End of Bookstack, but Looking Forward to Firefox 57

Back in 2007 I was a Firefox user and wrote my extension Bookstack, which is now dying due to the changes to Firefox. But I am looking forward to the improvements Firefox brings, even though this seems like the end of an era of extensibility in the browser.

Why is Bookstack done?

My own browsing habits have changed since I wrote it. In recent years, I’ve continued to use Bookstack, but more as a speed dial than as it was originally intended as an inbox system for links. I’ve thought about writing a new sidebar to do something that suits my current usage, but for now I’ll see how life without Bookstack is before I embark on another extension.

There are some users of Bookstack out there, and I’m sorry I won’t be able to support them, but the source is available if anybody wants to take it up. The fact is that under the changes to Firefox, Bookstack would require a full rewrite anyway, and it would lose features in the process. The main painpoint would be the UI.

In the early years, Bookstack did most of its own work to build the sidebar until I worked in XUL long enough to realize I could piggyback on Firefox itself for a lot of that code, which reduced the maintenance burden on Bookstack considerably. With the change to webextensions, that’s no longer the case.

I enjoyed the project while it lasted. Ten years is a good time for it to retire.

Why Firefox will still rock

The change that Firefox is making is the first step toward a next-generation browser in terms of speed and memory use. I haven’t tested the 57 beta yet, but it’s purported to be fast. That’s great, and the changing to webextensions reduces the burdens on Firefox to let it continue to improve much more in the years to come.

End of an era

But that change comes with a cost, as mentioned with my own EOLing of Bookstack. The customizability of the browser is being limited. It’s not the Fisher-Price Apocalypse some might fret over—that won’t happen as long as the underlying browsers and protocols have open source roots—but it is limiting.

Browsers are supposed to be agents for the user. They are supposed to do the user’s bidding. Limiting the ease of modifying the agent isn’t great, but other limitations have always thwarted some types of user choice, whether it’s each browser keeping its own data (with some ability to import/export between them), or browser security getting in the way of the user (there’s an inherent clumsiness in trying to interact with iframes in userscripts, for example).

Return of the User

The next act for the web will hopefully be a resurgence in users finding new ways to work around the limitations of browsing and webextensions. There are always new threats to the dream of a web that serves users, and Google Chrome has invited a certain amount of complacency among the multitude. With a bit of luck, a resurgent Firefox will help to ignite a new generation to work for an open web again.

Ready for Iceweasel 4?

I updated to Iceweasel 4 today which is in the Debian experimental repository.  The update process was as smooth as can be expected.  A few extensions didn’t update, which required looking into why and finding alternatives.

  1. All-in-One Gestures, which I used for the scrollwheel on tabs behavior, wasn’t updated. I opted for Tab Wheel Scroll, which doesn’t have all the extra features I never used.  The author’s description even leads with, “do one thing and do it well,” so I probably should have switched to it earlier.
  2. Firebug needed updating; no big deal.
  3. CS Lite‘s author has apparently stopped updating, which is a shame. For now I’m using Cookie Monster, which is very similar to CS Lite, but I liked the former’s icon.  The latter also currently doesn’t allow repositioning its statusbar button.

I’d like to not show my Add-on bar in Iceweasel 4, since part of the redesign is to get rid of some of the extra chrome.  But for now I’m stuck with it:

  1. As mentioned, Cookie Monster won’t let you move its button.
  2. Same goes for Greasemonkey.
  3. Firebug puts one there, too, but it also allows you to have a regular toolbar button.

So, until Greasemonkey and a good Cookie tool let me move their buttons, I’ll have to see the Add-on bar.

Finally, it appears (see bugs.debian.org: 616353) that the current nVidia driver screws with Iceweasel’s rendering in several places.  So far, that’s only been an annoyance.  I can’t tell which tab is current, and I’ve seen some other rendering glitches too:

  1. The site identity is munged.
  2. I saw an advertisement stick on the screen regardless of which tab I viewed; it persisted after closing the tab that contained it, and even after I restarted the browser.  Lame.

Hopefully a new driver will be available soon, but until then I shall roll with the punches.

The good news:

  1. The browser is faster
  2. It’s prettier even if I’m still in a half-state waiting to turn on all the goodies (no bottom bar; using the one-button menu; the flawless rendering it should have).
  3. Panorama will make workflows easier to manage.
  4. It lays the groundwork for the best that’s yet to come.

Mozilla rocks, and so does glandium for the hard work he’s done in packaging their work for Debian.  And so does Debian for their hard work.  Hell, even the nVidia guys that introduced this annoying rendering bug deserve a pat on the back.

Tomorrow Firefox 4 will be unleashed on an unsuspecting public, and the web will be even more awesome.

Sidebar Links: the balance

The delicious Firefox extension is in alpha for Firefox 3. Unfortunately it looks like it will be a little heavier weight than anything I’d want to have installed.

If you use delicious a lot it’s great. You can basically replace the Firefox bookmark system with delicious. It’s still a bit buggy but it’s far enough along to see how useful it would be; that’s if you want to use delicious that way.

My main reason for using delicious was to throw links I found on there in real time to be added on the sidebar here on this site. Basically a “this is what caught my eye, you can check it out if you want” situation. I’d done that previously with google reader and it worked okay. Then I tried doing it manually with the wordpress built-in blogroll system. Neither of those were quite what I was looking for.

So then I tried the delicious extension for Firefox 2. It was light-weight enough, and smooth enough to use; that worked well for awhile. Then I switched to Firefox 3.

So now it looks like I’m going to dump delicious, at least for now. The extension has enough bugs at this point to, well, bug me. Once it’s further along in development I may go back to it, but for now it seems to be interfering with my extension’s loading properly. Whether that’s a bug on delicious’ part or a “feature” remains to be seen.

Now I’m giving twitter a try. The main problem is that it doesn’t allow for links as far as I can tell. On the actual site it’ll link a URL, but in the sidebar they’ll just show as text. Not ideal.

All I really want is a simple way to add URLs to the sidebar for things I don’t necessarily want to write about but are worth recognizing.

Alas. Don’t really feel like writing that.

I guess my solution for now is:

  1. Keep the twitter around just because it’s an easy way to add random little thoughts (but no links)
  2. Start posting when before I’d just throw the link in whatever would show up on the sidebar
  3. Dump the sidebar RSS thingamajig
  4. Go to sleep, it’s late.

Night all.