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.