Everyone who uses Firefox should be excited about Jetpack, a new, experimental project from Mozilla Labs that allows developers to extend and enhance the browser in novel and exciting ways. Content producers, on the other hand, might not be so thrilled.
[ Mozilla recently unveiled the Jetpack project to boost Firefox add-on development process. | Discover the must-have Firefox add-ons for IT | See which open source AJAX toolkits the InfoWorld Test Center rates best. ]
With just a few lines of code, developers can use Jetpack to add information to the status bar, create mashups, and manipulate the content and presentation of Web pages -- and they can do so using the languages they already know. That's an exciting development because it brings us one step closer to a truly democratic Web.
Free Software advocate Richard Stallman believes that SaaS and cloud computing applications are dangerous, because they force users to hand over control of their computing to whomever is running the server. "It is like running binary-only software," he says, "only worse: It's even harder for you to patch the program that's running on someone else's server than it is to patch a binary copy of a program running on your own computer."
With Jetpack, however, you can patch the server, in a sense. You can't actually change the program running on the server, but you can change the behavior of the program to your liking. You can modify its output, filter it, change its presentation, and even combine it with additional data sources and new layers of computation. You can even discard some portions of the server's output if you want.
That's great for developers and for users. But it's not so great for the SaaS providers and media companies that have a vested interest in controlling the function, presentation, and distribution of their Web-based content and applications.