This is a read-only archive. Find the latest Linux articles, documentation, and answers at the new Linux.com!

Linux.com

Feature: Internet & WWW

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

By Bruce Byfield on December 19, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

Share    Print    Comments   

As a regular browser of the Firefox Add-ons site, I'm troubled by the apparent proliferation of proprietary extensions in the last year. Maybe I've simply exhausted the free-licensed extensions that interest me, but recently every interesting-looking extension seems to be a proprietary one -- especially in the recommended list. Nothing, of course, in the Mozilla privacy or legal notice prohibits proprietary extensions simply because they are proprietary, but I find them not only contrary to the spirit of free and open source software (FOSS), but, often, annoying attempts to entangle me in some impossible startup.

I took a while to notice the proprietary extensions. Because Mozilla is FOSS and the first extensions I added were as well, I got careless about reading the license notices. At first, I only glanced to see that the references were to the GNU General Public License or Lesser General Public License, and so many were that I became careless.

When I first noticed that proprietary extensions had become commonplace, I was peeved, even outraged. I use Firefox, as I do GNU/Linux, out of a wish to have a free system, so how dare the writers of these extensions try to slip proprietary software on me unaware?

Captive audiences

What annoys me about many of the proprietary extensions is that they are not just extra pieces of functionality for me to pick and choose, but efforts to enlist me as a customer for a new startup. Take, for example, Interclue. In theory, Interclue is a useful add-on that allows you to view a link in a popup window before you actually move to it. However, its developers want to monetize it, so the extension includes several features asking for donations. I have rarely seen a clearer case of a good idea being ruined by nagware, and what Interclue will be like if the developers make good their threat to add special offers from their business partners to the functionality, I shudder to imagine. My only comfort is that, while Interclue might temporarily become attractive to businesses as a way around Adblocker, the basic idea seems far too slender to build a lasting business upon.

A still more annoying extension is Sxipper. While described on Firefox Add-ons as a password manager, Sxipper is actually an identity manager that also controls the information given to forms and allows you to create different profiles or collections of personal information that you can give out as you choose.

Left to your local hard drive, this functionality might be useful, if in advance of most users' needs. However, Sxipper also includes options to send usage statistics and profiles of forms to the company behind the extension. Because the form profiles enhance the extension, users might be tempted to share this personal information. While I have no reason to mistrust Sxipper (in fact, I know several people who work there, or have done so), the concept of trusting some of your security to someone else is simply irreconcilable with basic security principles.

Sxipper is not so much an extension as a hostile takeover of your copy of Firefox, intruding into almost all your Web activities. By displaying the Sxipper logo on every form on every Web page, the extension's default settings transform Firefox into an extended ad for the company.

I could give other examples, such as Jeteye and Wot, where the story is much the same. Such things are not what I sign up for when I install an extension. I don't wear corporate T-shirts, I don't want to be press-ganged into somebody else's entrepreneurial dream, and I definitely don't want a corporately branded Web browser.

In contrast to these underhanded efforts, I have more respect for Sun Microsystems, which, after a period of releasing OpenOffice.org extensions under proprietary licenses, finally had the sense to release them under free licenses -- and with only "Sun" in the name and the occasional logo to remind you of their origins.

Let the downloader beware

Mozilla does warn that it has a policy of taking no responsibility for what you download. Its Legal Notice page clearly warns that:

Mozilla has not reviewed, and cannot review, all of the material, including computer software, available on or by means of Mozilla's websites, and cannot therefore be responsible for that material's content, use or effects. By operating its websites, Mozilla does not represent or imply that it endorses the material there available, or that it believes such material to be accurate, useful or non harmful.
It also tries to bind the developers of extensions by suggesting that, by uploading to the Firefox Add-on site, they are promising that their work is not malicious.

But I can't help wondering how many people read such pages, or remember them for very long. And, while the examples here are annoying rather than harmful, you don't need to extend them very far to see why Firefox extensions are such a concern to security experts.

Admittedly, all I need to do to avoid proprietary extensions is to exercise a little caution and read the licenses, but I became careless because I thought I was in a safe place. In my calmer moments, I tell myself that Mozilla has every right to open the possibility of extensions to any possible license -- and it does warn me, even if I have to hunt for the warning.

I can even rationalize Mozilla's policy as catering to as wide a variety of personal preferences as possible, just as the Debian distribution does by including both free and non-free software. But where Debian makes the difference in licenses clear by putting free and non-free software in different repositories, Mozilla lumps them altogether. So, deep down, it still feels like I'm been misled, my trust betrayed, and my time wasted.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

Share    Print    Comments   

Comments

on The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Note: Comments are owned by the poster. We are not responsible for their content.

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.74.193.128] on December 19, 2008 07:40 PM
Heh. Guess foss isn't catching up even on it's home ground, eh?

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.146.243.24] on December 19, 2008 08:11 PM
Seems to me that Add-ons of the sort this article talks about will not last anyway, they are annoying. Also the best thing about add-ons and plugins is they can be easily removed. Although I have been a linux fan and user (I make that distinction because many big mouths in FOSS are not even daily Linux users in my experience) longer than a lot of the young blowhards that frequent sites like this. I say the most important thing about openness is giving the user control of their own computers, even if that choice involves proprietary software. That said, I have seen a lot of software of the type described above but I use none of it because it is annoying. Nagware will never triumph. In some ares however proprietary is unavoidable, I know of no way to enjoy the current crop of entertainment content on the web or DVDs without proprietary code of some kind. I don't like this but it is necessary and I don't like being told no by FOSS people anymore than I like being told no by proprietary people. Freedom is about choice for the user academic arguments are great, but ultimately pragmatism will win. Terrible software will die. There has been a lot of bad software written both free and proprietary, in the end the best stuff tends to win not the freest or the most proprietary.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.234.53.137] on December 19, 2008 08:19 PM
I don't see a problem with the way Sxipper user interface is implemented; you may or may not like what it does, but if you do, they seem to have done it right. In particular, displaying big, prominent logos is important so that people are reminded where their data is going. If they didn't do that, people would be complaining that they were collecting data without telling the user. Sxipper is not per se a proprietary extension, it's an extension that's tied to an on-line service; if you don't like that, you should just as much complain about all the Google, Twitter, and Yahoo-related extensions.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.192.250.149] on December 19, 2008 09:28 PM
You're right, it's annoying. And unlike some of the other posters here, I don't think it will go away. A lot of Microsoft users download Firefox not because it's free, but because it's better than MSIE. These people couldn't give a damn about freedom, they just want a better browser.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.237.174.94] on December 19, 2008 09:33 PM
I'm not even sure where to look to see the licenses of add-ons. I was checking on one (coolpreviews) to see what the license was, but couldn't find it anywhere. Not during the install, not on the preferences page, not on the download page, or on the developer's site. Unless I'm missing the obvious, that's pretty disturbing.

I don't have a problem with proprietary add-ons, but I'd like to know what I'm installing.

#

Finish the story...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 199.164.56.5] on December 19, 2008 11:54 PM
Are you still using the add-ons?

Proprietary when you have little or no choice, such as certain hardware drivers, is one thing, but these add-ons are purely optional, providing no can't-live-without functionality. You say you feel your trust was betrayed, but what did you do about it?

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 131.107.0.106] on December 19, 2008 11:57 PM
I don't understand what the article had to do with proprietary add-ons. The behaviors described are nasty and undesirable -- but they've got no correlation with the openness of your code.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 131.107.0.106] on December 20, 2008 12:10 AM
Actually, I re-read the article and decided that Bruce Byfield isn't the sharpest tool in the shed.

For instance, he says: "I use Firefox, as I do GNU/Linux, out of a wish to have a free system, so how dare the writers of these extensions try to slip proprietary software on me unaware?"

Well Bruce: maybe the author of said proprietary add-on should add some code to the installer saying "if user is an open source purist then do not install". Now, when you are able to come up with some logic to implement that, come back and complain about how the "writers of these extensions try to slip proprietary software on me unaware".

For somebody clamoring so much about freedom, you don't seem to understand the basics of it. Your crusade isn't shared by everyone. Some of us simply don't care. I'll use a free tool if it does what I need. I'll pay for a non-free tool if it does what I need. People deserve to get compensated for their work, and should have the freedom to chose their business model. If they chose a FOSS model, I have no problem. If they chose another model, again, I have no problem. The world doesn't revolve around me -- I am nobody to tell them what business model to chose. And it doesn't revolve around you either, and you are nobody to tell them what model to chose either.

In summary -- if you have such a humongous issue with proprietary extensions, the onus is upon you to read the license, and decide to install or not install. But quit whining about it.

#

Re: The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.11.47.50] on December 20, 2008 03:37 AM
"People deserve to get compensated for their work, and should have the freedom to chose their business model."

Well, sort of. But if the business model is sneaky or underhanded, then it is certainly fair to complain about it. Saying that people should have "freedom to choose their business model" can be used to try to justify anything, ethical or unethical. You have to admit that some of these programs are less than forthright about what they do.

I think the main point was that Debian makes it very clear that everything in main is free, while the software in non-free does not meet DFSG criteria. Mozilla doesn't provide this same separation.

#

Re(1): The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.19.184.94] on December 20, 2008 01:21 PM
Debian makes it clear that everything in main is free -- so if you care about that, use Debian.

Firefox makes no claim that all add-ons are FOSS. If you have a problem with that don't use Firefox.

There's nothing sneaky or underhanded here -- expect for a silly article making a fuss over nothing.

#

Re: The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.69.133.152] on December 23, 2008 01:05 PM
amen,

-Goestin-

#

Re: The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.60.37.196] on December 24, 2008 01:00 PM
"People deserve to get compensated for their work" - And there is the line in any post which indicates that the poster has no idea what Free software is or means. It amazes me in this day and age that this argument has not been completely squashed. I somehow still read it like once a week from people perusing sites who don't understand the concepts of the article on which they are commenting...Please stop using that argument...please?

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.48.185.244] on December 20, 2008 03:21 AM
Switch to Opera...Its never been the same since...Like switching to linux from windows, once you have seen and use better you never go back! switch to opera...seriously switch and try it honestly for a week, one week; then go back to mozilla/firefox/netscape...and see if you feel like going back in time?

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: PerlCoder on December 20, 2008 06:34 AM
Unlike 131.107.0.106, I do care about the ideals behind FOSS. While it's not always possible to use only FOSS software, I appreciate someone like Bruce who is concerned about proprietary extensions to FOSS software. Despite what most people think, FOSS isn't just about saving money. It's also about freedom -- the freedom to do what you want with code, and the freedom to understand how code works and build on that understanding.

Here's one guy who's going to look a little more carefully before he downloads his next extension for Firefox. Err... Iceweasel. :)

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 127.0.0.1] on December 20, 2008 06:35 AM
Firefox Vanilla is just the best. There has been only 1 add on that I found very useful and this is Fotofox (Kodak Easy Share Gallery Companion).

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 166.214.87.165] on December 20, 2008 12:15 PM
the authors of those proprietary plugins see it as just another outlet to promote their proprietary wares.

#

VOTE THE BASTARDS DOWN TO THE GROUND

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 94.210.255.45] on December 20, 2008 04:23 PM
Just gather an army of FOSS vigilantes and submit as many negative ratings/comments as possible. As the average user rating drops to zero, it becomes less and less likely that this piece of shit ever gets any more attention from serious users. (Not to mention that there will be no way in hell that it will ever make the "featured" section)

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.72.252.122] on December 20, 2008 04:30 PM
"I can even rationalize Mozilla's policy as catering to as wide a variety of personal preferences as possible, just as the Debian distribution does by including both free and non-free software."

Debian's goal is to create a free universal operating system. Mozilla's goal is to promote the Firefox logo. That was the heart of the conflict between Mozilla and Debian; today Firefox is not to be found in any of the Debian repositories. Firefox also almost didn't make it in Fedora's and Ubuntu's latest releases.
Firefox may be open source but it is not free. If you want a free browser, use one released under the GPL. You will then be guaranteed that any extensions you will install will be GPL too. And of course, since you are not using a free browser, you have no right to complain.

#

Re: The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 118.8.148.70] on January 12, 2009 12:51 PM
Firefox is not free? Are you freaking crazy? 99.9% of all people on the earth when they say free, they mean "without immediate monetary compensation", and certainly you don't have to pay for firefox. The open-source purist crowd mean "Freedom", which supposedly means the right to inspect and modify (or even redistribute) the source code, which firefox also grants you. So because it doesn't use exactly your license of choice, it's not free? Get real man. It's popular because it's better, and that's good enough for 90% of people. It's more popular because it's cost free, and that's good enough for 99% of people. The open-source and re-distributable part satisfies most of the last 1% of computer geek types, so just give up and recognize the fact that lgpl is free. LEGALLY speaking, it has fewer restrictions GPL, and so it technically more free.

Anyway the author is silly. The same extensions could be open source or closed source, if they are annoying people will hate them.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 209.33.89.215] on December 20, 2008 04:37 PM
Now that Mozilla corporation is raking in money (from Google and perhaps others), they seem to be losing their interest in remaining non-proprietary. Their business model of harvesting data[*] from Firefox users as a service to proprietary data companies (e.g. the Google Search toolbar, which seems to be where Mozilla corporation has been getting most of their income so far). Their choice of the proprietary (windows-only) "Skyhook" service as the default location information provider for Firefox 3.1 beta seems to be in the same scheme. I have no idea what they're getting from Skyhook in return for recruiting Firefox 3.1 users to submit access-point location data to Skyhook's database, but I can't imagine they'd insert this proprietary service for FREE...

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 209.33.89.215] on December 20, 2008 04:40 PM
[*] - so far not necessarily privacy-invading. Even the Skyhook thing is presumably only being used to add to Skyhooks "locations of Access Points" database rather than collection of location information on individual users. I'm just saying Mozilla is getting Firefox users to provide free data services, and are so eager to get into this business that they're willing to stick proprietary, platform-limited extensions into the system themselves to do so.

#

So developers ought only to release their software under licenses of which you approve?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.1.102] on December 20, 2008 08:09 PM
I agree with 131.107.0.106 ... the author doesn't have even a basic understanding of how software licensing works, and the responsibilities of the developer and consumer. Developers are free to release their work under any license they choose.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 96.49.41.112] on December 20, 2008 11:27 PM
It's sad how few of the commentators have the slightest inkilng about the issues of software freedom. Someone once said "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Firefox has been only too glad to let Free Software advocates promote their software. If they don't want to follow Free Software principles then they should be outed. Thanks Bruce for letting the rest of us know what you've discovered.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 125.236.55.37] on December 21, 2008 01:19 AM
"Mozilla's goal is to promote the Firefox logo"

Not quite. The Mozilla goals have been pretty clearly described in the manifesto, which includes the principle

"Free and open source software promotes the development of the Internet as a public resource."

but also:

"Commercial involvement in the development of the Internet brings many benefits; a balance between commercial goals and public benefit is critical."

...just sayin'.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 122.161.0.223] on December 21, 2008 09:43 AM
Is this mentioned anywhere on the extension page at 'addons.mozilla.org' about the license of the extension. I think Mozilla should at least care to mention that, so Free Software users like us, don't waste time digging through websites of addons about mention of the license.

#

Re: The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 125.236.55.37] on December 24, 2008 05:31 AM
AMO (addons.mozilla.org) allows developers to display an EULA before their add-on is downloaded. Many of us don't bother, not wanting to scare off users with a pile of legalese, even if the legalese is assuring them that they *have* rights. In light of this, I think it makes sense for AMO to add a field where developers can specify the license in use in the description of the add-on. I think there's already a ticket relating to that in bugzilla, so it'll probably happen in some future version of the site. Mozilla is a very open community, and anyone is welcome to contribute bug reports, feature requests, and even policy suggestions. However, it's probably best to do so in the right place, and arguably, this isn't it.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.124.51.62] on December 21, 2008 10:26 PM
"Closed-source Firefox extension" is an oxymoron, more or less. If you insist on having the extension but dislike its behavior, modify it.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 12.88.34.42] on December 22, 2008 01:42 PM
Good article. It's nice to see someone talking the talk and walking the walk. I will be looking over my extensions as well. I appreciate the writer and his feelings on free open source software. Keep up the good work.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.97.227.132] on December 22, 2008 04:47 PM
'Proprietary' does not always mean bad. As a user, if someone makes an extension that is genuinely useful (and that doesn't have a FOSS alternative) then I will pay for it. Hell, the developers need to eat too.

#

Re: The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 96.49.41.112] on December 22, 2008 06:27 PM
Proprietary doesn't mean bad in the sense of software that doesn't work well, no. It does mean that it is not free and non-free software is bad, always, no matter how "useful." You seem to be implying that proprietary software automatically confers food to developers mouths. I don't know where that absurdity comes from

#

Recommended Add-Ons

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.253.108.249] on December 22, 2008 08:47 PM
I've noticed, as well, that Mozilla tends to recommend proprietary add-ons in favor of non-proprietary ones. Is Mozilla getting paid for preferential placement of proprietary add-ons? Probably.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.241.238.222] on December 24, 2008 12:32 PM
The biggest insecurity is with extensions that ask for a login and password of an external site to be filled, such as the social networks plugin Yoono is proposing. They probably save it externally (they are not even clear about that). This is outrageous. It should be explained crystal clear what exactly they want to do with that information. PS. On top of that, you can have all your bookmarks transmitted to their servers if you don't carefully read while you configure it.

Anyway, addons are inherently unsafe if you don't know the maker as a trusted partner of some kind. There could be efforts, automated or semi-automated, to scan plugins on (potential) malicious code. But this too becomes difficult in cases where a dll is included (as is the case with the IETab addon (although this dll is just needed to load IE in a Firefox tab, I think). Automated tools would be necessary in all cases where the javascript has been obfuscated (=almost unreadable for a human being).

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.197.219.12] on December 26, 2008 01:15 AM
Very well said: "The price of Freedom is eternal vigilance." I have used GNU/Linux exclusively for 6+ years now. If Firefox continues this proprietary, closed source outrage, I will be more than happy to use Konqueror instead

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 151.205.9.171] on December 28, 2008 05:22 AM
thank you so much for warning the public about the shadiness of some of these extensions.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.32.158.178] on December 31, 2008 12:24 AM
Adding too many extensions to Firefox tends to make it unstable. But I agree that the Mozilla addons website should much more clearly mark the license an addon is under. I have no idea what the license is on the ones I use, and no idea how to find out.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 119.42.69.251] on January 08, 2009 08:39 AM
well, I'm happy I read this, I never read the licenses, I was totally unaware that there are in fact some serious security risks ... thanks for the warning and yes, I also feel betrayed by Mozilla, as I assumed they would be smart about who to allow into the system or not.

#

The annoyances of proprietary Firefox extensions

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 62.29.83.68] on January 15, 2009 12:29 PM
Sxipper also includes options to send usage statistics and profiles of forms to the company behind the extension. Because the form profiles enhance the extension, users might be tempted to share this personal information.oyun indir http://www.oyunindir1.net if the business model is sneaky or underhanded, then it is certainly fair to complain about it. Saying that people should have "freedom to choose their business model" can be used to try to justify anything, ethical or unethical. You have to admit that some of these programs are less than forthright about what they do.

#

This story has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.



 
Tableless layout Validate XHTML 1.0 Strict Validate CSS Powered by Xaraya