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Mozilla Straps On Jetpack for Firefox Devs

By Richard Adhikari
May 22, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Mozilla's call to developers to participate in its Jetpack project on Wednesday is the latest onslaught in the ongoing war of the Web browsers.

Mozilla Straps On Jetpack for Firefox Devs

Jetpack is an open source application programming interface (API) that will let users create add-ons for Mozilla's Firefox browser using the Web technologies they already know.

Google has launched a project to add extensions to its Chromium open source code that closely follows Mozilla's direction in some respects.

Meanwhile, some developers are concerned that the launch of Jetpack could mean Mozilla will kill off Greasemonkey, a Firefox extension that lets users customize the way Web pages look and feel.

About Jetpack

Jetpack is an exploration in using Web technologies such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript to create add-ons for the Firefox browser, according to Mozilla.

It will let users add new features without having to worry about compatibility and without having to restart their browsers, as is now the case.

"Jetpack is an open source platform on top of which anybody that can write a Web page can now enhance the browser," Asa Raskin, head of user experience at Mozilla Labs, told LinuxInsider. "We want to make the Web better and make it as personal as it can be."

The current Jetpack release version is 0.1, which means it needs a lot more work. Mozilla intends to tweak and fine-tune the project with feedback from developers, especially on the API design.

"We ask ourselves, what are the cool innovations we can't see around the corner that are coming, because all of a sudden there are new communities -- students, anyone who can create a Web page -- that are making the open Web a better space," Raskin said.

Staving Off the Competition

The timing of Mozilla's announcement -- one week before Google's I/O Developer Conference, to be held in San Francisco May 27 and 28 -- is no coincidence, according to Laura DiDio, principal at research firm ITIC.

"It's an attempt to fight off Google Chrome and Internet Explorer 8," she told LinuxInsider.

"Is it a pre-emptive strike? Yes," DiDio said. "Mozilla's more concerned about Google than Microsoft."

The 800-Pound Googorilla

There's good reason to fear Google. The Internet giant released version 2.0 of its Chrome browser to the public on Thursday.

In addition to being faster, Chrome 2.0 is more stable; has an improved New Tab page; offers full-screen mode; and has Form Autofill.

Google has fixed more than 300 bugs that caused crashes since it launched the browser eight months ago, the company said.

Extensions to Chrome

Google is also working on extensions to Chromium, the open source project whose code Chrome is built on.

It is closely following Mozilla's lead in extensions. "Most extensions should be able to load in place without forcing a browser restart or even a page reload when they are installed," the Chromium developer documentation for extensions states.

As is the case with Mozilla's Jetpack, Google wants Web developers to use JavaScript, HTML and cascading style sheets (CSS) to create Chromium extensions.

Google wants use cases for Chromium extensions to be like Greasemonkey. One of these APIs will consist of read-write user scripts that will inject JavaScript into Web pages.

Monkey Gone to Heaven?

Some Mozilla users have begun voicing fears that Jetpack will kill off Greasemonkey.

"How is this any different from Greasemonkey?" asked Casey in a comment on the Mozilla Jetpack blog. "Aren't you just risking taking development resources away from them and their community when they already have something great in place?"

Greasemonkey is not a Mozilla project, Raskin pointed out. However, there is no conflict between Greasemonkey and Jetpack.

"Greasemonkey is an awesome Firefox extension," Raskin said, "but it's about modifying pages you're looking at, whereas Jetpack lets you modify the browser."


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