for being installed without the add-on security warning. It was a recommended add-on from day one. They even have a custom bundle of Firefox that includes Personas!

So please don’t tell me that Personas is the future. Personas is the present. Clearly a completely new solution will be needed for future Firefox versions.

Now let’s talk about Jetpack.

Jetpack is like giving me an Erector set when I used to have a Home Depot.

Let’s look at the problems that Jetpack attempts to solve and see if a new programming model was necessary to solve them.

Install without restart -
If extension developers were given a specific set of APIs that they could use that didn’t require restart, then extensions could be marked as “doesn’t need restart” and this problem would be solved. All Jetpack does is pre-grab parts of the Firefox UI so that when things are placed there, Jetpack handles their placement, not Firefox. This could be done with any extension API. It doesn’t require Jetpack.

Ease of creation -
A learning curve is a learning curve. I don’t know jQuery, so Jetpack has a learning curve for me. Jetpack is simply trading one programming model for another. I’ve been to presentations where HTML developers were shown how extensions work and within one hour they could create extensions. Doing very interesting things with extensions might be difficult to learn, but that’s why you create an API. And that API does NOT have to be Jetpack specific. Packaging can be a little tricky, but again solvable outside of the context of Jetpack.

If the extension API isn’t very user friendly, fix it. Isn’t that what FUEL was trying to accomplish? If you want a stable API that doesn’t change from release to release, create one. There’s no need this API needs to be created as a part of Jetpack.

Forward compatibility -
Extensions break from release to release of Firefox. That’s just a fact of life. The only way to prevent this is to give extension developers a very tiny sandbox in which to play. We don’t want this. Give us a big sandbox and if we break, we break.

The problem is not that you break us. The problem is short release cycles

Right now, the Firefox team is aiming for six month release cycles. For an extension developer, the last two months of that cycle are when we can really start checking out things and it’s only in the last month that we can actually release addons that have the correct version in install.rdf (due to AMO restrictions.). Most extension developers have multiple extensions and probably a day job. Updating five or 10 or even hundreds of extensions can be quite problematic.

Jetpack simply creates a new set of problems and a new context to solve those problems. We should try to fix those problems in the existing context.

I think the core problem here is a disconnect between Mozilla Labs and the rest of the Mozilla community. Mozilla Labs operates in a very closed community, completely contrary to the way other Mozilla projects are done (at least for the initial phases of a project). I think that contributes to their myopic vision of the future of the browser. I’d much rather see Mozilla Labs work with the community to propose ideas and foster those ideas to create a real open source lab versus coming up with ideas and then trying to force those ideas on me.

And incidentally, Internet Explorer is a great example of what happens when you give people a limited set of APIs to work with. They come up with elaborate hacks in order to make things work. And those definitely break from release to release. If you limit people, they will come up with ways around those limits. Please don’t limit me.

This had just hit Planet Mozilla and is worth a read.

EDIT - ... in-Mozilla

Apparently there's more to this fiasco.


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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 10:38 am

Omega X

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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 10:47 am

Mike Kaply echos my sentiment about the whole thing.
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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 11:13 am

Then Firefox, like Netscape may inspire a new avatar of Phoenix/Firebird.


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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 12:26 pm ... nd-themes/

More damage control attempted.

Update #2

It’s fairly clear that I have used some language that caused some people to assume this to be a final and official decision, which it is not. We have not committed to any final resolution for anything in this space. We have made a decision to explore this direction for the future, but to declare anything final or official is extremely premature from anyone at this time. Further, to take anything I write on this blog as an official statement, and not an expression of my personal opinions and intent, is generally going to be wrong.


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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 12:32 pm ... 8e050d3adc

Many people have interpreted mconnor's post to mean that the Firefox product team has already made a strategic decision to remove support for the existing extensibility platform and technology in the near future: this is not the case. What mconnor wrote was that from a strategic perspective, we will be focusing on building an effective and viable alternative platform in conjunction with our extension development community in order to address specific limitations of the current system. I do not see this as a zero sum game, although as a separate but related issue, some specific aspects of the current model may need to be modified for security and performance reasons (I'm referring to binary components, which will likely need to migrate to js-ctypes.)
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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 12:34 pm

I'll no doubt regret this post but I'll post anyway since I do indeed deeply care about this browser and her zealots. I'm well above average in computer literacy yet I pale to many of ya'll and perhaps that's what may give me a different view. Most people are not up to understanding that Themes and Extensions are personal responsibility. They want a one-click guarantee stating there will be NO problems. Perhaps not feasible but true all the same. The very reason I'm in Firebox General this week is that my browser got borked...half my extensions still don't work and I already minimize the number of addons simply because I hate problems....I cannot picture the average user having a clue.

If I'm good with computers and yet pale to ya'll, where does that leave the unclothed masses? When an Extension or Theme borks a part of their browser.....They flip out and after minor attempts at recovery and then they cuss Mozilla and their ill-conceived browser and revert back to unmodifiable IE and that's exactly what we don't want if we're to be the browser of the masses.

Simple & Stupid may be the future, we may have to accept some mediocrity to persevere mainstream.

Then again, if we're to be the browser for the purists/geeks, I'll get by.
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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 1:12 pm

I'd like to add something substantial in a technical manner but that's unlikely considering the changes mentioned in the posts and some of the articles.
What I would say is the idea of flexibility, not only of appearance but size seems to be a reasonable goal. To limit or inhibit those flexible attributes which provide that to the software seems to me to be following the ignor/arrog/ance of Microsoft, Symantec and an unnamed plethora of others. Granted if gold is your aim in life, so be it, but it stands a higher calling in the software should supersede the buck. I've been using computers since 1968 and watched wreck and ruin of almost every successful system in attempts by software companies to become the "be all and end all" of whatever is applied.
Netscape went stupid, mostly with composition and "office" concepts barely used by the masses who depended on a secure and unlimited browser along with some of the antics of HP with their friendly, animated, vocalizing shell applications (early 90's) which ate so many resources you couldn't run a program properly. It took skill and an understanding to remove the appurtenances which caused the limitations but that skill was lost or discontinued in favor of "we know what's right" or "it's our stuff we have no responsibility to anyone except our own interests." Removing or hiding the ability to customize ruins everything.
I don't have any use for a lot of the extensions, themes or addons but I see no reason why they should be left in the cold or reduced except through selection by the user unless they are toxic. Also this seeming direction to submit to Microsoft with it's everyday failings makes no sense at all unless it's the intention of Mozilla to sell out. In which case we're just seeing the same ugly baby in a new dress, again.

The biggest thing I see across the entire spectrum of publishing of anything these days is the lack of depth and detail which so many seem ready to accept as "quality." Whether it's a book, a piece of music a movie or software! I may just smack the next person within arms reach who vocalizes OMG or WTF. Then again this probably won't be read in entirety for being "too long."
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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 3:09 pm

I don't see what everyone is so worked up about, at this point in time. Part of the stated rationale was that people weren't updating because their extensions weren't compatible. They can't keep that goal, while at the same time announcing that every extension has to be rewritten on a new platform. Traditional extensions aren't going to be going anywhere anytime soon, because doing so would effectively press the reset button on their entire extension catalog.

IMHO JetPack and Personas are a good thing (though they still need work). However I do not think they can ever, or will ever, replace the traditional system. But that's not to say that the traditional systems won't also see some change.

But in the end, I think Mozilla knows that hurting the extension system will hurt Firefox as a whole. If they do make a decision that makes things go (way) south, I doubt it will take very long for them to realize well, that was a bad idea and undo whatever they did.
Last edited by Bluefang on January 12th, 2010, 1:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 3:14 pm

My opinion is that they have rushed too much trying to push the Personas and JetPack stuff. They clearly can't be used currently for any "serious" theme or extension, so it's quite hard for the people to accept that as a replacement of the current stuff.

I agree with some of their points of view about making things easier for everyone, but there's still a long way to go and there is basic stuff like being able to blundle some images or translations inside the "new extension" that are a must in order to have any credibility.

So they state that XUL is hard and only HTML will be used?, HTML is a little bit limited sometimes, but I agree that for many people that couldn't be a problem.
Bundling jQuery inside the browser?, I have never understood what's so nice about it. I found its syntax so ugly that I can't read any code written with jQuery, and its cross-browser capabilities aren't needed at all inside Firefox, so I guess that if I create any JetPack I'll create with normal javascript as that's easier to manage for me.

I'll just wait, there's a long time until JetPack is usable so I have other things to do meanwhile.


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Post Posted January 11th, 2010, 5:46 pm

All of these "lets' cover our asses" statements are funny to me. I started playing with Personas when it was still in a pre-release state from Mozilla Labs. I thought to myself, ok, this is sorta neat, but it need a lot of work before it's even going to do just what it sets out to do. I filed several bugs and made several comments on their AMO because I thought it needed help. The response I got was that Personas were intended for the default theme. I thought to myself THEN that these people didn't understand the community very well because a big chunk of people doing beta testing were testing them on 3rd party themes. Then 1.0b1.1 came out. First off, I was a little confused that the beta didn't include ANY of the basic fixes needed to make it on par as a good add-on. It was still buggy as heck and lacked basic features like background colors. It came with a little note with the update that says, and you can still go read it:

[quote]Known Issues:
* only works with the default Firefox theme[quote]

But see, AMO buries the versions page, so a month later when 1.0 came out and there was a media blitz, nobody read that little note. And that's when the hail storm of bugs and comments and negative reviews started. But the attitude that Personas was not going to work with non-default themes has been around for at least a year... and the only reason to have such an attitude (in my mind anyway) is if you are working on something that you think will completely replace Themes. Maybe it wasn't the big boy's intentions at all, but I'd be willing to bet that the guys at Mozilla Labs thought way back in the beginning of the project that that's what they were working on. So a year on, with multiple bugs from developers about getting Personas to do more, the project is still as lackluster as it was on day one. It wasn't ready for the marketing a year ago and it's not ready for the marketing today. I'm sorry, but if any of US had released an add-on with such lackluster features and the lack of basic things like background colors, highlight text colors, an effective options panel, compatibility with real themes, and compatibility with sidebars and vertical toolbars, we would have been laughed at as hacks and been buried in negative reviews.
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