Mozilla Vows "No Surprises" For Firefox Add-On Users

One of the most important features Firefox offers is its wealth of add-on tools. Lately, however, more users are discovering this sort of flexibility can be a mixed blessing.

Matthew McKenzie, Contributor

May 5, 2009

3 Min Read

One of the most important features Firefox offers is its wealth of add-on tools. Lately, however, more users are discovering this sort of flexibility can be a mixed blessing.Firefox can be an amazing tool for making employees more efficient and productive. I can't imagine working without a Firefox extension like Adblock Plus, which strips annoying banner ads off Web pages, or Flashblock, which does the same for unwanted Flash animations.

Some Firefox extensions can also provide important security benefits. One of the most popular, NoScript, can virtually eliminate the risk of JavaScript-enabled "clickjacking" attacks.

Over the years, a third-party developers have created hundreds of useful Firefox extensions. Taken as a whole, they represent an impressive achievement; while Internet Explorer also provides a browser add-on architecture, its library of available add-ons (especially those available free of charge) pales by comparison.

Most of these Firefox extensions coexist remarkably well. I routinely run dozens of them at the same time but rarely encounter conflicts or browser crashes.

When extension conflicts happen, however, they can be a real pain. They may cause Firefox to behave in annoying and often puzzling ways. And in a worst-case scenario, they can leave a user's browser completely unusable.

These problems are relatively rare, and anyone who performs common-sense Firefox profile backups can recover quickly when they do happen. Even so, nothing can put a crimp in your day faster than a Web browser that misbehaves just when you're on a tight deadline or need to look up something in a hurry.

When conflicts happen, they can also create bad blood between extension developers, as a recent tussle between the Adblock Plus and NoScript developer teams illustrated.

If your company's employees use Firefox, then the prospect of abandoning it due to persistent extension conflicts probably sounds like a terrible idea. Fortunately, Mozilla is taking steps that will make extension conflicts even less frequent than they already are. Mozilla also wants to ensure that when conflicts do happen, uninstalling a problem extension will always restore a user's settings just as they were before.

With those goals in mind, Mozilla has floated a proposal to change its add-on approval process: " Changes to default home page and search preferences, as well as settings of other installed add-ons, must be related to the core functionality of the add-on. If this relation can be established, you must adhere to the following requirements when making changes to these settings: * The add-on description must clearly state what changes the add-on makes. * All changes must be opt-in, meaning the user must take non-default action to enact the change. * Uninstalling the add-on restores the users original settings if they were changed. These are minimum requirements and not a guarantee that your add-on will be approved."

As the title of the blog post announcing the proposal states, Mozilla wants to enforce a "no surprises" policy for Firefox users who install or upgrade a browser extension. It's a prudent move, and it should reassure business users who worry that too much of a good thing might turn Firefox into a desktop liability.

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