Firefox's Jetpack extensions get 2010 goal

Mozilla hopes to release the first full version of the Jetpack programming tools by the end of the year. Also a priority: Web-based Flightdeck tool.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
Expertise processors, semiconductors, web browsers, quantum computing, supercomputers, AI, 3D printing, drones, computer science, physics, programming, materials science, USB, UWB, Android, digital photography, science Credentials
  • I've been covering the technology industry for 24 years and was a science writer for five years before that. I've got deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and other dee
Stephen Shankland
2 min read

Mozilla had to restart an effort to overhaul Firefox's extension technology, but the Jetpack reboot is steadily coming together.

Mozilla has released five beta versions of the Jetpack Software Developer Kit, a package that puts a friendly face on Firefox's inner workings so that extensions can do things such as open new tabs, add menu items, and modify Web pages. And the latest schedule was announced this week: its goal is to release Jetpack 1.0 by the end of 2010.

"We've been working on the SDK for almost a year now (and the Jetpack project as a whole for over a year), and we've done a bunch of great work that we should get into the hands of developers who could benefit from it," said Mozilla Jetpack team member Myk Melez in a mailing list message.

Jetpack takes a page from the Google Chrome playbook by letting programmers write extensions that use Web technologies such as HTML and JavaScript. That's the same direction Apple went with its new Safari 5 extensions, too.

In contrast, Firefox extensions today use the powerful but complicated XUL technology. Mozilla hopes Jetpack will bring more programmers by making it easier, increase extension compatibility from one Firefox release to the next, and help eliminate the need to restart Firefox when an extension is installed or updated.

As Jetpack matures, the Web-based extension development tool called Flightdeck is growing more important for those who prefer its approach to the Jetpack SDK software running on their computers.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that FlightDeck will be a key component in the success of the project, just as important as the SDK, and we should treat it as such, devoting the same kind of time and energy to planning and driving its development, designing its interface and capabilities, and developing its functionality," Melez said in another mailing list message.

Jetpack isn't timed specifically to be released with Firefox 4, which brings better performance, a new user interface, and the new HTML5 parser. However, Jetpack is designed to take advantage of some new Firefox 4 features, Mozilla said.

For a tentative look at what's next for Jetpack, see the plans for Jetpack 0.6, 0.7, and 0.8.

One complication of Jetpack is that it integrates with Electrolysis, a Mozilla project to separate elements of Firefox into separate memory regions to help with performance and security. Jetpack extensions are designed to run in these separate partitions, but Electrolysis is a pretty deep and technical change to the browser's development.

The first Electrolysis element, out-of-process plug-ins, arrived last week with Firefox 3.6.4, but Mozilla quickly released the 3.6.6 update because older machines would show the Flash Player plug-in to have crashed when in fact a slower computer was just bogged down in processing.