Following a long discussion about Firefox Themes vs the new Persona technology, Mike Connor from the Firefox team explains on his blog why Firefox plans to migrate developers from the current theme and extension systems to personas and jetpacks. Since we are a Firefox extension, you might wonder How will this affect Firebug?
I don’t think these changes will have a big impact on Firebug. Firefox will continue to support extensions while the jetpack technology matures. We can adapt as we go along.
I don’t expect we will adapt towards the jetpack solution however. Jetpacks are designed to broaden the number of addons beyond the current 8000; they make small add-ons much easier to build and maintain. As a very large add-on with a huge API contact area over the mozilla code, Firebug is way out of their design space.
Instead I expect our adaptation will be steal some ideas from jetpack and apply them to Firebug and to move away from aspects of the extension system that Firefox wants to drop first. Hopefully we will hear more about what is on the hit list. Based on the discussion linked above, XUL overlays and the install/update technology would be on the list.
Similarly the install/update technology is not a big deal. In fact I am currently working on an alternative solution to the add-on compatibility problem. However, I am trying a different strategy than the jetpack team because I have different design goals. I am aiming for users to see only a few choices, by bundling Firebug extensions together. (I’m using the cutesy name ‘swarm‘ for these bundles). I want users to know that the extensions in the swarm work together (or at least don’t break Firefox or Firebug). So the swarm will be co-tested with Firebug and the entire swarm will install and update as a unit. I believe this will be a big boost to Firebug extension developers as well as providing our own alternative to the Firefox update technology as it slowly fades away.
In the big picture, the evolution of Firefox’s extension system does not stand out as a significant worry. We have the shift of Firefox to multi-process, the rising need for debugging mobile web, and many untapped and exciting new features to focus on.