Saturday, February 17, 2007

Oops! Watch which Firefox add-on you install

I just got fooled by the Firefox add-on ambiguity: there are now two add-ons, and they do different things. On one computer I have installed what's now known as the "classic" add-on for, the social bookmarking site. The classic add-on is a must-have if you want to tag a lot, because it puts a big tag button on the navigation toolbar, along with some other conveniences:

I wanted this on another computer. What I actually installed was a new add-on called " Bookmarks" by Yahoo. It was the #2 result in searching for "bookmarks" add-ons, so I thought it was "the" add-on I wanted. It's feature-rich, and I'm sure it's really useful. It also does something surprising, if you're expecting the classic add-on.

I should say it does three surprising things. The " Bookmarks" add-on:

  1. turns all your existing locally-saved Firefox bookmarks into public, server-hosted bookmarks (they can be made private if you select that option)

  2. completely replaces the Bookmarks menu with a one

  3. and, replaces the bookmarks toolbar with a bookmark toolbar

The glitch was that step #1 wasn't complete yet, so my Firefox bookmarks were nowhere to be found (except in a backup file which I wasn't yet aware of).

I make somewhat extensive use of bookmarks, and keep a lot of technical reference material organized there. I use the bookmark toolbar extensively too, so I can for example check the weather with a click. That has become more of a necessity lately, and is what I was trying to do when I noticed what the new add-on had wrought on my user interface and on my data.

Here's where we come to a bit of a shortcoming with Firefox add-ons, because there wasn't much in the obvious way of help available. The blog post "Firefox Bookmarks – A Love Hate relationship came to my rescue and described what the add-on had done and what to do about it.

While the new add-on might be nice, I wasn't ready. I uninstalled it and got the classic version. Fortunately the uninstaller kindly offered to restore my old bookmarks so I didn't have to mess with it. (Firefox keeps backups of bookmarks: in Windows, they're under %USERPROFILE%\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\\bookmarkbackups.)

How could this have been avoided? Three ways.

One, I certainly could have been in less a hurry to install the add-on and read the text. Maybe that way I would have noticed things were not as I expected.

Two, Yahoo! and could have coordinated better and not released two confusing add-ons. Maybe the new add-on should have bundled both of them, explains what the two are, and lets you pick which you want. Actually I understand there is yet a third add-on which does bundle both of them, maybe that does give you this choice. I'm not about to install it to find out.

Three, the site itself could have made it easier to find the Firefox add-on. I couldn't believe how hard it was to locate the Firefox add-on, after I'd already created my account. This difficulty is how I ended up looking for add-ons through Firefox to begin with.

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