An announcement yesterday in the Mozilla Blog says that they have (finally) decided to block the Skype toolbar. At risk of starting out Friday morning with a huge rant, can I just say that it is about blasted time!!!! What Skype calls their "Browser Plug-Ins" has been a huge load of absolute rubbish and a major pain in the rear end since the very first version was snuck into the Skype installer as an "unannounced default option". According to Mozilla, the Skype toolbar was one of the top crashers of Firefox 3.6.13 last week, accounting for some 40,000 crashes! In addition to that, Mozilla says that having the Skype toolbar installed can make some parts of Firefox as much as 300 times slower, making it appear that Firefox is slow loading pages. Well, guess what? These were ALL very well known issues when I was active on the Skype User Forums. That was sometime before the great three-day Skype outage, which was in November 2007, so it would have been roughly summer of 2006 through fall of 2007.
Most people probably think that they don't use the "Skype Toolbar" or "Skype Browser Plug-Ins". They don't know anything about them, they have never seen mention of them, they did not choose to install them, so they are not affected by this problem. Wrong. WRONG! WRONG!. It is installed, by default and without notification, every time you install or update Skype. The only way to stop it is to go to the "Options" page during installation (yes, I know, most people haven't even noticed that there is such a page), and de-select them. If you didn't do this, or didn't notice that little buttion, you've got them installed.
So, what do the Skype Browser Plug-Ins do? They examine every page that you go to in your browser, they attempt to recognize anything that looks vaguely like a telephone number, and they re-render that as a clickable button that calls the number using Skype. That's it. For that "advantage", we have had years of instability, hanging, crashing, slow rendering, and whatever else. Even three to four years ago, the most experienced users in the Skype Forums were begging Skype not to automatically install the browser plug-ins, or at least not to sneak it in behind the users back, but as always they were absolutely not interested in hearing it.
What can you do about it? To be honest, I'm not exactly sure, because I haven't allowed the Skype rubbish to be installed on any of my computers for quite a long time, and even when I was still installing it I was always careful not to let it install the browser stuff. From what I recall, once they were installed on your system you really were screwed, it was very difficult to get rid of them. At that time they did NOT have a separate Add/Remove Software entry, the way the Google Toolbar and others do, so you could not easily get rid of them that way. It would be nice if that had changed over the years, but given Skype's general lack of concern for their users, I seriously doubt that is the case. It used to be that if you knew where to go in the Browser Plug-In (or Add-On) management menu, and you knew exactly what the Skype additions were called, you could disable them. If that didn't work, or if you couldn't find the right menu or the right add-on, then the only option was to completely uninstall Skype, and then reinstall and be careful to go to the installation options menu and de-select them.
Oh, and remember that this is something that you have to watch for not only on the first installation of Skype, but also every time you install an upgrade. Skype does NOT record your choice anywhere, and they do NOT make any effort to check during an upgrade to see if you have the browser add-ins installed or not; they take every opportunity to try to slip them onto your system.
Update: Two things I didn't mention:
1. Mozilla says that they are "in touch with" the Skype programmers to help fix the problem. Good luck with that... three or four years hasn't been enough for them to "fix the problem".
2. Skype has made an "official statement" to TechCrunch... their usual garbage, of course, "download the latest version and it should fix most compatibility problems..." That is the answer to every problem at Skype; everything is always fixed in the "latest version", until it is proven that it isn't... and what about the slowdown by a factor of 300, is that also a "compatibility problem" that should be fixed by the latest release?
Update: I am not the only one who has noticed Skype's unwillingness or inability to fix this problem, or even respond to requests related to it. Check the Mozilla Bug Log Commentary. A couple of relevant quotes:
Over the past 2 weeks we've doubled our efforts to contact the Skype extension team... We did not receive a response from them until this afternoon
Translation: they didn't even bother to answer until we cut them off...
the fact that users don't actually choose to install this add-on
So Mozilla also noticed that this add-on is installed without asking or even informing the user.
the extension team's lack of response during the weeks we were giving them to solve these issues
No surprise here. As I said, these problems have been around, coming and going, and well known at Skype, for three or four years that I am personally aware of.
I would like to wait on hard-blocking for a few days...
I absolutely expect Mozilla to end up hard-blocking the Skype add-on, because as we have already seen, Skype's stock response is "install the latest version". But when the latest version doesn't fix the problem, Mozilla will still be watching, the crashes will almost certainly still be happening, and certainly the performance impact will still be there. In fact, I don't expect Skype to fix these problems, period; I think if Mozilla keeps the pressure on them, they will eventually just drop the add-on because they aren't capable of anything else.