Mozilla Thunderbird Gets Extension Support

Wednesday June 18th, 2003

New Mozilla Thunderbird builds with support for installing extensions have been released. Read Scott MacGregor's Thunderbird Builds forum posting for more details. A page of information about creating extensions has been published and Scott has already released the first official add-on, Offline Support. More extensions are available from Extension Room, which also hosts XUL-based add-ons for other Mozilla products.

#17 I'm with you on this one

by leafdigital

Friday June 20th, 2003 2:58 AM

You are replying to this message

I think there are two points here that you have absolutely right.

First, too much stuff appears to be implemented as 'extensions', including things that could be core features. For example, I notice that (according to the page about extensions) the feature to view HTML as plain text or as simplified HTML is an extension. This should be a core feature - it's a 'privacy'/'user control' feature, like better control over cookies, ad blocking, and popup blocking in Mozilla/Firebird, that should help differentiate Mozilla Mail from Outlook Express.

If all the app's features are extensions that you have to download, then normal users (who aren't going to bother finding out about extensions) won't have those features. And there's less reason for them to switch to the app. Imagine if TB achieves a small footprint - great, it now only takes 10 minutes to download, but then you have to spend 45 going through a list of extensions choosing the ones you want.

Now, from a programmatic point of view, there's no reason not to have these features as extensions - but many of them should be extensions which ship by default. Fine. That way, people who *don't* want them can *uninstall* them, rather than vice versa.

That leaves the second correct point here which is that, given that extensions are used to implement basic core features, using the extensions pref panel for everything is a UI mess. Where do you go for a preference about viewing mail? Well, uh maybe to the Appearance pref panel, no, ok maybe the Mail pref panel (or whatever), uh no, ... oh okay then I just have to go through 17 extensions pref panels to see if I can figure out where the hell that feature comes from...

I think somebody needs to strike a careful balance betwen extensions which are clearly differentiated from the rest of the app because they introduce entirely new features (which, fine, can have their own prefs panels under extensions), and extensions which fill in missing core features within parts of the app. These latter should generally have any prefs in the normal prefs structure. A simple guideline would be, does it need just one checkbox or a couple of radio buttons? then it should probably be categorised under application preferences. Does it need a whole panel to itself? then it should go under extension prefs.

Whether this is technically possible is, of course, another matter.

IMO the second point is less important and the key thing is that when it's time for Mozilla Mail to be released, somebody sits back and takes a careful look at all the extensions - those which ought to be default features and don't add hugely to the download can then be included in the default install, and their preferences incorporated within the normal preferences panel where appropriate. Everything else can then fend for itself. I just hope somebody's going to make that decision and we don't end up with the default install being a bare-bones, does-nothing mail client that has few advantages over the alternatives like Outlook Express.

(And some disadvantages. *coughs* my pet bugs *coughs*. I won't plug them *again* though. :)