RealTime IT News

Add-ons Extend Firefox Growth

The recent success of the Firefox movement -- thousands of volunteers spreading the Gospel of Mozilla to every corner of the Internet -- is spawning a new kind of growth.

Nearly 1,000 enthusiasts have spent this month celebrating the release of Firefox 1.0 at 394 launch parties around the world, from the U.S. to Pakistan, Vietnam to Chile.

And it's at these parties that another kind of buzz is making the rounds -- the real-world word-of-mouth propagation of popular Firefox extensions. Extensions are add-ons to the open-source Web browser, clever little applications created by independent developers that expand on the base functionality provided through the development process at the Mozilla Foundation.

For now, the effectiveness of extension promotion is largely confined to the people who are already sold on the Firefox browser. But, according to Stephen Downes, a Firefox user who by day is a researcher at Canada's National Research Council, the added features extensions should catch on with mainstream Firefox users.

"The ease of installing these things, you click a button and they're in, is really nice," he said. "Once people catch on to that, that will take off in a big way but it probably hasn't caught on a lot except among the early adopters; we're looking at one year, two years down the line before the impact of this is really felt."

For now, a growing number of new Firefox users are getting used to the base features in the browser. According to Mozilla Foundation officials Monday, browser downloads number 5.6 million in the first two weeks since its launch.

Currently, there are 132 extensions on Mozilla's extension page, providing a bevy of features. They range from the nice-to-have to the got-to-have. In the nice-to-have department, there's extensions like Watchcow.net's Amazon Feed Injector -- that expands on the Live Bookmarks feature in Firefox to provide RSS feeds for Amazon product and wish list Web pages -- and WeatherFox, which displays Weather.com information in the bottom right-hand corner of the page, configurable by zip code. In the got-to-have category, there's extensions like the SecurePassword Generator and SpoofStick, which detects spoofed Web sites.

For the 20 people attending the Vancouver Mozileum at Stamp's Landing Neighborhood Pub in Vancouver, Canada, the talk centered around a relatively new extension, Wikalong. Unlike a traditional Wiki, which lets users add or edit a Web page's content under a collaborative "open editing" concept, Wikalong is more like an accumulation of comments from previous visitors.

Users with the Wikalong extension can see previous annotations (and also add their own ) on what they think of a particular media report or comment on the business activities of a particular company's Web site. Microsoft.com's Wikalong entry, for example, provides links to alternatives like Linux, BSD, Java and, of course, Mozilla.

More worrisome to some is the fact users can add login and password information to restricted sites, concerns which are legitimate. A Wikalong annotation for the New York Times online contained login information which no longer works. Another Firefox extension, BugMeNot, is a much more popular, and effective, means of bypassing restricted sites. The site's home page boasts that 38,268 sites have been "liberated."

Wikalong shares some similarities to another annotation service launched in 1999. Third Voice was a Netscape and Internet Explorer (IE) plug-in that was originally designed to let users make comments on a Web page's content, but morphed into an e-commerce outfit. The company faded out of existence in 2001 after groups like "Say No to Third Voice" mounted a campaign to stop its spread over privacy, security and cyber-trespassing concerns, according to media reports at the time.

Wikalong's author, John Cappiello, was not available for comment at press time.

Downes said the buzz around the extension comes from its ability to make static Web pages interactive in a way that involves everyone. Wikalong's staying power, of course, resides in continued popularity, adoption and use by the Firefox community. Knowing how well they can throw a party, lack of enthusiasm shouldn't be a problem.