Add-Ons website. Add-ons are extensions to the Firefox browser and Mozilla is aiming to make them more accessible to mainstream users with this upgrade. Last week I spoke with Mike Shaver, Mozilla's Director of Ecosystem Development and "add-ons guru", about the new add-ons upgrade and also Mozilla's plans for the future in regards to add-ons.Later today Mozilla is launching an upgrade to its
Add-ons Site Upgrade
Mike told me there are 3 main focuses for the upgrade:
1) Localization - they have
8 7 localized communities at launch, with a couple
more on the way. The current languages supported are: Chinese, German, French, Japanese, Korean, Slovak, Spanish, Turkish. Update: Turkish now won't be supported in the initial release.
2) Improved search and categorization - also Ajax previews for add-ons.
3) Perhaps most significant, Mozilla is enhancing the community aspects of the site - enabling users to review and "self-select" add-ons. Essentially this effects how new adds-ons join the site. Previously selection decisions were made by a small approval community, but the new site features a "sandbox" so that general users can select, review and rate add-ons. The more popular an add-on is with the community, the more coverage it gets on the site. The flip-side to this is that less add-ons will get onto the site, because only the most popular ones will make it. A full list of add-ons will still be available, but on Mozilla's developer community page. Note that this "self-select" process also enables the site to scale better (add-ons are showing a lot of growth currently).
Another benefit of the increased community participation is that it increases the testing process for add-ons - providing code review, feature testing, usability feedback for add-on developers.
Also Mozilla has removed a bunch of old add-ons (a.k.a. extensions), due to trimming down of add-ons that are now redundant (e.g. subsumed within Fx), not being used or no longer being maintained. All add-ons that are not compatible with Fx 1.5 or later have been removed from the site.
The Future of Add-ons
Mike said that add-ons are becoming more popular with non-technical users and that this is a key area of focus for Firefox add-ons. Firefox has 80 Million users now and so it's important that add-ons can be easily used by all of that audience. More than 7 million Firefox users currently have add-ons installed on their browser.
I asked Mike whether Mozilla will be promoting add-ons more to mainstream audiences. He mentioned some partnerships with "major brands" - an example being the Firefox Companion for Kodak EasyShare Gallery, which was released late last week. But upgrading the add-ons site is part of this process of making add-ons usable for mainstream users. Mike said:
"The key for us and for our partners, or for people who are working as developers on add-ons, is figuring out what the essence of the service being provided to the user is - and seeing where that makes sense to have it be more tightly integrated into what they're doing on the Web. [...] I think we'll see significant energy with partnerships and independent developers - so that they can find something on the browser they want to make better for their users, and present their own spin on the Web that way."
Add-ons and Widgets
I asked Mike whether add-ons for Mozilla are similar to widgets/gadgets for Microsoft and Google? He replied that the main difference is that Firefox add-ons integrate with the browser - "a piece of software that a user spends all of their time in" - and so add-ons are able to "integrate into those experiences really tightly". Also Mike mentioned that there's a lot of re-use that goes on, with open source code and components. So Firefox plus add-ons, he said, is a powerful developer platform.
Add-ons and Information Brokering
I asked Mike about Firefox 3 being an information broker - will this mean that add-ons utilize web services more over time? Mike said that the browser's job will increasingly be to "represent the user on the Web and to bring the Web [to them] on the user's terms", so he expects add-ons to utilize technologies such as web services and microformats; and also some add-ons will be brought into the core Firefox product. Overall he thinks that because Firefox is an extensible product, add-ons are a key part of its ongoing development.
Note: I will update this post when Mozilla pushes the changes live. In the meantime, check out our Review of Firefox Recommended Add-ons from October 06.