Thursday, December 15, 2005

My Gripe about Firefox Losing Extensions

On his website,, Michael Horowitz succinctly restated my complaint regarding the loss of functionality from extensions deactivated in the Firefox upgrade: "The gripe is that this happens without warning."

If I knew this loss would occur, I would have waited until all of my essential extensions worked with the upgraded version. This setback will not happen again to me, but in the weeks and months to come, thousands of other unsuspecting Firefox users will get the same unpleasant surprise.

Comments on my previous post from a number of readers offered "workarounds" for the lost functionality problem. Most of these are inappropriate for the vast majority of current and prospective Firefox users. Here is a sample.

Example 1:

"Just type the name of the extension into google and find the website of the person who makes it."

This advice is fine if you know and trust the developer's website. But it is inadvisable for anyone to go to an unknown website and download programs -- we are already facing too much risk of downloading malware or programs that have not been tested thoroughly.

Today's computer users need all the malware protection and software quality assurance they can get. And a bad experience with third party extensions will not only discourage folks from further downloading extensions; it may even sour them on the browser.

I will only download Firefox extensions if they are available through the Mozilla website, or from sources that I know and trust. Hopefully, Mozilla Foundation and the user community will actively monitor the status of Firefox extensions, encourage the developers to update their extension's compatibility, and provide a safe source of tested add-ons.

Example 2:

"Visit this site and download nightly tester tools.
It will make all the extensions compatible until an update is available."

This advice is fine if you have the technical expertise to undo any damage or unwanted results. However, most users do not have the requisite skills to correct every problem that could result from using this program.

I also doubt that the program enables all incompatible extensions to work. And if the program has this capability, why not include it with the browser and dispense with compatibility checks? :-)

Example 3:

"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."

The extension problem is new to thousands of users who upgraded previously but did not realize that incompatible extensions no longer worked. (I installed many extensions that I have never used, and never noticed that they were not available after an upgrade.)

Also, because the Firefox user base has expanded rapidly, most users have little experience with the upgrade process, and don't know its negative consequences.

Example 4:

"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."

It is a big deal when you come to depend on the functionality of specific Firefox extensions and need them to meet real-world deadlines. Business people need a stable, reliable set of application features, and very few have "System Administration" in their job description.

The repeated loss of extensions does not meet feature availability requirements, and is not acceptable to most IT managers. (It's not that companies would not use Firefox, they just would not upgrade if needed functionality became unavailable.)

In the not-too-distant future, there will be thousands of useful Firefox extensions. This will fuel the adoption of Firefox and make it difficult for its users to switch to another browser. Mozilla Foundation needs to provide sufficient guidance to its Firefox "upgraders" and prevent its extension "assets" from becoming liabilities.


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