Mozilla hustles to handle demise of Google Toolbar for Firefox

May update Firefox 3.6 next month to give users a way to migrate bookmarks

Mozilla is scrambling to deal with Google's decision to drop the Google Toolbar for Firefox, according to notes on Mozilla's website.

Earlier this week, Google announced it was killing Google Toolbar for Firefox, and would not be updating the add-on to support Firefox 5 or future versions of the open-source browser.

Mozilla shipped Firefox 5 a month ago.

"For Firefox users, many features that were once offered by Google Toolbar for Firefox are now already built right into the browser," said Google in a message Tuesday. "Therefore, while Google Toolbar for Firefox works on versions up to and including Firefox 4 only, it will not be supported on Firefox 5 and future versions."

Google Toolbar adds several features to Firefox, including syncing bookmarks to a Google account, translating foreign-language websites and sharing pages with others.

Although a Google spokeswoman today said that the company had been talking with Mozilla about the demise of the Toolbar "for some time now," the decision seemed to catch Mozilla by surprise. On Thursday, Christian Legnitto, Firefox's release manager, put out a call for a developer meeting later in the day to plan Mozilla's next moves.

Mozilla's biggest concern: Users running 2010's Firefox 3.6 have put off updating to Firefox 5 because the toolbar won't work with the newer version.

"We know that a large amount of [Firefox 3.6] users are not taking update offers to [Firefox] 5+ due to Google Toolbar incompatibility," the Thursday meeting's notes read.

Elsewhere, Mozilla called the toolbar's incompatibility with newer versions of Firefox "a top support issue."

Nearly a third of all Firefox users still run Firefox 3.6, according to the most recent statistics from Web metrics company StatCounter. Firefox 3.6's usage share is, in fact, more than double that of Firefox 4.

Mozilla highlighted two steps it wanted to take in an update to Firefox 3.6 that's currently scheduled to ship Aug. 16. "[We] need to support getting data out of the Toolbar," Mozilla's meeting notes read, "[and we] need to tell them the Toolbar is gone and not coming back."

But adding code to Firefox 3.6.20 may be tough because of the tight deadline: Developers are supposed to "freeze" the update's code Aug. 1, 10 days from today.

"If we are going to do something ... we have very little time as 3.6.20 code freeze is soon," said Mozilla.

Earlier this summer, Mozilla said that the August update might be the last for Firefox 3.6. Mozilla has already halted security and other updates for 2009's Firefox 3.5, as well as for this year's Firefox 4.

Firefox users were generally unhappy with the Toolbar's retirement.

"Nooo," wrote Paul Mitchell in a Friday comment on Google's blog. "My employees and I depend on the Toolbar for accessing bookmarks across machines. We've been doing this for years. What are we supposed to do?"

But a few applauded the decision.

"Good riddance, and thank you, Google," said a user identified as "Dekoth" in the blog's comments. "Now perhaps people will get to see just how powerful Firefox and Chrome both are without needless baggage."

One commenter wondered if the move was motivated by Google's desire to push users toward its own Chrome browser.

"This step move[s] Firefox users to Chrome, since many [are] still using Firefox due to Google Toolbar," argued Kenny Chong on Wednesday.

On a support page where Google spelled out steps users can take in lieu of the Toolbar, the company did plug Chrome. "Find out how to get the best of Google Toolbar in Google Chrome," the pitch read.

With the passing of the Toolbar for Firefox, the only supported browser is Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE). Google declined to comment on whether the IE Toolbar will also face extinction, or if so, when.

For its part, Mozilla did not immediately reply to questions about the Toolbar, including when Google told it of the end-of-life decision. The company did, however, stress that the add-on's termination would not affect the deal that provides Mozilla the bulk of its revenue.

"The Google Toolbar for Firefox is not in any way connected to the search arrangement between Mozilla and Google which continues to be a strong and mutually beneficial partnership," a Mozilla spokeswoman said in an email.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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