Firefox Developer Edition - Not So Much A Birthday Present ...
Written by Mike James   
Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Firefox made a splash for its 10th birthday celebration - a tiny tweak to the main browser and a "new" developer edition based on the pre-beta Aurora channel - who asked for that?

You can't really make disapproving sounds at a birthday party,. especially not about the presents but in this case you need to look carefully at the offerings. 

 

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A browser targeting developers sounds like a really good idea. After all, we are an important group. This is part of the reason that most programmers are slightly enthusiastic about the move. But what exactly is the developer edition offering us?

The developer tools in Firefox have been growing all the time and the developer edition really just adds a few components that are currently optional. For example, the impressive sounding WebIDE is already in Firefox 33, you just have to enable it. It was scheduled for inclusion in Firefox 34 as a standard feature, whether this has changed as the result of the creation of a "developer edition" isn't clear. 

The most important thing to know about WebIDE is that it would be better named FirefoxOS-IDE. It provides some very basic tools for creating and testing FirefoxOS apps. I've been using it for a while and it is much better than the App Manager which it replaced. However, it really isn't a general Web IDE. You can argue, as Mozilla does, that Firefox OS apps are just web apps, but they aren't really as there are lots of extra APIs that are only supported by FirefoxOS or partly supported by desktop Firefox. This is a way of creating web apps with a very distinct Firefox flavour. Personally I'd rather use something like NetBeans for general web app development. Compared to almost any desktop IDE WebIDE looks very under powered and provided. 

The other big new feature is Valence, which enables remote debugging from Firefox. This was created to allow you to debug Firefox OS apps running on a real device. As the protocol is standard, it can also be used to debug Firefox on Android and now it seems it works on Safari on iOS - although I haven't been able to make it work as yet. My guess is that most people will use Valence as it always has been used - to debug Firefox OS apps. 

After these two "highlights" the rest of the line up is just what you would find in Firefox developer tools. You also get a separate profile to keep your real browser away from your developer browser which is probably a good idea.

So overall the biggest and newest thing about the developer edition is the dark and gloomy style. Mozilla presumably thinks debuggers look best shrouded in gloom. And the fox looks frozen - more of an Icefox than a Firefox.

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There is one other interesting feature of the developer edition - it is a repackaged Aurora channel browser. This means that it is full of new features that will eventually graduate to the standard Firefox browser. 

Just what the debugger ordered - a non-standard browser to test things on!

If you take a look at the new features in the latest Aurora/Developer edition you will find changes to HTML and JavaScript. The changed "let" semantics on their own might produce some interesting debugging results. 

Of course if you want to work with the cutting edge Firefox then programming and even debugging with the Aurora channel might be a good idea, but if you just want something that works perhaps not so good an idea. If it does take off, however, than suddenly Mozilla gets a lot more users for the Aurora channel and the developer edition collects and sends data back to base - as you would expect for an experimental edition. This couldn't be the motivation for a developer edition could it? 

 

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My final thoughts go to Firebug and its dedicated developers. These guys revolutionized debugging in the browser. Now most of the features of Firebug are in the developer tools. Mozilla just built in the add-in's functionality making it increasingly irrelevant.

On the same day that the developer edition was released a news item on the Firebug site announced:

"The next Firebug generation starts with introducing a new Firebug theme, new features and bringing great Firebug user experience to the built in tools. Users don’t want two separate tools in Firefox – they want one great and powerful tool!"

It doesn't make a great deal of sense, but I hope they can find something better than Mozilla provides and I also hope that if so Mozilla doesn't just build it in.

If Microsoft or Google had cut the ground out from under a competitor's product we would be very annoyed, but of course there are no competitors in open source. 

I feel sorry for the Firebug crew.

I don't feel good about Mozilla and the direction it is headed in. It seems that the "birthday presents" highlight the problem of becoming a PR-led company rather than one led by technology. 

 

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 11 November 2014 )