In final blow to 'legacy' Firefox Mozilla will be deleting XUL addons from catalog in the coming months

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Specular
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In final blow to 'legacy' Firefox Mozilla will be deleting XUL addons from catalog in the coming months

#1 Post by Specular » Fri Aug 24, 2018 2:35 pm

Figured this could use its own topic. Mozilla have announced in a new blog post that come September 6th they'll be stopping all submissions for XUL addons, the type of addons compatible with versions of Firefox prior to v57 (the current version is v61, aka 'Quantum'). Soon after they'll be removing the addon downloads from their site entirely.

This affects thousands of addons that don't have any equivalent functionality in Firefox's newer addon architecture, WebExtensions, notable for being cross-compatible with Chromium. Unfortunately Mozilla are sunsetting their XUL addon catalog prior to reaching feature parity in the newer architecture, meaning developers can't actually port many features due to lacking the appropriate API (apart from addons that developers have moved on from).

This has been a major contention among developers from the beginning of this transition since XUL allowed for near-limitless possibilities with the browser, leading to a great variety of unique and powerful addons that both inspired Chromium knock-offs and informed part of Mozilla's original API for WebExtensions (this irony wasn't lost on users who pointed out how the freedom of XUL allowed for such innovation in the first place). Currently there are still numerous requests by devs for Mozilla to implement new API functions for WebExtensions to achieve similar functionality, and while some have been implemented others are still waiting.

Mozilla notes they're strained resource-wise with maintaining a legacy XUL catalog, though given their claimed motivation that none of the latest versions of Firefox support XUL (ignoring Firefox forks like Palemoon, etc which still use them) surely in that case fewer users would be downloading them, comparatively. So either there are still a healthy number of users still downloading XUL addons or they're going ahead with the deletion too early in some misguided effort to force users over to the latest WebExtension-compatible versions.

Thankfully Archive Team have an active community project to try and archive as much of the catalog as they can, and I dearly hope for everyone's sake it can all be saved. I'll be keeping an eye on this to see how it progresses.

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Re: In final blow to 'legacy' Firefox Mozilla will be deleting XUL addons from catalog in the coming months

#2 Post by SYSTEM » Fri Aug 24, 2018 6:55 pm

Specular wrote:
Fri Aug 24, 2018 2:35 pm
Mozilla notes they're strained resource-wise with maintaining a legacy XUL catalog, though given their claimed motivation that none of the latest versions of Firefox support XUL (ignoring Firefox forks like Palemoon, etc which still use them) surely in that case fewer users would be downloading them, comparatively. So either there are still a healthy number of users still downloading XUL addons or they're going ahead with the deletion too early in some misguided effort to force users over to the latest WebExtension-compatible versions.
The maintenance effort is mostly reviewing the extensions (as well as updates) in order to avoid malicious extensions. The effort depends on how much updates XUL extensions are getting, not from how many people download them.
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Re: In final blow to 'legacy' Firefox Mozilla will be deleting XUL addons from catalog in the coming months

#3 Post by Midas » Sat Aug 25, 2018 1:32 am

As a long time user, I have expressed my disappointment with recent versions of Firefox before (see viewtopic.php?p=91329#p91329). To add insult to injury, while the default inclusion of unsolicited extensions like Pocket for being official sponsors is easy to overlook, the kind of shady acting documented in the following Ghacks.net post is not...
And we're talking of WebExtensions here. It's sad to witness a staple of my online life stoop so low. :(

And apparently there's even more default remote monitoring on the way...

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Re: In final blow to 'legacy' Firefox Mozilla will be deleting XUL addons from catalog in the coming months

#4 Post by Specular » Sat Aug 25, 2018 1:45 am

SYSTEM wrote:
Fri Aug 24, 2018 6:55 pm
The maintenance effort is mostly reviewing the extensions (as well as updates) in order to avoid malicious extensions. The effort depends on how much updates XUL extensions are getting, not from how many people download them.
Should have clarified my comment as it was mostly based on the response the official Mozilla spokesperson had to a user suggesting why they couldn't just host the XUL addons in a read-only archived domain:
Unfortunately, we have limited resources and do not have the capacity to create and maintain an archive.
Which sounds like it has to do with purely bandwidth, or put another way it seems they expect enough users still remaining on XUL-compatible versions of Firefox would be downloading from such a read-only archive for it to be too costly to upkeep. I'm dubious that's the motivation though tbh, it just seems more an effort to coerce users into Quantum in a rather blunt manner.

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Re: In final blow to 'legacy' Firefox Mozilla will be deleting XUL addons from catalog in the coming months

#5 Post by Midas » Sat Aug 25, 2018 1:49 am

Specular wrote: It just seems more an effort to coerce users into Quantum in a rather blunt manner.
In the light of recent moves, I'm inclined to believe this, too.

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Re: In final blow to 'legacy' Firefox Mozilla will be deleting XUL addons from catalog in the coming months

#6 Post by JohnTHaller » Sat Aug 25, 2018 8:48 am

On Sept 5, no secure and supported version of Firefox that supports legacy extensions will exist any longer. It would be a bit counter-intuitive for an organization that promotes security to continue to support add-ons that encourage users to use insecure versions of its own software. As most of the extensions are under an open license, others are free to take up the mantle. As to why Mozilla is shutting it down, I'd wager that it's a combination of things. First, the fact that no versions of Firefox will support these legacy extensions and it looks a bit odd to have a site of theirs listing them. Second, the costs/resources of building a read-only version of the archive. Third, maintaining the existing archive exposes them to issues with these existing extensions (when someone finds a new hack within legacy extensions, should Mozilla spend more resources to analyze all the legacy extensions currently hosted)? Fourth, just the resources involved with running it as-is even without changes (bandwidth, electricity, server maintenance and admin, rack space usage, etc).
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Re: In final blow to 'legacy' Firefox Mozilla will be deleting XUL addons from catalog in the coming months

#7 Post by Specular » Sat Aug 25, 2018 4:45 pm

JohnTHaller wrote:
Sat Aug 25, 2018 8:48 am
*snip*
You make some decent points though I'll mention as a counter-example that Opera supported its legacy Presto addons for years after its own transition. It did this by hiding the Presto addons sometime after from their addon catalog search results but retaining the original pages, able to be found via web search engines. It also notified the user if they should find the page and using the Blink version that it was for a different version of the browser IIRC, similar to what Mozilla already does for non-Quantum/Quantum.

I could see this being easier to shallow if WebExtensions had reached the point where there were a wider range of equivalent features in WebExtensions addons but unfortunately it's not there yet and here we are with all the very addons that built up the innovation in the browser being wiped from reference. Unlike Opera most of what Firefox is known for aren't native features but its unique addons that came from the flexibility of XUL. If anything it would have have been appreciated if they'd at least thought to notify and collaborate with archivists earlier so they could account for everything.

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Re: Deleting XUL addons from catalog

#8 Post by webfork » Sun Aug 26, 2018 8:46 am

I'm a long time Firefox user and I follow the Mozilla organization closely. I like a lot of things they've done (maintaining their status as open source, creating Rust, their pilot program, remaining independent) but get the sense that Mozilla has kind of a 3-part operation to maintain relevance in a post-IE world by:
  1. Maintaining speed at or above Chrome
  2. The ongoing, terrible state of online privacy
  3. A reasonable set of customization/plugins that are at or above those available in Chrome
I think anything that doesn't fall under these three groups is just out-of-scope for the organization. There are still some excellent XUL plugins I use roughly once a month for which (as Specular points out) there is no comparable WebExt option. Certainly the security concerns are an issue and my guess is they're thinking if the XUL plugins go away that there will be increased emphasis on recreating them using the new platform. But if my work here on PFW is any indication, some old programs have very dedicated users who have a hard time giving them up, and they won't get ported.

I don't have a clear solution here, or at least one that doesn't require Mozilla to spend lots of time and energy on the needs of a small percentage of their users. Maybe something they could throw in an "Unbranded" group like they did for add-on signing issue.

I do hope they figure out some kind of archive site where the code and old materials are available with a nice, big "unsupported/insecure" notice at the top. The time, effort, and energy put into those pages, comments, and ratings undoubtedly has value.

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Re: Deleting XUL addons from catalog

#9 Post by webfork » Sun Aug 26, 2018 1:49 pm

Oh and Ghacks had a post about this as well as some suggestions about how to keep using the old add-ons (primarily the use of Waterfox, which is trying to maintain the old codebase).

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Re: In final blow to 'legacy' Firefox Mozilla will be deleting XUL addons from catalog in the coming months

#10 Post by loin2kolpotoru » Mon Aug 27, 2018 9:28 am

This is very sad news, I am using Firefox for long time due to the ability to customize the browser with addons but this move by Mozilla shows they don't care what users want they will just do whatever they like, they are making firefox a clone of chrome, then why anyone will use firefox use the original chrome instead.

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Re: deleting XUL addons from catalog

#11 Post by webfork » Mon Aug 27, 2018 5:15 pm

loin2kolpotoru wrote:
Mon Aug 27, 2018 9:28 am
... they are making firefox a clone of chrome, then why anyone will use firefox use the original chrome instead.
I think the idea is that Chrome had the lead on them in terms of total available add-ons so coming up with something compatible with Chrome plugins ensured they didn't fall behind. It was either lose some of their older, really excellent plugins or miss out on the next generation.

I do wish they'd just come up with a download manager comparable to DownThemAll or pay the developer to build a WebExt version. There's just no replacement for that add-on.

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Re: deleting XUL addons from catalog

#12 Post by Midas » Tue Aug 28, 2018 1:45 am

webfork wrote: I do wish they'd just come up with a download manager comparable to DownThemAll or pay the developer to build a WebExt version. There's just no replacement for that add-on.
I have a similar hitch with Flashgot, which is unbeatable with every kind of tricky download, especially those hard to figure videos.

But even something as simple as dragging links to open in another tab doesn't work so well as a WebExtension in the latest stable Firefox as it does in my aging portable SeaMonkey v2.49.3.

Regarding the overall discussion, here's a user comment at Ghacks.net: www.ghacks.net /2018/08/27/screenshots-from-the-firefox-developer-tools-console/#comment-4388237.

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