Extension APIs and New Versions

By Deane Barker on December 2, 2005

Joe told me last night that he upgraded to Firefox 1.5. Looking through my Skype history, here’s the conversation:

Joe: Firefox 1.5 is out, looks really nice.

Deane: What’s the big difference with 1.5?

Joe: Supposedly faster, some security tweaks. The big noticable one is drag and drop tabs. Ad blocking is improved. Oh, the back button is completely instantaneous now. cool

Deane: Was it not before?

Joe: Don’t think so.

Deane: [long pause]

I’m sitting there thinking, this is it? This is all we get from the much-heralded 1.5 upgrade? I was more than a little disappointed.

But then I installed both of these extensions:

  • foXpose: which emulates Expose in Firefox
  • Tab Preview: which pops up a little preview of the actual page behind each tab when you mouseover them

Suddenly, I realized that I haven’t listened to my own ranting. Both these extensions — which are very cool, with Tab Preview being the more useful of the two — are only possible because of a new drawWindow method in 1.5. This tells me there were some under-the-hood changes that opened up the API and thus made it easier to develop extensions.

Which leads me back to a point I’ve made before (recently, in fact): if you do nothing in an upgrade but make your extension architecture more valuable to extension developers, you have done something very good, and something that will outlast any other change you can make.

The ability to drag and drop tabs is minor, but the ramifications of the drawWindow method (and — presumeably — other things they did with the extension architecture in this release) will be felt long after everyone realizes they have no reason to drag tabs around. To quote my recent post:

A big, decentralized group of enthusiastic hackers will always turn out more and better stuff than your in-house development group. Give them a well-realized API, and they will pay you back many times over.

If you have an app with an API that could be better, consider a release that does nothing but improve it.

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Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more! Now if we could just get Microsoft and Apple to buy into this same line of thinking. One of the biggest issues with OS X is the sheer number of small features Apple built-in out of the box to solve every little user issue possible. While the dev kit included with the OS allows smaller “garage developers” to get started creating for the system, it ends up blocking larger companies who won’t create apps for the system out of fear Apple will come along and build it in for free.

    Sometimes, less truly is more. Thank you Mr. van der Rohe!

  2. You can drag a link to the “New Tab” icon on the toolbar to open in a new tab. Don’t diss the drag.

  3. You can drag a link to the “New Tab” icon on the toolbar to open in a new tab.

    Well, that’s cool, but you can do this even easier: click any link with the middle mouse button.

  4. I’ll start with “each to their own” but I don’t get the need for Foxpose and I’m about to try Tab Preview. I also find it funny / interesting to hear you say that Tab dragging is nothing that big. For me, when I found the Mini-T (??) extension Tabbed browsing took an exponential leap in usage.

    But then again our different ways of using Firefox and its extensions shows its vast power. Thank God for choice.

    Oh yeah and 5.1 does seem to be a bit snappier. (how’s that for a technical term. ;-))

  5. I’m sorry if I’ve offended anyone with my dismissal of drag-and-drop for the tabs. I’ve just never seen a need for it. I guess everyone uses thing differently.

  6. Drag-and-drop ordering for tabs is nice but we really need is for that functionality to be built into the XP taskbar. I always open the same 5 apps in the same order after every reboot. I’ve been known to shut all my windows and re-open them if I accidently shut down one of my primary windows and get things out of order. Creature of habit I guess.

    P.S. I know there are apps out there that support what I want but I’d prefer it to be built in. Maybe in Vista!

  7. Yes, but the one feature that I had wanted more than anything in 1.5, and had been promised, was dropped. That was, of course, an MSI installer for Windows. I realize Firefox is targeted at home users, but for those of us who want to use it in an enterprise environment the lack of an official MSI build is a royal pain.

    But I do like the built-in SVG support. The Adobe plugin would always crash Firefox when I tried it.

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