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Firefox add-on overload

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Mozilla Firefox
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Firefox generally runs pretty well for me, but a week ago, I started having problems.  Google Reader was behaving weirdly and was basically unusable, and any use of GMail would make my Mac become slow (CPU would get pegged).

My suspicion (which was confirmed) was that one of the many Firefox add-ons I had installed was causing the problem.  At the time, I had installed:

It turns out that Zemanta had a bug that was affecting GMail users and Mashlogic had a bug that caused the problem with Google Reader.  Both companies were very responsive to my bug report (and in both cases had already started looking at the issue due to other user complaints) but during the process, I ended up doing quite a bit of debugging: installing this plugin, uninstalling this one, disabling, re-enabling, etc.

I didn’t mind all of this work that much because I do get a good deal of value out of both of the add-ons that were causing the problem.  But, I was thinking about how I would react if I were a non-technical user.  My guess is that I would just give up on Firefox and use IE again (or Safari on the Mac) instead.

Another topic that came to mind was the idea of add-on interoperability.  Thankfully Zemanta and Mashlogic were not conflicting with one another, but originally I thought they might have been.  Given that many  add-ons these days are altering how pages are rendered, it would seem there is certainly an opportunity for weird interoperability issues to crop up.  One thing that was quite interesting related to Zemanta was that the bug fix was on the server side.  I did have to clear my cache and restart Firefox to fix the problem once Zemanta fixed it on their end, but I didn’t need to download a new version of the plugin (thanks Andraz!)

Are there any standards coming from the Firefox add-on community that will help to address some of the issues I outlined above?

I think the add-on ecosystem is awesome but feel like some of this stuff is what could prevent more mainstream adoption and acceptance, which is what I imagine most of the companies in the add-on space would want.

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Written by John Gannon

March 11, 2009 at 6:07 pm

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You will appreciate this post if you love emacs or Firefox

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Disclaimer:  If you have never used emacs before or don’t know what it is, I am hereby not liable for any pain this posting may cause :)

Thanks to my use of FriendFeed, I learned through Alex Iskold that something called ‘Ubiquity’ was just released from Mozilla Labs, makers of Firefox.  Given that it was 3am, I had just burped my daughter, and I was waiting for her to fall back to sleep, I had some time on my hands.  Downloaded the plugin and installed it, and let me just say that it’s pretty damn cool.  In fact, it makes Firefox look more like an old UNIX program that has been in use for a long long time – emacs.  (Bear with me here, I swear this is going somewhere other than me regaling you of the benefits of CRT terminals…)

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of using emacs, it can best be described as a text editor on steroids, highly customizable, and an environment in which you could ‘live’.  By ‘live’, I mean that you could edit files, browse the web (OK, with a text based browser, but still…), use email, compile software, and do anything else you’d need to do within a UNIX platform (or a command prompt).  There would be no need to use any other programs – you could do everything from within Emacs.  This is the editor that we used in my undergrad compsci classes, so forgive me if I start to get veclempt…

For example, this guy is using emacs to conduct a chat while he is writing LISP code.

As you can tell from the picture – it ain’t pretty, but it’s very functional. :)

So what the heck does this have to do with Ubiquity and Firefox?

Well, the Ubiquity plugin allows you to run a variety of text command from within Firefox.  All you have to do is hit ‘Alt-Space’ and a little box comes up.  I can Twitter from there, send a link as email, email selected text, Google something, get weather info, map an address…the list is endless.  And, you can write your own commands or use other people’s commands to make your Ubiquity plugin more functional.  To me, ‘Alt-Space’ looks like emacs ‘Meta-X’ all over again (emacs folks, are you with me?)

Although the web browser is the most actively used program by internet users (with email clients being a close second, I would imagine), Ubiquity makes the browser (and specifically, Firefox) even more of a sticky application that it already was.  I could even see this as a way to create additional revenue streams, by striking deals with data providers (e.g. weather websites or reviewers like Yelp) to use them as the default landing for relevant Ubiquity commands.

Also, if the Firefox folks really want this to take hold with mainstream (non-blogging, non-iPhone toting) Internet users, I’d suggest adding a permanent ‘Ubiquity’ box in the Firefox navigation by default.  And who knows, maybe that is their plan…

Written by John Gannon

August 29, 2008 at 2:49 pm

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