Firefox 1.5 Drops Old Extensions
By upgrading to Firefox 1.5, many users of prior versions will no longer have some of the added features on which they depend to perform important tasks. Prior to upgrading to version 1.5, Firefox users receive no warning, other than a note buried deeply in the technical "Release Notes," about the potential loss of key features that were added to previous versions.
I got caught up with the excitement over the new features and increasing market share. I did not realize that by upgrading, I was taking one step forward and two steps back.
By design, Firefox enables users to add functionality selectively to their browser, through the use of "add-ons". Once installed, these add-on programs, called extensions or plug-ins, effectively become an integral part of the browser from the user's perspective.
Extensions vary greatly; some perform only a single function such as converting ASCII to Unicode, while others are like small multi-featured applications. Firefox 1.5 plug-ins include Adobe Reader and Macromedia Flash Player.
Unbeknownst to most users, Firefox blocks the installation of an extension if it is incompatible with that version of the browser. From a technical perspective, this compatibility requirement is a good idea. It prevents outdated add-ons from operating unreliably or affecting the performance of the browser and its compatible extensions.
It was quite a shock, and a big disappointment, to learn that my upgraded browser just removed some vital features. The prior version was good enough and worth using until the needed extensions became compatible with a newer version of Firefox. If I would have been cautioned, I would have first checked to make sure that I was not losing essential functionality.
Needless to say, prior to upgrading, current Firefox users should verify that essential functionality will be preserved. What's needed is a warning about the potential loss of features and an up-to-date list of compatible add-ons. If there was a list, I did not see it. So far, this is my only complaint with the new release. The browser is excellent.
Once upgraded, Firefox provides a list of the extensions deactivated from the previous version along with the extensions active in the current version. Hopefully, needed extensions will soon be compatible with version 1.5.
New Firefox users that start with version 1.5 are in for fewer surprises since they will only be adding selected features. On its website, Mozilla has a catalog of Firefox add-ons with descriptions of each add-on's features, number of downloads, user ratings, download size, release date and number, and browser version compatibility.
The availability of hundreds of useful extensions often becomes the compelling reason to use Firefox.
The "add-on friendly" design of Firefox enables Mozilla's developers to focus on the enhancement of the base browser and most widely used features, while third party developers work to create best-of-breed add-on tools for specialized purposes.
With Firefox's automatic update capability, its extensions can be enhanced or fixed as often as needed and installed easily, as soon as they are released. There is no need for users to wait months for a security patch or bug fix in the next release of a huge monolithic program.
I'm really excited about the evolution of Firefox. I will just have to be more careful when I upgrade.
12/15/2005: Please see the follow-on to this post.