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5/21/2009
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Mozilla's JetPack Simplifies Firefox Extension Programming

There are already more than 7,000 Firefox add-ons, but Mozilla would be happy to see more.

Mozilla's Firefox may soon lose a major point of differentiation with Google's Chrome: extensions.

Google is building out Chrome's extension framework and plans to instruct developers on the intricacies of creating extensions for its browser at its developer conference next week. Many Firefox users won't consider using Chrome until it supports an ad-blocking extension to match Adblock Plus.

Mozilla's answer is making extension development for Firefox easier. There are already more than 7,000 Firefox add-ons, but Mozilla would be happy to see more.

Mozilla Labs on Wednesday rolled out a new projected called Jetpack to simplify extension coding. It's not quite drag-and drop-programming, but it should making extension creation more like writing an HTML page.

"Firefox extensions have, since their inception, been somewhere between Web development and desktop app development in their complexity and skill requirements," explained Firefox community coordinator Asa Dotzler in a blog post. "This project is going to really push the barriers down for Web developers and I think open up Firefox extension development to tens of thousands of additional contributors."

As if to cater to Firefox's committed cadre of ad blockers, one of the two demonstration extensions provided with Jetpack is a content-filtering add-on called UnAd. The other is called Email Notifier, an extension that uses 50 lines of code to alert the user of new Gmail messages using the browser's status bar.

Jetpack extensions for Firefox can be programmed using only HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, and debugged in the browser without restarting. It supports third-party toolkits like jQuery and API libraries from the likes of Google and Twitter.

According to Dotzler, the Jetpack API doesn't yet have a complete security model. This initial 0.1 release is intended for developer experimentation and testing.


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