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Greasemonkey, Google, an arms race and the gorilla

New details have emerged from the user script jungle following CNET's Greasemonkey story two weeks ago (Firefox add-on lets surfers tweak sites, but is it safe?, March 23, 2005).

One wrinkle we missed is that Greasemonkey author Aaron Boodman is a Google employee. Speculation has been rife that his employer has plans to put out a Google-branded browser. And as the story pointed out, Google's toolbar does its own user-script-like trick, altering Web sites with Google-added hyperlinks on key terms.

So is Greasemonkey part of a grand plan by Google to storm the browser market?

Boodman's work predates his employment with the company, Google said. While that won't exactly quiet Google-browser conspiracy theorists, the company insists Greasemonkey remains Boodman's own project.

Among the new developments in the user scripting scene, fans and critics are declaring an arms race between user-scripters and site authors following a blogged debate over the feasibility, advisability and even morality of site authors' disabling Greasemonkey and other user scripts.

"Greasemonkey broke my site," claimed blogger Dean Edwards, pointing specifically to Greasemonkey scripts' effect on his site's use of the W3C's Document Object Model (DOM) recommendation for letting scripts interact with elements of a Web page. "After installing Greasemonkey I noticed that some of my code samples were completely broken in Firefox....The solution to this is to use defensive scripting. Script authors will now have to account for the fact that someone else may be messing with their DOM. Code accordingly."

The ensuing debate tackled such questions as who "owns" an instance of the DOM (site author or site visitor?), and whether or not a site author could actually disable Greasemonkey or only specific tasks performed by a particular script.

"It is, literally, impossible to 'disable' Greasemonkey," wrote one respondent. "You can mess with its ability to perform certain actions, but then those can always be worked around, which you can then work around, which can then be worked aroundÂ…Talk about a barrel full of monkeys."

Which brings us to the browser market's 800-pound gorilla. In addition to the user script software titles older than Greasemonkey that were mentioned in , there's new hope for users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser who want user scripts: the aptly named GreasemonkIE.