The Boot2Gecko Developer Experience: An Interview with Mozilla’s Jonathan Nightingale

A surprise bonus of last week’s MWC trip was the coincidental launch of Boot2Gecko, Mozilla’s operating system based on Firefox (Gecko being Firefox’s underlying layout engine and B2G being the unofficial brand name for now). They made a joint announcement with Spain’s Telefonica (O2 and GiffGaff’s parent company) with the expectation to release a commercial offering this year (no commitments yet though).

Continuing my “a conference is worth more than 140 characters” resolution, I had a chance to sit down with Mozilla’s Senior Director of Firefox Engineering, Jonathan Nightingale and understand some of the technical issues around the new OS.


Key points from the video, as well as speaking to some of the other Mozillians:

  • The device could be very cheap, $60 for a SIM-free device is a figure I heard. Needless to say, if they can achieve a price point like that, it will be music to carriers’ ears and simultaneously light up the HTML5 developer community. At 10:00, Jonathan mentions that Telefonica sees the opportunity to produce a smartphone that’s “interactive, smooth, high quality, with a good app selection, that is one-tenth the cost of an iPhone”. From what I’ve heard, this is because of two factors: the target hardware is open and patent-free, and the HTML5 runtime is built over a thin Linux core, so various layers are eliminated.
  • It boots fast, about 14 seconds (I thickly say 4 seconds in the video but I was counting from the splash screen…my argument is invalid). Bearing in mind this is a very early concept, the final version will hopefully be even faster, though it’s possible extra services may make it slower too.
  • Everything is HTML5. The launcher, dialler, camera, gallery, et al. And what’s more …
  • … On the dev build, as Jonathan demos, View Source is available everywhere! On all the apps, and that includes those “system” apps above (launcher, dialler, etc).
  • The Mozilla Marketplace is not exclusive to B2G. It will run on other devices where Firefox runs, like Android. (It turns out that Android apps can be permissioned to add multiple URL shortcuts to the Android launcher, so once a user installs the market, they can install apps directly on the launcher.) This is a little like the Chrome Web Store, which is the app distribution mechanism for ChromeOS, but also works on regular Chrome across the different OSs it runs on.
  • Mozilla’s keen to cultivate an ecosystem of multiple marketplaces with different verticals and business models. They offer their own marketplace, but will happily embrace others.
  • No immediate plans for extensions or a NodeJS service layer like WebOS runs, but Moz is very open to feedback via the standard channels.

PPK argued in last week’s Web Ahead we may well see a shift away from Android in the next year as carriers come to terms with Google’s Motorola acquisition. It’s not for certain, but I did hear people echo this view at MWC. Boot2Gecko will be a key part of the current movement among the smaller OSs to embrace HTML5 developers. And if the price point means developers can easily get their hands on these devices, as opposed to the usual suspects who are awarded freebies by marketing departments, it stands a real chance in this market.

HTML5 developers should also check out Christian’s Boot2Gecko write-up for more info, as well as the official Boot2Gecko Wiki.

Add-On Collections: A Trail Framework for Firefox Goodies

Moz has begun Add-On Collections (via Ajaxian):

Today, we’re excited to introduce a new feature to our website that will expose the niche add-ons that can be hard to find, and gives users a more active role in helping outstanding add-ons bubble to the top. One thing we’ve learned as add-ons have grown in popularity over the years is that once a user finds an add-on they love, they become a fan for life. We see this all the time as people recommend add-ons to their friends and write great reviews. And we’re very happy to see so many bloggers writing about lists of their favorite add-ons.

Now this is interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s an example of the URL Trail pattern; Firefox Collections is a framework allowing people to publish and share a collection of links; very similar to Amazon’s “So you want to …” ListMania. It adds the ability to do something that neither I, nor Vannevar B. mentioned about trails: the ability to subscribe to a trail, in order to see changes made, e.g. Here is the RSS feed for the Social Circuit collection.

The second hotness about Collections is the fact that Firefox add-on management is getting easier. You can click on a bunch of add-ons, like adding them to a shop cart, and install them all in one go:

It takes Firefox closer to where it should be IMO, in which add-ons are easily installed with one click, and distros are available for specialised needs, e.g. a developer build containing Firebug and other dev tools. Moz themselves might be wary of blessing certain extensions in this way; so the ideal situation might be if they were to provide a framework like Collections, where anyone can propose a bundle and the best bundles rise to the top, with a way to yoink a Firefox build containing all the add-ons in a collection.

Meeting with Aptana’s Kevin Hakman – Talking Jaxer

Regular readers of this blog will know I am a big fan of Javascript on the server. Through its Jaxer project, Aptana has been at the forefront of the server-side Javascript renaissance. As I’m in SF right now (mail or tweet me if you’d like to meet up), I was pleased today to be able to catch up with Kevin Hakman, a great talent in the Ajax world who runs community relations and evangelism for Aptana.

I wanted to get an overview of the state of Aptana and Jaxer, and also understand how it might be used in a TiddlyWiki context to help with accessibility.

We discussed a range of things Jaxer – I will list them below. Kevin reviewed a draft of these points and gave me some links and corrections.

  • Jaxer – as you probably know, Jaxer is an Ajax engine. It’s server-side Javascript, but more than that, you can perform DOM manipulation on the server, and then it spits out HTML from there. Very exciting for all the rasons I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts – using a single language, making proxied cals from client to server, etc. The great thing about Jaxer is it’s open source – you can download a version with Apache that “just works” – download, install, and start the server in one click and the sample apps are up and running. Aptana runs a cloud host for Jaxer (as well as Rails/PHP etc), so you can host with them if you don’t want to host it yourself. They have some interesting value-adds around their host, like support for different environments (dev/test/etc with different parameters, such as extra debugging), which you can easily spin out and turn off again.
  • ActiveJS – ActiveJS is a Jaxer-powered framework modelled on Rails and close to beta. The most mature part is ActiveRecordJS (ORM), but there is now ActiveView and ActiveController as well. As with Rails, you can use them independently. This is exactly what I’ve been hoping for and it sounds like it’s mature enough to start hacking against. Kevin is realistic about uptake and expects it to be a long process.
  • Microformats – Kevin directed me to this this Jaxer project which filters parts of a form depending on who is viewing it. You just use a different class name to indicate who can view what, and the server chooses which parts to output. This got me thinking about microformats and how Jaxer could help render them – with a single library, dynamically in the browser and statically from the server. There are a number of microformat libraries which might already be useful sitting in a Jaxer server.
  • TiddlyWiki – Taking TiddlyWiki based apps and using Jaxer to make them come statically from the server. Since Jaxer supports DOM manipulation, it should certainly be possible. Kevin said accessibility is certainly an argument for Jaxer, though there’s no significant demo to date, so a TiddlyWiki project would make a good demo. His intuition is that it will be a 90-10 – 90% straightforward, the remaining 10 will cause some complications. Would definitely make an interesting project to do a simple version, e.g. initially just get Jaxer to output each Tiddler, showing title and wiki markup.
  • Demo app – Aptana TV is implemented in Jaxer+ActiveJS and there are plans to open source the implementation and make it Jaxer’s “Pet Store”.
  • Interoperating – Jaxer can interoperate with other languages using browser extensions/plugins, since the server is basically Firefox; these are not extensions users have to install, but act as enhancements to the server. Just as a user can install a plugin to Firefox so web apps can make calls to Java for example, a developer can patch the server with the same plugin (or similar, but with the same API anyway?). Kevin said most of these kinds of components are XPCOM, but I guess Jaxer should accept regular Firefox extensions and even Greasemonkey scripts. DotNet COM example. In a simpler sense, you can call out to other languages using the OS command line. System commands have always been possible from the Jaxer server.
  • FF bugs – Jaxer shares the Firefox’s bug set and fixes, when you think about it!
  • Performance – Likewise, Jaxer benefits from all the stuff you read about sky-rocketing Javascript performance in the browser. Jaxer will be inheriting the performance boost from TraceMonkey promising to be silly-fast at 20x to 40x speed improvements for JS according to Moz.

IE Market Share Slips

A Net Applications study (via ReadWriteWeb) says IE’s market share has dropped to 67%:

This is an interesting trend. The actual quantity of market share will vary with methodology, but a 7% drop in a year is something to take note of. Moreover, as Readwrite points out, there are two things that will probably make the trend continue:

  • The upcoming launch of mobile Firefox. I would also extend ReadWrite’s point to cover the whole role of mobiles in general. The iphone’s browsing share is now around 0.6%, a massive figure for a single phone. A popular phone to say the least, but one that still has a tiny share of the overall phone market. Just as basic mobiles are standard now across most of the planet, including developing countries, we’ll be seeing a saturation of smartphones over the next few years. You can only say “but I just want to make phone calls” for as long as you don’t see all the benefits others are deriving from all the other features. And we can be fairly certain that Firefox, Opera, and a whole range of niche browsers, many not yet born, will have the lion’s share of browser action. Having struggled reluctantly with MS phones, I know personally the operating system is light years behind and mobile IE doesn’t even have multiple tabs; it’s not even in the race right now for anyone who has a choice.
  • The trend towards cheap notebooks. Implicit here is RW’s assumption that many will run Firefox on a custom Linux distro.

I was recently in a discussion with a developer who was considering an MS stack involving Silverlight on the client. His argument was about efficiency of development. I could debate that, but the greater point here is that we’ve gone beyond a time when it’s reasonable to go to market with an IE-only app. (I realise Silverlight is technically not just IE, but I am coming from a point of pragmatism here, and anecdotally you don’t want customers running Silverlight on other browsers and non-MS operating systems.). Even if it were more efficient to develop with MS tools, the constraint is too great.

In many organisations, people are exercising choice and using various browsers. Say you have 20 people in a company who are all potential users of your web app. What is the chance that all 20 will be using IE? Improbably low, assuming 67% chance that each is using IE. (Okay, somewhat of an exaggeration, because their usage will be correlated as they work in the same place, so it’s not 0.67^20; but still, gut feel is that at least a few people here will be running the Fox.) Even if the corporate standard is IE, I’ve never worked in a company that truly enforces their standard (thankfully for developers in particular), so I’d be willing to bet there will still be a number of folks running Firefox. By releasing a product that only runs on IE, you’re basically guaranteeing that it won’t run on all potential users’ browser of choice. Not a showstopper perhaps as they can still fire up IE – if you’re fortunate enough that they’re running MS – but still a great way to make your product unpopularly received. It might still be mandated if the decision is a central one involving a faceless someone or committee who could care less what browser it runs on; but it’s also possible that the decision-maker will be a Firefox, Safari, Opera, or Chrome user, and will be suitably unimpressed with a late ’90s style IE-only offering.

For Browser Extensions, Grease is the Word

Chrome now has Greasemonkey support. The Chromium patch came from Aaron Boodman, who is at once a Google employee and the brains behind the original Firefox Greasemonkey extension.

It makes me wonder if this is the plan for Chrome add-ons. Forget about anything like Firefox’s add-on mechanism and just rely on Greasemonkey. With the right APIs, it’s all you need.

For a long time, I have been confused and disturbed by the disparity between Greasemonkey and Firefox extensions. Creating a Greasemonkey extension is dead simple for any Ajax developer; creating a bona fide Firefox extension is more complicated, and involves writing the kind of meta-descriptions and JARs that most Ajax folk avoid. (The kind of simplicity mantra that has made JQuery king of the hill for now.)

You might recall I automagically ported the domain teleporter Greasemonkey script to a Firefox extension a while back. That this was possible, and easy, demonstrates that the Firefox extension mechanism could be made a lot simpler. I thought there was talk of doing it for FF3, but it didn’t happen.

What do Firefox extensions do that Greasemonkey can’t? Nothing Greasemonkey can’t get around.

  • Extended access – manipulating the Browser Object Model, accessing local file system, etc. All of this could be possible from a Greasemonkey script with the right APIs available. There are security implications, of course, but as long as users are aware of who can do what, it’s no different from what we have now. It may be even better, due to Greasemonkey’s built-in wildcard-based URL filtering, so that certain apps might only be limited to certain domains.
  • Metadata – certain metadata is present in an extension. This could just as easily be part of Greasemonkey’s metadata.

It’s my hope that Google’s vision for Chrome plugins is Greasemonkey on Steroids, and that this unleashes a whole new ecosystem of powerful add-ons that have until now required too much effort to build.

Firefox 3: The Changes…Firefox 4: The Wishlist

Firefox 3.0 ticker tape parade

Today is Firefox 3.0 landing day. Maybe tomorrow as the servers have been down for many hours now. Funny how Twitter is up, but Mozilla is down…it feels like today is the Juneth of 18. Anyway, this is great news as you could wile away a few lazy hours tweeting and plurking about the irony and how you’re chomping at the bit for FF 3.0, and watching other people say the same thing but with different yet equally charming emoticons. But anyway, FF 3.0 is pretty much here. Yay!

Firefox 3.0 is faster, more stable, and standards-based, and that’s no mean technical feat, but the upgrade is not so obvious from a consumer’s perspective. And my own ADD mindset craves more visible changes that will impact on usability and utility.

The modern browser is the application billions of users spend the most time in, many hours a day, and the trend is set to continue as desktop migrates to web. And Firefox is used by 18% of users (Net Applications via wikipedia, Q2 2008) – that’s 18% of some billions of users. A very big number indeed, and even more remarkable in certain markets, where Firefox dominates share, and even in the entire population of certain countries, where it appears to be neck-and-neck with IE. Furthermore, as a major player, the features of Firefox are clearly going to influence those in competing browsers. What’s in Firefox matters a lot. So, by deludedly illogical inference, the present article must also mean a lot to the future of our green planet. Here I will outline UI changes in FF3, then present my wishlist for FF4.

But first, what’s in 3.0 then?

This is a wishlist for the next version of Firefox, FF 4.0. But first, let’s review Firefox 3.0, ignoring those important but not too tasty “-ility” updates, and instead focusing on what users will actually see. I had to think about this. After several months of using both versions alongside each other (on different boxes), I really don’t notice much difference at all. as noted by wikipedia, are pretty trivial. (I noticed a better list here, though there are no other major features mentioned.)

  • More native look and feel. Nice, but a small change.
  • Redesigned download manager, can search for downloads Same.
  • Redesigned add-on managerIt’s integrated with the main distro site This is by far the most important new feature. I’ll elaborate later, but FF is all about plugins and the plugin process has been pretty silly up to now. In the book, Art and Science of Javascript, my chapter on Firebug included a section on installing the Firebug extension. And I can tell you, looking at it step by step, you can see how complicated the whole thing is.
  • Microformats are supported. Cool, we like microformats and it leads the way to the so-called “Web 3.0″!
  • Introduced Places for bookmarks. Yes, this is the most obvious new feature, but the thing is, years of rudimentary bookmarking support, combined with Google’s almightiness and Delicious et al, has weaned me, and I suspect many others, off bookmarking in general. I don’t know, how many people are really going to tag their bookmarks? What I do like is the new smarter address bar with history auto-completion and better display. It has leap-frogged IE here, which has searched by title for some time. Handy little feature.
  • OSX version supports Growl, spell check, and Aqua. Well, Growl is nice and it’s available to Add-on developers…but it should also be available to all websites, perhaps using a whitelist setup. (Similar to the Add-On trust system now – a notification panel that says “this application wishes to notify you of critical events via Growl. Do you agree?”.)
  • Default icons change Cool but fairly basic again.

These are all changes you might expect in a point release – it would be hard to justify going 3.0 in the absence of all the other improvements to stability, etc. That’s why I’m not trying to take anything away from the overall FF3 effort … there’s a lot of changes outside the UI. But when you look at these UI changes, they’re very basic. I’m hoping FF4 is more focused on seriously evolving the browser, and that means taking some chances and making some bold improvements to the shiny Fox machine.

And now … The Firefox 4.0 Wishlist!

Shipping with Add-Ons

As I’ve said before, Firefox needs to ship with a proper suite of pre-installed extensions. The “thin kernel model with optional extensions” is architecturally sound, and of course many applications now incorporate a plugin style architecture. The highly successful Linux and Apache web server projects are based on this model too. However, Mozilla misses a trick by shipping without key extensions. The attitude seems to be “if users want it, they can ^@!#$ install it themselves! The Mozilla people are in general extremely concerned with usability and the human factor, but in this case, the attitude reeks of Comic Book Guy geekery. Leaving out basic tab functionality, for example, yields unecessary advantages to Opera and Safari. Yes, it’s available in TabMix if you care to download it, but if it’s that important, then ship FF with TabMix!!!

There should be a standard distro with 5 or 6 popular plugins, all chosen for utility, simplicity, security, and compatibility with each other. This should be the one you get when you click the big, fat, super-easy-to-use, Download button (which I have always admired and has since been copied by many other websites). A bit deeper in the recesses of the Firefox distro site, you could also download the minimal edition as well as specialised editions. Alternatively, you might select your distro the first time you run a new Firefox profile. I could imagine a wizard that (a) asks you which distro (mapped to a set of add-ons), and then (b) lets you customise the list. This is much better than the current situation for creating a new profile, where you have to go and (re-)add all your typical add-ons manually, then restart.

It would be cool to see specialised editions for developers, students of different ages, gamers.

Apart from usability, this would be a boon for security, which is arguably Mozilla’s primary concern and greatest source of pride when comparing Firefox to IE. Relieving most users from the need to install add-ons reduces the chance of a screw-up involving installation of a malicious plugin, or some unanticipated interaction between plugins that creates a hole. The default stack would be designed and tested for security, and any alerts involving an add-on in that stack will be highly visible.

Make it easier, much easier, to write Add-Ons

This was supposed to be an enhancement for FF3 iirc, but may have been dropped (?). Anyway, writing extensions in Firefox is a complicated business. You have to know XUL and deal with the whole packaging structure. It should be just as simple as writing Greasemonkey scripts IMO. I’d like to be able to say something like $("addressBar").style.backgroundColor = "red" for example. These things could be made possible with enhancements to Greasemonkey, but of course Greasemonkey isn’t built in. What I’m looking for here must work with the raw version of Firefox. This will lead to a proliferation of cool new add-ons. It will also increase the risk of security violations as there will be more plugins around and it will be harder for Mozilla to vet them all, but relying on a difficult API to slow down add-on … that’s not the way to ensure security.

Installation of Add-Ons, Themes, Search

Installing search modules should work the same way as the new way to install add-ons and themes, ie all inside the client instead of bumping you to a website. Installing themes is half integrated but still requires you to go to a website. Even Add-Ons requires you to go to a website to explore fully. I think this should be unnecessary.

There is also confusion of terminology, with references to both “Add-Ons” and “Extensions”. On the official add-on website, “Search” and “Themes” are combined with 10 other category of Add-On (Appearance, Bookmarks, etc.), whereas they are in fact special types of add-on. So in some cases, they are kept distinct, and in other cases, they are lumped together.

Improve Profile Management

I like the idea of profiles – as a developer, it would be nice to switch between a developer profile and a user profile. And also between multiple dummy user profiles while testing. But switching profiles requires a restart. Not only a restart, but you have to run Firefox with the “-p” flag, and the installer doesn’t come with a launcher for profile-switch mode. For that reason, I bet most users probably don’t even know this feature exists.

The simplest improvement would be for the installer to add a launcher for profile-switch mode to the Start menu (in windows at least), just like there is one for Safe Mode. Moreover, just integrate profile switching into the actual interface…just include a dropdown in the Advanced Preferences or add a new menu item somewhere which expands to show each profile ID. Easy! True, you’d still need a FF reboot. I don’t see that constraint changing anytime soon …

Tab-Mania! Sugoi yo ^o^

I wrote this up in Taking Browser Tabs Seriously. There’s a ton that could and should be done to ease the multiple tab experience – notifying, searching, grouping, sorting, etc etc etc. This is HUGE! ‘Nuff said, see the link for details.

Retain all viewed content (or at least index it for searching)

Come on, you know you want it! Instead of bookmarks, it’s time to finally bite the bullet and let users search through every page they’ve visited (if not forever, then at least for the last X days). How many times do you have to search for something on Google that you’ve already seen before. The browser could take care of it. Just as Google search slams Yahoo taxonomies, so too does full-page history search obliterates bookmarking. I don’t know how much capacity you’d need to do it, but I bet if you asked in 1994, “will we be able to do that in 2010, with 16 years = 1000x (ie 2^(16/1.5)) improvement in hardware stuff”, you would answer a resounding yes. With the right optimisations, I’m fairly certain this is possible. BTW I realise you can effectively achieve all this now with Google, but there are a lot of reasons why it should be built into the browser (intranet and hidden content; privacy and corporate security concerns; possibility of offline browsing old content).

Improve history

With or without the previous enhancement, Firefox history has always been a bit wanting. For starters, search needs improvement – you should be able to search history the same way you search through a page. ie instead of filtering, it should just highlight matches and scroll to them. This way, you could see which other pages you were looking at around the same time. Sometimes, I’m searching for one term, but only because I know I was looking at another page at the same time, and I can’t locate the other page via search. (Although I could do so if the previous enhancement was available!)

Search should also work without having to hit Enter – it should be updated on each keystroke just like page search.

Furthermore, it’s excruciating trying to work out what time and date you viewed something. You get the “View by Date” which sorts by date, but doesn’t let you search in this mode. And in any event, it still doesn’t show you time of day. And if you view in other ways (by site or last/most visited), you don’t get any time or date at all.

That Sidebar

I never get why there’s only one sidebar when there are several possible contents (bookmarks, history, add-on-specific features). And it’s also odd that you can only control that sidebar from the menu rather than the sidebar itself. You should be able to have multiple sidebars, or at least one accordian style sidebar containing all possible contents. Similar to the All-In-One Sidebar add-on.

I could imagine Firefox achieving flexible UI with an elastic docked window style UI like Eclipse (or indeed Firebug in some respects), but I think that would be too complicated for mainstream users.

Render Non-HTML Content

I realise a browser’s fundamental job is to show web pages and it’s rarely good when applications over-step their boundary, but in this case, I feel there is a case for putting in at least some effort on non-core activities. I’m talking about how Firefox (and every other mainstream browser) deals with non-HTML content. For example, this came up on Twitter today, where my colleague mentioned the problems we have viewing JSON in the browser. It requires a download basically and then manually opening and viewing in your editor, and that’s not very satisfactory. Even with XML, which is rendered by FF, how about some intelligent interpretation. If it’s RSS or Atom, for example, provide a suitable default stylesheet explaining what it’s good for and how to subscribe.

Better File System Navigation

When you visit a local directory using file://path-to-directory, what you are greeted with is an interface that hasn’t changed since the mid ’90s. Arguably, it’s doing enough already, so why complicate it? But I think that exploring the filesystem is a rather useful feature for the browser, given its sovereign posture which means it could be used as the primary control centre for managing your local file system.

It’s also impossible to visit the root of your filesystem using file:/// on certain OS’s, at least on my Mac. This is obviously fundamental behaviour that’s missing, and the bug was logged in 1999! On my Mac, I also can’t open up /Volumes/Macintosh HD due to the space. When I click on it from /Volumes, it changes to file:///Volumes/Macintosh%20HD and that URL breaks. Doh!

Just like Explorer or Finder, files should be shown in various possible formats – tabular (with sorting), thumbnail, etc. And it should use thumbnails to show file types.

Better Keyboard Binding Support

I like those programs like IntelliJ Idea which let you control keyboard bindings for pretty much anything, and also let you save and load configurations. Firefox should do the same. A lot of the shortcuts are hidden anyway and should be available somewhere in the interface, e.g. a keyboard preferences area.

Mouse Gestures

This was one of the awesome things about Opera when I first started using it and it made browsing fun and more subconscious, one step closer to the haptically brilliant Minority Report hand control scenario. I used it all the time, but on Firefox, the main add-on didn’t work so well and I never got into it. Gestures should be built in so they are available to all users and available to all add-on developers. It would be even better if they were available to web apps as well, using some kind of whitelist if necessary (as I explained earlier wrt Growl).

Comment on the Coop

Incidentally, there is also The Coop. This was intended to ship with FF3, but dropped at some point. It’s an attempt to embed social networking and stumbleupon-type functionality. To me, this is exactly the sort of thing that really is too far removed and should remain an optional add-on. It’s actually tied to a single server run by Mozilla, which doesn’t seem right for an open-source product. It might make more sense if it was generic platform/API, with the communication protocol published and the server software also open sourced.

Fin

Firefox is by far the best browser today, already has some great UI improvements from 2.0 days, and I am pleased that v3.0 is now more stable and performant than ever. Now I’m looking forward to usability improvements and looking forward to seeing other people’s wishlists!

The Little Bug that Could: Firebug Book Chapter

<gush> Firebug is awesome. Joe Hewitt is a legend.

As I’ve said before, Firebug is among the most usable software tools ever developed. I don’t just mean compared to other software development tools. I mean against all user-facing software. It’s single-handedly improved my Ajax productivity by at least 100% (that’s my estimate when making changes to larger Ajax code bases). It’s made Ajax development much easier to get into for newbies and a much more pleasurable place to be for all developers. </gush>

So I’m pleased to announce I’m writing a chapter about the bug in the upcoming Sitepoint text, The Art & Science of JavaScript”. To be published by Sitepoint and with coauthors Simon Willison, Christian Heilmann, Ara Pehlivanian, Dan Webb, Cameron Adams, James Edwards, and others. I can’t talk about timelines, but you’ll notice the Amazon entry above is stating January ’08.

Would you like to review the chapter? Drop me a line – [email protected]

As well as explaining the various parts, I’ll be sharing tips on when to use different features and how to get the most value out of them. Here’s an outline:

* Meet the Bug
  What is Firebug, when to use it, overview of functionality, how it has
    impacted modern web development.·
  What's missing at time of writing (other browsers, cookies)

  • Installing Firebug

    Downloading and installing the plugin, opening it up and enabling it for certain sites. Windowed vs docked mode

  • Firebug Anatomy and Idioms

    Overview of sections in the Firebug window

    Idioms - point out that most things are cross-linked, searchable, and editable. Options menu.

  • The Console

    Introduces a sample application used throughout the chapter, then introduces the console (logging, errors, running JS commands).

  • Viewing and Editing Your App on the Fly

    • HTML
    • Including Layout and Style
    • Mention Inspect option in popup menus.
    • CSS
    • Javascript
    • DOM
  • Debugging Your App

    • Breakpoints and tracing
    • Watches
    • Stack trace in the console
  • Performance Tuning Your App

    • "Net" tab
    • Profile button
    • YSlow
    • Reference Related Tools below
  • Related Tools

    • Firebug Lite

    • YSlow

    • Microsoft Script Debugger

    • Other Firefox Extensions

    Brief list of a few other useful/alternative extensions, e.g. Web Developer Toolbar, Measure-It, Stylish

Firebug Wishlist

Just mailed Joe Hewitt a couple of suggestions for the bug.

Hi Joe,

A couple of firebug suggestions.

(1) Search

On the Ajaxian interview, you mentioned people have trouble locating and knowing about the existence of Search. (Me too.) Redesigning the layout will help, but I'd also suggest retaining the standard alt/control-F shortcut somehow, as I'm sure a lot of your power user audience will be trying to use that and failing.

More generally, any redesign probably ought to somehow integrate Firebug  search into Firefox search, e.g. use keyboard focus to decide which of the two is searched.

Bonus points if Firebug search cycles through all tabs :) .

(2) One word: cookies!

Cheers,
Michael

Ajax Diagnosis And Testing Patterns – Podcast

Welcome to Ye Olde Ajax Patterns Podcaste, the final in this series that began twelve months ago. 3+4+4+1 = 12 podcasts in all, covering 71 patterns (the 70 patterns in the the book as well as Dyanmic Favicons). Find them all on the podcast category – http://www.softwareas.com/category/podcast/ or subscribe to the podcast feed at http://www.softwareas.com/podcast/rss2. Thanks for listening!

This podcast covers eight patterns on debugging/diagnosis of Ajax Apps, as well as testing Ajax apps, and I’m joined by Craig Shoemaker from Polymorphic Podcast, also a co-author of “Beginning Ajax with ASP.NET”. After some announcements, the interview begans at 6:00. The podcast overall is 60 minutes.

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With the series now complete, the podcast will now resume regular Sotware As She’s Developed topics including but not limited to agile development, Ajax, the web, and usability. Also, more conversations – please drop me a line at [email protected] if you’d like to come drop in for a skype chat.

As always, credits on this podcast to My Morning Jacket for the lead-in track, “One Big Holiday”. All podcasts in this series licensed under CC.


Audio Note: Sorry about the noise at some stages in this recording – I now know a lot more about audio levelling (the problem of keeping both ends at the same level), but at the time this was recording, it turned out I had set Craig’s end at too low a volume. I used Levelator to level each end, leading to too much noise…next time I’ll need to pump up the volume at each end from the start. I’m also looking forward to resuming use of Bias SoundSoap, but there’s no easy way to get this running on an Intel Mac for now!

More Adventures in Firefox Extension Land: Submitting to Mozilla

I recently explained how I created my first Greasemonkey script as an experiment, then converted it to a standalone Firefox plugin/extension/add-on using an automated tool. Official homepage here. The experiment continues, as I subsequently submitted it to Mozilla, and it’s now been approved as an official plugin.

I’ve been curious about the process people go through to submit an official extension, so here’s the rundown.

1. Upload XPI File

Standard upload of the XPI file, which contains all the plugin contents.

2. Provide Metadata

… such as my name, the extension’s homepage, and so on. (Why isn’t this info just packaged inside the XPI file? Actually, some of it is already in that file anyway.)

One interesting thing here is that I get to choose the category it goes in (although I guess the approver could change it later on). Note also that there’s no help about the categories on this page, so I think there’s a large risk that developers will probably be inconsistent. Not bashing Moz about this, but I do think they could make it easier for end-users to locate plugins if they encouraged consistent labelling – I’ve sometimes trawled through 5 or 6 pages trying to find a plugin within a particular category.

3. Wait for Approval

An official Mozilla person must now look it over, which is a reassuring security measure. (Complain all you want about Ajax and its tabloidistically alleged “security holes”, but the open-source nature of web architecture is extremely compelling from a security perspective.)

After about thirty hours, I received an email that the plugin had been approved. And now it’s available from Mozilla, ID 2816.

If you told me I was cluttering up the space of extensions with this trivial 7KB contribution, I’d say you’re probably right, but then what’s the harm in lots of extensions, as long as it’s easy to locate the one you want. (UserScripts.org, the GM repo, does that to great effect with the power of tagging, and a wiki would make it even more useful.) Not everyone wants to set up GM and maintain the scripts, even those who are savvy enough to know about extensions.

In summary, Greasemonkey and associated tools make it easy, bordering on trivial, for anyone with basic Ajax knowledge to create a standalone Firefox extension. Of course, it will be functionally limited to GM-type page munging, but it’s still a lot easier than I had imagined.