Friday, December 02, 2005

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.


At 7:05 AM, Anonymous said...

Any indication of a LIST of compatible extensions yet?

At 4:56 PM, Robert Wiblin said...

Just type the name of the extension into google and find the website of the person who makes it. Often the extensions are updated there but won't update automatically, because the location has moved. Sometime Mozilla Add-ons lags behind the developers website itself.

At 2:09 AM, Anonymous said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous said...

That's what I love about Opera. It already includes (almost) all of the features that FF users have to download an extension for. And with every upgrade, I only get more features. Not less. Learn more about Opera at

At 8:49 AM, Ken said...

Hi, pal!

A couple comments:

-The versioning of add-ons has been used in Firefox for some time now, and it's not this new release the first that contains these internal check routines (if you take a look at the developer guidelines for extensions, you'll see that you are required to include a section in which you indicate for which versions is your extension designed) And this is a good thing: if an extension designed for an older codebase is allowed to run on a newer browser, it can cause a lot of trouble. Otherwise you'd be as dead in the water as Microsoft is with its Activex thing (which is so full of backwards-compatibility obligations as to not be able to break free of many of its woes)

-Second, unless your needed extensions are not-so-well maintained, there are updates available within weeks of those main releases, even before them (remember these add-on guys don't receive any money from either nor from me or you, so we can't force them unless we find some way to help them)

The firefox team added, as you mention, internal checking routines that let you make attempts at the developer sites for extension updates automatically, all from a single dialog.

Is all this an unexpected problem, or even a problem? Hardly, but I understand your concern.

It could be interesting for the Firefox devs to develop a kind of "protocol" so extension developers can put, in a definite and expected place on their sites a "version level" kind of identification so an active page on the firefox site could ping that data in order to maintain a compilation of extension updates, so as soon as an updated one is posted, it would immediately be reflected on that central page which would be linked to the "download firefox" one.

At 1:16 AM, Seth said...

Is this anything new? Over the last year or more, as I've upgraded Firefox from 1.0 to 1.0.1 to 1.0.2 all the way up to 1.0.7, and finally to 1.5, I've encountered this problem every time. There's always some extension that isn't compatible with the latest version I just installed. Big deal. I learn to live with it, and anyways, the odds are in my favor that the disabled extention will be upgraded very shortly. Your post casts Firefox as "blocking the installation" of incompatible extensions, but this is not true. If an extension won't work, it won't work, and Firefox recognizes that. It doesn't delete the extension, and as soon as an upgrade is available, it will work again.

At 3:03 PM, said...

Agreed: losing extensions was one of my greatest concerns during the upgrade. I've blogged about this quite a lot recently (

I've found a way to work around the loss of extensions, but I definitely think a LIST should be available!


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