Strap In: Mozilla's Jetpack May Be The Next Step In Browser Extensions

Mozilla has unveiled a new project from its Labs division called Jetpack that gives us a taste of how Firefox might begin extending web functionality in years to come. While the project is still quite early in development, it seems to be taking the form of a streamlined extension system, allowing web developers to introduce new features to the Firefox browser using web-based tools and requiring only a minimal amount of effort on the user’s part.

Firefox extensions have long been one of the best parts of the browser, allowing users to add and remove features to suit their needs. But while the user experience of installing these has been relatively straightforward, it still requires a browser reboot, which can be frustrating when you’re in the middle of something. With Jetpack, this isn’t an issue – you click install and you’re done, with the new widget or application installed a few seconds later.

Jetpack is being described as “an exploration in using Web technologies to enhance the browser (e.g. HTML, CSS and Javascript), with the goal of allowing anyone who can build a Web site to participate in making the Web a better place to work, communicate and play.” In other words, if you know how to develop for the web, you should be able to build a Jetpack app. Developers can write code using Mozilla’s web-based Bespin environment and the popular Firebug extension. For an idea of how easy it is to build these applications, check out the video below.

At this point there aren’t many demo apps available, but you can try them out for yourself by going to the Jetpack homepage and installing the Jetpack 0.1 extension (you’ll have to reboot your browser to get it working). From there you can find demos here and here, with available applications including a weather forecaster, Delicious Notifier, and an Ad blocker (there’s also an app that will mix up the images seen in your open browser tabs, if you’re looking for something truly useless).

Mozilla Labs Jetpack – Intro & Tutorial from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

Because Jetpack is still in very early stages it’s tough to tell just how powerful it will eventually become, and if it could ever replace the current extension model. Looking beyond traditional extensions, the new project could potentially allow trusted websites to customize the browser experience on a site-by-site basis, which could prove quite useful (or annoying, depending how it works out).