Firefox learns to share, again

The Mozilla Foundation creates a new add-on that it hopes will become a fully integrated social sharing feature in Firefox.

Firefox Share brings a new take on sharing to the browser.

(Credit: Mozilla)

If at first you can't learn your social skills, try, try again. At least, that's what the Mozilla Foundation is doing.

Following the demise of the first Firefox initiative to bring a more modern range of social sharing to the browser, Mozilla has released today its second attempt in early alpha called Firefox Share (download).

Mozilla has lofty plans for Firefox Share. Along the same lines as the Firefox Weave add-on that later became the default-shipping feature known as Sync, Jay Sullivan, Mozilla's vice president of products, told CNET during a meeting at the company's new San Francisco offices on Wednesday that Mozilla wants to bake Firefox Share directly into the browser.

"It's a new sharing option based off of F1, with the same team, but learning from the F1 experience," he said. F1 was the add-on first released about a year ago through the Mozilla Labs sub-group within the Mozilla organization.

Even though Mozilla prefers to rely on add-ons to expand the browser's feature set, sharing was a no-brainer, said Johnathan Nightingale, Mozilla's Director of Firefox Engineering. "We're doing it because we feel it's such a common thing to do today."

Like F1, Firefox Share is a restartless add-on, which means that installing it won't require a Firefox reboot. It appears on the right edge of your location bar as a paper airplane. Click the icon and you get a drop-down that asks you to log into one of three accounts: Twitter, Facebook, or Gmail. So right there, there's been a drop in share options as the add-on has been re-architected. LinkedIn, Google Apps, Yahoo, and multiple accounts per service have been abandoned for now, although Mozilla said in its blog post announcing the new add-on that it plans on bringing them back.

The company also noted that Firefox Share will take on the default style of the operating system that the browser is running on, which means that if you're on Windows, it will look native to Windows, and so on with Mac and Linux.

The way that the add-on works under the hood has changed, too. F1 was powered by a stateless server as a proxy to communicate between service providers and the browser, "because it was faster," said the Mozilla blog post. Firefox Share, on the other hand, is built on a client-side-only solution where the browser talks directly to the service provider. This was done to avoid having to use Mozilla servers while eliminating some potential security issues.

In some brief hands-on testing, the add-on worked about as well as you'd expect an alpha add-on to work. The core functionality was there. Authentication was simple, and it was easy to jump from sharing in Twitter to sharing in Facebook. Direct message contact selection on the Twitter side appeared to be broken for me, although that's not surprising for an alpha.

Firefox has faced a number of growing challenges in the past few years, such as exploding interest in competing browsers like Chrome and on mobile devices, convincing its die-hard fans and businesses that a rapid-release cycle would benefit all, and maintaining a renewed emphasis on performance and stability. Dedicated, integrated social sharing would certainly be one thing that could help set it apart on a feature level, although, as with all things browser, it's rarely about who's first, but who does it best.

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