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Mozilla jumps to deal with Google Toolbar demise

Google has ditched a Firefox add-on, and Mozilla is looking for options for how to help users move on without it to new versions of the browser.

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.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

Google has canceled its toolbar for the current and future versions of Firefox, and Mozilla is scrambling to help users who might be left in the lurch and postponing their browser upgrades.

The toolbar offers a variety of services, including a search box, a way to use bookmarks stored on a server, and a measurement of a Web site's PageRank--a score Google gives that measures its influence in Google search results. But Google has chosen to do in the Firefox version.

"As we all know, over the past few years, there has been a tremendous amount of innovation in the browser space. For Firefox users, many features that were once offered by Google Toolbar for Firefox are now already built right into the browser. Therefore, while Google Toolbar for Firefox works on versions up to and including Firefox 4 only, it will not be supported on Firefox 5 and future versions," Google said this week on a help page.

Mozilla is looking into options for what to do next, setting up a meeting to address the matter.

"We know that a large amount of users are not taking update offers to 5+ due to Google Toolbar incompatibility," said Firefox release manager Christian Legnitto in meeting notes. "Many users likely expect a new version of Google toolbar to be released and marked compatible."

He said Mozilla has two problems: telling people the toolbar won't arrive and helping them extract whatever data they have stored with it. But there's not much time to respond if Mozilla wants to act fast.

"Firefox 3.6.20 (code freeze is 2011-08-01) would be the earliest vehicle we can use to change the product," he said, a move that "will allow us to push product changes before users get update offers to [Firefox] 5+."

Firefox logo

Firefox updates have always posed a problem for those who offer add-ons to the browser, but the problem has changed in nature with Firefox's rapid-release cycle, in which new versions arrive as soon as every six weeks. To minimize the likelihood that users are presented with incompatibility messages when add-ons encounter a version of Firefox newer than what they're certified to work with, Mozilla has begun automatically "bumping" the add-on's compatibility version number for add-ons that don't cause problems.

That only applies to those add-ons distributed by Mozilla itself, though, and the Google Toolbar for Firefox comes directly from Google.

Google wouldn't say if other factors besides browser advancement were part of its decision to cancel the toolbar.

Spokeswoman Lily Lin did, though, detail some of the toolbar features it now sees in the browser:

• Suggest is in the Firefox Awesome Bar

• Autofilll is in the browser

• Custom searches from the Awesome Bar

• Spell-checker

• Bookmark sync

• Search box

Those desperate for the toolbar--search-engine optimization experts are one group that particularly values the PageRank score--can use a version for Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Google wouldn't comment about whether it plans to discontinue the IE version.