firefox alpha users are first to feel the pain from stepped up policing of firefox extensions. it’ll affect everyone soon. the 411 and a fix below.
with all the buzz about mozilla’s announced plans to implement a new, chrome-compatible extension API for add-on developers, I haven’t seen anything about an extension issue that’s happening now.
if you are a dev or nightly track user of the popular browser, you have probably noticed firefox extensions are acting up. add-on publishers are now required to have their extensions signed. while this is a reasonable quality control measure for mozilla to take with publishers developing for its platform, it has unfortunate consequences for users.
extensions not working? it might be your browser
specifically, favorite firefox add-ons can suddenly stop working. as far as I know, the problem only affects alpha version users now, but the issue will go platform-wide with the next official release (firefox 42, slated for november 2015).
the MIA extensions are not all obscure. in my case, I noticed first that wisestamp, a great HTML signature extension, stopped appearing. boomerang, an extension that provides inbox functionality like snooze and scheduled send, was also AWOL. I checked the publisher sites to see if they had anything, but neither had anything about the mysterious outage.
I found an explanation on the ghacks site. the disappearance (and subsequent blocking when I tried to reinstall the extensions) were not a bug, but a feature. according to the ghacks post,
Mozilla announced back in February that it would introduce a signing system for add-ons in the near future.
The system would prevent the installation of unsigned add-ons in Firefox Stable and Beta versions to better protect users from malicious and unwanted extension installations….
…Mozilla’s current plan is to introduce warnings with Firefox 40, enforce signed add-ons in Firefox 41 with a disable option, and remove that preference again in Firefox 42. Starting with Firefox 42, Stable and Beta users won’t be able to override this anymore which means that unsigned extensions cannot be installed in those browsers anymore.
the solution (for now) to blocked firefox extensions
there is a fix to unblock firefox extensions for users of the affected versions. the dev and nightly versions features an override switch accessed through about:config. the ghacks post provides a step by step walk-through to unblock installation and running of unsigned add-ons. it’s likely that that early adopter alpha users will be comfortable making changes to their setup, so having the back door workaround makes sense.
“extension censorship” will come to all firefox users with the november release of firefox 42. more importantly, mozilla is not including the override option in the “stable” or beta releases. users who want to keep using unsigned firefox extensions will have to switch to the dev or nightly. I believe this group will include a significant number of users who use the extensions but don’t want (or can’t on work machines) to move to potentially buggy alpha software.
why the fuss? ka-ching
yes, it makes sense for mozilla to set measures so general users can’t compromise their browser (or computers, networks, and possibly existence). the comment stream on the ghacks piece reflects strong opinions on both sides, along with some pretty nasty name-calling. I suspect the reasoning comes down to benjamins. a signed extension is a known entity, with a phone number and mailing address.
many popular add-ons, including the two I mention above, offer premium versions with extra features and/or support in exchange for a one-time or recurring fee. if someone is developing on your platform and you know who they are, you can ask them for a piece. maybe not today, or next week, but maybe sometime.
my advice to freemium add-on publishers like baydin (maker of boomerang) and wisestamp: get on the train. mozilla has a way bigger stick and while you won’t lose geeky rebels like me, you will lose a big piece of the mainstream audience. I think it’s fun to figure out ways to make things work. they won’t, especially if you want them to pay for it.