Filing good Extension Manager bugs

The Extension Manager is pretty complex and so it can be difficult to gather the sort of information needed in a bug report to really diagnose what is going on. When the problem is related to extension installation, upgrade, uninstall or enable/disable, these suggestions should help get as much information as possible into a bug report.

Be specific in your description

While it may appear that your problem happens for “every add-on you try to install” or for “every website” the reality is that add-ons are complex things. A feature of the 20 add-ons you tried might not be present in the one add-on that the developer tests with. If you say precisely what add-ons you tried then the developers will test with those add-on which gives us a better chance of reproducing your problem.

The other part of this is to be specific in the steps to reproduce. Try to include what windows appear, what buttons you click on, when you restarted Firefox. Too much information is not a bad thing here, the more closely a developer can follow your exact steps the better.

Attach the cache files

In your profile directory are a set of files that the extension manager uses. Attaching copies of them after the problem has occured gives us an idea of what state the extension manager got itself into, ideally shut down Firefox straight after the problem and copy them out of the profile before starting Firefox again, then attach them to the bug report you file.

You want the files extensions.log (only in Firefox 3), extensions.ini, extensions.cache and extensions.rdf. If any don’t exist then say that in the report.

Turn on logging

If the problem is reproducible then you can turn on additional logging to get some more information on what the extension manager is doing. Type about:config into the address bar and look for javascript.options.showInConsole and extensions.logging.enabled. Make sure they both have the value true (double click to change).

Now open the Error Console from the Tools menu, clear it to start fresh and then perform whatever action causes the problem. Hopefully some messages will appear in the error console. Include these in the bug report.

Should AMO allow adverts for pay-for add-ons?

Assuming you agree that paying for some add-ons is ok then you have to ask what we do about people using AMO as a marketing platform. This is a tough question since we risk devaluing AMO as a website if it just gets filled up with adverts. I don’t believe that there is an official policy on this. It is such a rare issue right now that maybe one isn’t necessary, but here are are my thoughts on what such a policy might say.

In order to even advertise a pay for add-on the developer must have uploaded a real add-on. If this add-on is just junk, i.e. doesn’t really do anything and is just a means for getting a page onto AMO, then it should be removed. I have seen add-ons like that (that weren’t advertising anything) getting removed as a matter of course anyway so I think this is already working.

The next question is whether the add-on is a basic version of the premium add-on. If so then I think it is totally fair that the developer can include text in the page to note that a pay for version is available elsewhere. I’m less enamoured with the idea of including screenshots of the pay-for version on AMO. I think regardless of how well labelled they are there is a strong risk of confusing the user there.

Trial versions of add-ons pose a question. Should AMO be allowing add-ons on the site that will intentionally stop working after a period of time, or that list features in menus that only pop up a message about needing to pay to activate? I don’t think so. I believe a user should be safe to download add-ons from AMO that are whole products and they can count on to continue to work.

If an add-on on AMO is unrelated to a premium version by the same author then more care has to be taken with advertising different add-ons on the same page. I don’t see a problem with a short note at the bottom mentioning that other add-ons from the author are also available elsewhere, but I don’t think mentioning what the other add-ons are or what they do is a good idea.

Overall I think short notes are the way forward, anything where the add-on is more of an advert than an add-on in its own right is something that needs to be carefully looked at.

Update: A couple of commenters have raised the question of whether AMO should just include pay for add-ons in its listing, something that I completely failed to consider. I’m not sure which side I am on on that yet. I think if handled correctly it could work, but maybe I’ll think on it and do a follow up post on the subject.

Should developers charge for add-ons?

I’m very surprised that many people are questioning whether developers should even be allowed to charge for add-ons. Traditionally it is true that add-ons have been freely available, but I’ve known of pay for add-ons for at least 2 years now (that add-on is still available so must be doing ok) and I imagine there have been some around for longer. Some companys’ entire business rests on their Firefox add-ons. That sort of situation wouldn’t exist if no-one ever paid for add-ons in some way.

I believe that developers should feel welcome to do whatever they please. If they believe their work is good enough to charge for and users think it is good enough to pay for then great. There are probably more funded add-ons out there than most people realise. Charging for download is just one mechanism for recouping some cash for development. I use adverts on my website to help fund some of my development. Some developers ask for donations, others are supported by virtue of their add-on driving traffic to their website. Do you think Google give you the Google Toolbar for free purely out of the kindness of their hearts?

I’m no expert in the matter, but I suspect there would be something seriously wrong with the add-ons ecosystem if it was only populated by free items. I’m pretty sure that people actually getting paid for their work will feel more driven to release higher quality add-ons as well as put more pressure on Mozilla to fix the issues that they find in the platform during their development. This helps all developers, not just those charging their users.

I suspect that people who don’t like the idea of add-on developers making some money out of their add-ons simply don’t fully understand just how much work developing add-ons involves. It takes lots of time and effort to get something to the level of quality you are happy with releasing. Those that aren’t developing for a company are literally taking weeks and months of time away from their friends and family to provide users with something useful. You can argue that if they enjoy the work then they shouldn’t be charging for it, I enjoy my day job yet I still expect to get paid. Believe me that working through all the little bugs your users find but often you can’t see is generally not much fun compared to the actual development of a new feature. Money provides that little extra incentive that might mean the difference between an add-on continuing to be maintained and it dying out.

If you don’t like that a developer is charging for their work, even if the same add-on was previously available for free then I don’t really think you have any right to complain. If you don’t think that what they are offering is worth the price then don’t buy it. I wonder, if you were to try disabling all the add-ons you are using for a day, how many of them would you so sorely miss that you could see yourself paying a small price for them.

Money money money

The question about developers charging money for the use of add-ons seems to be getting brought up again lately. One of the more active theme developers has started to charge for premium versions of their themes, leaving free basic versions still available on There are a couple of different issues with this, both of which many users are taking exception to. Apparently once I started writing about this I couldn’t stop so I’ve split this out into a couple of different posts to follow.