Popular Firefox Add-On Developer Calls It Quits As Mozilla Moves To New API

Image: Mozilla

When browser vendors make breaking changes to developer APIs, it's left to add-on and extension creators whether they fix their offerings. Usually, if it's a small change, no problem. But what about massive overhauls? For Luís Miguel, responsible for a number of popular Firefox add-ons, Mozilla's switch to the WebExtensions API this year will signal his exit from the add-on scene.

Rather than rework his add-ons, which include FindBar Tweak, OmniSidebar and Beyond Australis, Miguel has decided to call it quits:

Some time ago, Mozilla announced WebExtensions as the future of Firefox add-ons. At the time, it was not fully clear to me what this would mean for my add-ons, I was optimistic in that they would at least keep working in some way, but over this past year it became clear that this is not the case.

WebExtensions are great for adding functionality to the browser, and without a doubt are versatile and easy to use. However, manipulation of the browser window's interface and functionality will be extremely limited by definition, and even if it wasn't, the implementation of such abilities is nearly impossible to achieve in WebExtensions.

Although WebExtensions promises to make add-on development easier (particularly when porting them to other browsers), Miguel isn't convinced that abandoning Firefox's current developer framework entirely is the best of ideas:

I have fought for keeping the current system working together with WebExtensions, not only to keep all of my add-ons alive, but also because I believe a can-do-whatever-you-want extension system like exists today is the best quality Firefox has over other browsers. Unfortunately I've failed to convince them of this, as have they failed to convince me of the benefits they expect to achieve with a WebExtensions-only system.

Miguel's add-ons won't suddenly stop working — yet. As you'd expect, bugs won't be fixed or features added and by the end of the year, the add-ons won't function at all:

These are the last updates to my add-ons. They will cease working with Firefox 57 next November. By then hopefully some alternatives appear. My code is up on Github, so anyone interested can fork it. If there's some need for me to do some transition work on your behalf, for instance to migrate users from my add-ons to yours, I'm only an e-mail away.

It'll be interesting to see what happens when Firefox 57 does arrive. How many add-ons will be ready? Will other developers throw in the towel before then?

Last Notice [Luís Miguel]

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Comments

    Genuine question: how many people actually use add-ons? Especially of the type this guy produces?
    For me, browser add-ons are associated with toolbars and hence slow-downs, questionable benefit, very questionable security, hijacking and a reduction in useful window size. The only exception I can think of is a password manager I use (can't rely on browser built-in one as I work in different browsers/platforms).
    Are there any genuinely useful add-ons people are going to miss if their authors don't even seem to want to try to move them to the new framework?

      If you want to get the most out of Firefox then extensions are a must. Firefox leaves Chrome in the dust for extensions, which is the main reason I use Chrome as a secondary browser.
      All in one sidebar, Downloadthemall, Roomy Bookmarks and Video download helper are just some of the extensions I use and they are all excellent. I really hope they are still supported after the upgrade. Without extensions, you may as well use Explorer.

      Last edited 29/01/17 3:30 pm

      What about Smart HTTPS? uBlock Origin? Privacy Badger?
      And that's just what I use. There's a slew of extensions that work "behind the scenes" and only show a button on the UI for easy access.
      Browser add-ons/extensions can certainly cause slowdowns. But with the "about:addons-memory 2016" extension you can check how much memory each extension (and firefox) is using. Each of the above mentioned extensions have a very low foot print/impact on my system. The last time I closed my browser was probably at least 2 weeks ago. It's still only using some 500MB memory. Very reasonable.
      And I'd be happy to trade a little memory in return for better security/privacy.

      I use his tab groups add-on and love it. I will be lost when it goes.

    This guy is not that popular? Has created 6 addons with the largest user base of only 115k.

    Is it really a loss if he does not update his addon's?

    If more popular creators stop then we should be worried

      I am a little surprised that you think that 115,000 users is not "worthy".

      I know that a few add-ons have far larger numbers - but a sizable portion of them, logically, rarely-if-ever even use any of their add-ons, which were either recommended or even installed by their kids, friends, etc. Tab Groups has become quite popular. Well, in my opinion at least. Many IT professionals that I work with have switched over to Luis' TabGroups as well as others. Very useful. TL;DR apologies. My take on Firefox 57:

      Setting aside this one developer - if Web Extensions framework has the restrictions and limitations that I've heard it does, then nearly all of the add-ons that I love and use will be nigh impossible to port, i.e. convert to WebExt tech. I have read Luis' blog and various forum posts, in which he discusses and often debates about this rather HUGE change to Firefox/Mozilla. As others have correctly asserted, Firefox's greatest competitive advantage over the "other" _main_ players in the browser space (notably Chrome and Internet Explorer) IS and _always has been_ it's VASTLY SUPERIOR selection of Add-Ons/Plugins/Extensions. Superior to the point that, if you could make use of such-and-such convenience or time-saving functionality, such functionality almost assuredly exists for Firefox in the form of an extension/add-on. As to bloat and performance-hits, they've made great strides at streamlining and performance-tuning to the point that you can totally customize the footprint/performance balance that works for you. I've used all the other browsers - and the ONLY thing that has consistently kept me a Firefox devotee, even evangelist at times - is the added functionality and complete customization offered by the plethora (yes, Jaime, I said "plethora") of available extensions.

      The fear is that Mozilla/Firefox may be positioning themselves towards becoming an NVA - a "Non-Value-Add" - over such browsers as are backed by Google and Microsloth. MozDev/Mozilla have done an amazing thing with Firefox. Few people thought they'd be around for long after Chrome's launch, and MS's various ploys to EMBED Internet-Exploder in to the very underpinnings of the OS. But they survived and even flourished for the most part. I'd just hate to see them "go down" for playing it safe; for trying to be "more like the others" - more homogeneous - and predictably more plain, ordinary and ultimately unnecessary. Jeez... I almost want to delete this... talk about a bummer. Here's hoping we're wrong! Can't see how, without the existing level of convenience and functionality that is afforded by the existing architecture and completely lacking in Web Extensions.

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