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Enabling add-ons with Firefox beta

Firefox has released 3.0b1 and I’ve been eagerly awaiting a version that leaked less memory than a sieve, so I thought I’d give it a go. After downloading it, I was very impressed with it’s performance and styling updates. What didn’t impress me was the lack of add-ons. I mean, how can I possibly live without having my adsense earnings showing 24X7, or have access to skip bad tracks in iTunes from my browser? In all seriousness, losing some of the add-ons like the web developer or colorzilla are like coding with one hand tied behid my back.

Are we doomed to choose between memory leaks and features? Some may say yes, but I say “maybe not”. There are two different ways to trick your add-ons into thinking they are compatible with newer versions of Firefox. Be forewarned, though – doing so can seriously reduce the stability of Firefox. But, hey – you’re running beta software, right? You’re the kind of person who’s not afraid to take a little risk. So here goes:

Method 1 – editing the .xpi file:

Firefox add-ons are bundled up in .xpi files that are nothing more than zipped archives containing the necessary files. Add a “.zip” to the end of them and you can extract their contents for a little magic. Once you have the contents extracted, open the INSTALL.RDF file with a text editor. Look for the section that says
“<em:maxVersion>2.0.0</em:maxVersion>” change the 2.0.0 to 3.0.0, or even better 5.0.0. re-zip up the file and change the file extension to be just .xpi (no .zip). You can then open the file with Firefox and install it. Voila! Working plug-in. Now some new fancy plugins (like the Google Search Toolbar) are digitally signed, and making these changes somehow breaks the voodoo that holds them together. Firefox will refuse to install them, which is probably not a bad thing with all the crappy malware out there these days trying to get a piece of oyur computer. In a worst case, you can try…

Method 2 – using the Nightly Tester Tools add-on:

Install the add-on before updating to 3.x (or after, it just adds to the number of restarts needed). Once you’ve completed the upgrade, go to your add-ons manager (Tools | Add Ons). You can then right click on the add-on you want to test and pick “make compatible“. I’d recommend doing just a couple at a time, as about 1/3 of the add-ons I tried completely b0rked 3.0. If you run into this problem simply re-start in FF 2.x, and disable the offending add-on(s) from the add-ons manager. Later, rinse and repeat until you have a lustrous set of working add-ons.

I usually do a combination of the two – editing the .xpi file of all that I can, and using the Nightly Tester Tool to get the few that wouldn’t work that way. Either way, after you spend a day and a half getting everything working just right, the add-on coders will get off of their lazy duffs and eventually get a version out that works with the new beta. But you’ll have the satisfaction that you were able to run your favorite add-on before anyone else.

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