Mozilla has announced one of the most sensible changes to the way Firefox handles add-ons in a long time, add-ons installed by third-party applications, often automatically without the user even knowing will have to get user permission before being enabled.
This single simple change will have huge repercussions on a number of programs that shove all manner of add-ons and toolbars down Firefox users' throats.
Hopefully, while it probably won't wipe them out completely, this will mean a lot less Yahoo, Skype, Ask, Winamp, antivirus toolbars cluttering up Firefox.
"Users aren’t the only ones who love adding on to Firefox: third-party applications frequently install bundled add-ons into Firefox as part of their own installation process," Mozilla's Justin Scott writes
"These add-ons installed by third parties present a number of problems: they can slow down Firefox start-up and page loading time, they clutter the interface with toolbars that often go unused, they lag behind on compatibility and security updates, and most importantly, they take the user out of control of their add-ons," he explained the problem.
And the solution is coming in Firefox 8, when the browser detects that add-ons have been added through outside means, by other applications, it will ask the user for permission to install the add-on.
If you don't know how that add-on ended up in Firefox and you don't need it, simply click continue and that will be that. The solution is simple and elegant.
The fact that Firefox will require explicit user action to enable these third-party installed add-ons will do wonders in reducing the add-on spam that a lot of inexperienced users are facing.
Mozilla is actually doing one better than simply blocking new add-on installs, Firefox will scan existing add-ons and notify users which were installed by them and which by other software while offering the possibility to disable any of them.
Firefox 8 is moving to the Aurora channel next week. Six weeks after that, it graduates to the Beta channel and six more weeks after that, to the stable channel.
It took Mozilla a while to fix the glaring issue, but the solution seems rather bullet proof. Hopefully, software makers will begin to take into account whether users really want their promotional tools in Firefox though, most likely, they'll look at other ways they can sneak by unsuspecting users.