Mozilla maps out Jetpack add-on transition plan

The Firefox backer is getting serious about a second crack at Jetpack, its new-and-improved foundation for add-ons to customize the browser.

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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

One of Firefox's chief assets is a rich collection of extensions called add-ons, and for the small army of programmers who produce them, Mozilla has begun detailing how it plans to revamp Firefox's add-on system

In 2009, Mozilla began work on a revamp of the Firefox add-on system called Jetpack, but the initial attempt wasn't up to snuff for production work. On Wednesday, Mozilla sketched out its plan for releasing what will become the final version of Jetpack, called Reboot.

"We are looking at roughly a four month time-frame for completion of this feature roadmap," said Jetpack team member Daniel Buchner in a blog post Wednesday. "During this four-month span, there are three major releases scheduled. Each will add targeted, essential features and APIs [application programming interfaces] to the rebooted platform. The first of these three releases will be live about 6 weeks from today."

According to the proposed Jetpack Reboot roadmap, the 0.1 version will arrive March 1, 0.2 on March 29, and 0.3 on April 26.

The current Firefox uses an add-on foundation called XUL (XML User Interface Language). Jetpack is designed to be easier for programmers to use, though, employing common Web design techniques. Mozilla also touts the fact that Jetpack extensions can be installed and updated without requiring a browser restart.

And significantly, given Mozilla's effort to increase the browser update frequency, Jetpack add-ons will continue to work even as the browser is upgraded. With XUL add-ons, Mozilla has had to coax developers to upgrade thousands of add-ons, even if the only change is to the list of Firefox versions supported.

Even though the Reboot effort is under way, work continues on the initial Jetpack prototype, too, with version 0.8 due soon.

It's not yet clear what will become of XUL add-ons. "If Jetpack becomes just as functional and powerful as the existing system, then we'll talk about whether migrating all extensions to the new platform makes sense. It's far too early to have that discussion in earnest now, and to be clear, no decision has been made about deprecating the existing system," Mozilla said earlier this month in an FAQ about Jetpack.

The arrival time of Jetpack also is unclear. Mozilla had planned to release it in Firefox 3.7 in the first half of 2010, but Firefox leaders are in the process of tearing up their roadmap and taping it back together in what they hope will be a better way.

Google's Chrome browser uses a similar extension system; it's the flagship feature that just emerged with the Chrome 4.0 release for Windows. Including a programming foundation exposes a computer to new potential security risks, though. Chrome extensions programmer Aaron Boodman and others detail some in a recently published paper by the University of California at Berkeley's Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences department.

The latest raw developer builds of Chrome are now labeled version 5.0, according to technical program manager Anthony Laforge. That work will manifest itself in an upcoming developer release.

Work continues on 4.0, which hasn't been issued yet for Mac and Linux as a stable release, and an upcoming 4.1 release for Windows, Laforge said.