Mozilla finally renovates Firefox add-on site

Six weeks after it first promised a revamped add-ons site for its Firefox browser, Mozilla Corp. Tuesday officially launched a streamlined version that touts a beginner's list of extensions.

Mozilla did not, however, cull the more than 2,200 extensions offered by the site to the "couple hundred" as it pledged to do early last month.

The revised add-ons site was supposed to go live Feb. 12, but the launch was stymied numerous times by bugs and an inability of Mozilla's back-end infrastructure to handle the projected load. Several rolling release dates came and went last month and this month, but each time Mozilla failed to pull the trigger, citing poor server performance in several cases.

"Most of the issue is that we simply have a difficult time reproducing the massive amount of traffic that comes into the site on a daily basis," Mozilla engineer Justin Fitzhugh said last Friday on a blog. "This, coupled with the complexity of a complete application rewrite, has kept us from formally releasing."

Mozilla actually took the add-on site -- which offers Firefox, Thunderbird, SeaMonkey and Sunbird extensions, themes and other tools -- live Monday without an announcement. New features include improved search, user reviews and ratings for add-ons, additional developer tools and support for nine non-English languages, including French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.

In February, Mike Shaver, Mozilla's technology strategist, said the site overhaul would include a dramatic winnowing of the 2,000-plus extensions then included in the database. "We're trying to tighten up the extensions," Shaver said at the time, "especially for new first-time users."

The original idea was to offer only a few hundred proven and up-to-date extensions for download from the main site, then shunt all the rest to a so-called sandbox where they would remain until promoted by users' recommendations. New extensions would also appear first in the sandbox.

However, Firefox's new site does feature a "Recommended Add-ons" page that includes 24 of the most popular browser extensions. Last month, Shaver said one of the revamp's goals was to make it easier for Firefox beginners to find the most worthwhile and useful add-ons. Among the recommended: ChatZilla, Download Statusbar, FoxyTunes and Greasemonkey.

In other Firefox news, Mozilla released the Alpha 3 version of Firefox 3.0, Gran Paradiso, last Friday. The update, which adds several new back-end functions, including support for animated PNG images and a new optional warning that will alert users when a Web site tries to redirect the browser to another URL, can be downloaded from the Mozilla site.

Like the two previous Gran Paradiso alpha builds, this one doesn't sport any of the planned interface changes for Firefox 3.0, which will ship before the end of the year.

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