It looks like Microsoft isn’t the only browser maker adopting the Google Chrome add-on model: Mozilla revealed this past week that it will deprecate support for its current add-ons and go the Chrome route.
“The strategy announced here necessarily involves a lot of trade-offs,” Mozilla’s Kev Needham writes in a new post to the Mozilla Add-Ons Blog. “Developers who already support Chrome extensions will benefit since they will have one codebase to support instead of two. Developers of Firefox-only add-ons will have to make changes. Those changes may require considerable development effort up-front, but we feel the end result will be worth that effort for both Firefox’s users and developers.”
According to Needham, this “foundational” change to Firefox is required in order to modernize the browser. The firm has been working on two separate projects, Servo and Electrolysis, which will modernize Firefox’s web browser engine, and security and performance profiles, respectively. And it is working on in-house spyware and adware protections for Firefox as well. Switching to an existing, modern (and now de-facto standard) add-on model will help it make these other changes more quickly as well.
Likewise, this move should benefit Mozilla’s developers, though some are naturally upset about the change. This should help it realize its other goal of making add-ons easier to create, since developers will no longer need different add-ons for each browser. And it should help speed time to market for add-ons, Mozilla says.
Firefox’s embrace of Chrome-style add-ons will happen over time, of course. Mozilla is calling the new extension model WebExtensions and has rolled out experimental support in the developer-oriented Firefox Nightly builds. (Versions of Firefox that support new Electrolysis-based multi-process underpinnings are coming soon as well.)
As you may know, Mozilla isn’t the first browser maker to announce such a change.
In 2013, Opera announced that it would switch to Google Chrome’s WebKit rendering engine, and when Google forked WebKit to create the Blink rendering engine, Opera followed suit. In doing so, Opera was able to piggyback on Chrome’s successful market for add-ons, which is important since so few people use the browser, and there were few native add-ons available for it.
This year, Microsoft announced that it would support Chrome add-ons in Edge, its new Windows 10 web browser. (Edge uses its own rendering engine, however.) This support is not present in Edge today, and it will most likely debut in the October “TH2” release of Windows 10.
Neither Opera nor (yet) Edge have an appreciable user base. But Mozilla’s news is a big deal because Firefox is the second most-frequently-used desktop web browser, with about 18 percent usage share. Market leader Internet Explorer, which has been hampered by its own lack of add-ons, still commands over 58 percent usage for desktop web browsers, while number three Chrome has about 17 percent. (Opera is under 2 percent and is outstripped by OS X-only Safari, with a bit under 6 percent.) With this announcement, all three of the top three web browsers will soon support the same add-on model, as will four of the only five web browsers that matter at all (on the desktop, where add-on support makes the most sense).
For a variety of reasons, I recently switched from Google Chrome (back) to Mozilla Firefox. Please check out my article Firefox 40 is Designed for Windows 10 for information about the newest Firefox version, and A Few Tips for Using Firefox 40 with Windows 10 for, um, a few tips for using Firefox with Windows 10. Suddenly, Firefox is cool again.
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