One of the features that attract geeks and power users to Firefox is add-ons. these simple browser extensions allow you to customize pretty much everything about the browser, from the page being displayed to the browser itself. Extensions are powerful stuff, but Mozilla is working on a project that could see add-ons as we know them disappear.
OK, so Jetpack will make add-ons easier to develop. Isn't that a good thing? Won't it mean that we see more add-ons being developed? More choice and quality for all?
First off, I'm not sure if lowering the development bar for add-ons is necessarily a good thing. At the very least I hope that Mozilla will make it easier for to rate apps (directly from the browser would be good), as well as making it easy to erase all traces of apps that users no longer want.
But there seems to be a deeper issue with Jetpack than just lowering the dev bar. Some developers claim that the Jetpack infrastructure isn't up to the job of handling sophisticated add-ons. Here's what Wladimir Palant, lead developer of the popular Adblock Plus add-on, had to say about Jetpack:
Jetpack has to support Adblock Plus, not the other way around. As it is now, Jetpack isn’t suitable for complicated extensions.
This is worrying, as it raises the possibility that other popular extensions that are complicated and modify the source of the page to be displayed, such as FlashBlock, Greasemonkey and GoogleCustomize might also not work under Jetpack. Equally worrying is that add-ons that change the browser UI might also not function under Jetpack.
I can see why Mozilla wants to revamp the add-on mechanism as it's quite clearly broken. Want an example? No problems. Let's begin by asking why add-ons need to break with new versions of Firefox. Bottom line, that just shouldn't happen. Then there's the whole mess of bugs that are associated with extensions that relate to memory leaks and instabilities. In an ideal world, this shouldn't happen.
So, Mozilla's doing the right thing by revamping the add-on infrastructure, but unless the new mechanism can accommodate the features that popular add-ons already do, Jetpack will be a huge step back for Mozilla, Firefox, and, more importantly, Firefox users.