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Mozilla Jetpack Could Speed Firefox Efforts

One of the reasons the Mozilla Firefox Web browser is used by more than 270 million people is its extensive ecosystem of browser add-ons. With the new Mozilla Labs Jetpack project, Mozilla hopes to make it easier for developers to build add-ons and for users to manage them.

Jetpack was officially announced last week and is already generating downloads and new add-ons for Mozilla. Jetpack is intended to make add-on development faster and easier using common HTML Web developer skills. While some might see it as potentially competitive with other mechanisms for building and manipulating add-ons, Mozilla sees Jetpack as a new way to extend the brower and the Web experience itself.

"With more than 25,000 downloads of Jetpack and nearly 100,000 watches of the tutorial movie, we've seen significant interest in Jetpack, especially from the Web developer world," Aza Raskin, head of User Experience for Mozilla, told InternetNews.com. "In the few days since launch, we've had over 20 Firefox extensions written by people who previously had only written Web sites."

Raskin added that right now, Jetpack is a 0.1 prototype and is meant mainly for developers and testers. That said, he noted that the response speaks to a deep, unmet need to allow creators on the Web to be able to participate in making the browser better for everyone, regardless of the depth of their technical ability.

There are more than 12,000 Firefox add-ons in the market already, with over a billion total installs. Yet despite the success of Firefox add-ons, Raskin said Mozilla has only scratched the surface of its potential.

The idea with Jetpack is to lower the entry point for participation. Raskin said as more people come online, anyone with an idea will need to be able to develop the innovation that will meet their vision.

"With Jetpack, what used to take hundreds of lines of code now takes tens of lines of code; and what used to take carefully-cultivated domain-specific knowledge now simply requires standard Web developer skills," Raskin said. "On the user front, the Jetpack experience enables a tighter integration of third-party features with Firefox. You no longer have to go through laborious restarts to try a new add-on. You just click and go."

Greasemonkey a role model

While Jetpack represents a new approach, it is not yet clear if Jetpack will one day be the default mechanism for Firefox add-ons.

"Jetpack is one potential future for what add-ons might look like," Raskin said. "Eventually, Jetpack could be a default mechanism for extending Firefox, but it is too early to tell. We are looking to wider feedback to guide development and direction."

At this early stage, Jetpack developed add-ons do not offer all the same capabilities as regular add-ons. Raskin said the Jetpack API is currently limited, so not everything is yet possible, but over time he expects that more and more add-ons will be portable to Jetpack.

One of the most popular Firefox add-ons, Greasemonkey, which lets users modify pages they are on, could ultimately add more power to Jetpack too.

"Jetpack was informed by the success of Greasemonkey," Raskin said. "Greasemonkey is a fantastic add-on that makes it easy to modify the current page you are looking at. In the roadmap, we plan on adding support for Greasemonkey scripts to Jetpack to allow them work even better together."

What's Next?

Although Jetpack was just recently announced, Mozilla is already hard at work upgrading the platform.

"We've already released four updates to Jetpack since the launch, adding a number of bug fixes and new API features," Raskin said. "You can expect a bigger release of Jetpack in the next week or so. Releases will happen early and often, as we work closely with the add-on and Web developer communities to determine the highest priority directions to go."