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Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Better Gmail

Paul Kedrosky pointed to Lifehacker's Better Gmail. I hope Paul won't mind if I just reprint his entire Better Gmail is Gmail 2.0 post here, since it says it all, elegantly and forcefully:

Gina at Lifehacker has created the #1 most important tool any Gmail user needs. It's an add-in, called Better Gmail, combining all the major Greasemonkey hacks for Firefox-based Gmail users, and it turns Gmail from indispensable into ... really indispensable.

I'm already using most of the pieces as discrete Greasemonkey hacks, but bundling them all like this is a work of genius. Just install it. Now.

Lifehacker also has a good tutorial on using the extension.

A really interesting side note: as Better Gmail is a firefox extension, it's not available for IE users. It's an interesting twist on the browser wars. In the old days, Microsoft and Netscape fought to lock in users with incompatible extensions. Here we see the same thing happening simply because that one platform is open and the other is not. The users themselves are evolving the browser. There's no intentional incompatibility (and it's not in the browser itself). It's just that one browser is getting more capable than the other as a result of its user community.

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Here’s a challenge for some bright intern at Microsoft - write an IE7 add-on that allows GreaseMonkey scripts to run on IE7. Impossible?  Maybe - I’m not sure.  But it would be a hell of an add-on!  A really interes... Read More

Comments: 14

Rocky Agrawal   [04.21.07 01:00 PM]

It's a great toolkit. I installed it on every version of Firefox I have.

Now I just need a hack that will let me quickly switch between Google accounts. (I use one for personal email and another for commercial.) Anyone know of one?

Marc Hedlund   [04.21.07 02:03 PM]

I argued, many years ago now, that the best hope for IE was to create a compatibility layer so that it could run Firefox extensions. Of course that seems crazy as a project, but I think there's a real possibility that the Firefox extension API is the new Windows API, and that the more extensions are built, the harder it would be for anyone to ever catch up. The analogy is imperfect, but I still think that today.

Jonas   [04.21.07 04:03 PM]

Tim, to create a extension you only need an open API.

What do you mean by open plataform? I mean, nobody reads the whole mozilla code, they just use the API.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.21.07 04:33 PM]

Jonas, whether it's open APIs or open source, the key thing is an open mindset, a realization that users add value. As long as a company is creating more value than it captures, it tends to openness. Once it tries to capture more value than it creates, it loses that permeable membrane with its community of developers.

Microsoft was once an open developer platform, even though it was closed source, but at some point, it started consuming everything around it in its quest for continued growth and profitability, squeezing every last drop of value out of the ecosystem for itself, and not leaving enough for partners and co-developers.

Marc -- great point about an Firefox API compatibility layer. IE still has dominant market share as an application, but Firefox is the platform... and eventually the platform wins.

Michael   [04.21.07 05:04 PM]

I hope gmail absorbs these excellent keyboard extensions of Better Gmail ... however it seems the Better Gmail shorcuts do interfer with a few of the pre-existing shorcuts, namely the combo keys like, g + i, g + c...

@Rocky - There is a firefox profile switcher here:
You can store a firefox profile (cookies) for each google account and switch between them.

Dave   [04.21.07 10:14 PM]

Tim, if that's what you believe about the MS developer community and how Microsoft relates to it, then I'm afraid you are sorely out of touch. There are NUMEROUS examples of how MS reaches out to developers, in the form of shared and open sourced code projects, hammering out issues together on blogs, public newsgroups, web casts, live tours, and more and more and more. In fact, as a single company vs. a lot of smaller affinity groups, I'd say MS does MORE than any other group to work with their developers. (Not comparing them to, say, all of SourceForge AND Eclipse AND Mozilla AND Apache, but I think you get my point.)

By the way, you also don't understand IE - IE had extensions being built for since at least 5.0, and possibly before. Yahoo has had their IE version of their toolbar forever. There is a and Google "extension" right now, and I'm sure there are others. Granted, you have to want to use their toolsets to make these add-ons, but that's the same with XUL and Javascript being used for Mozilla.

The difference I think is that Mozilla Users are the types that have more itches to scratch and are more prone to scratching them. Its not because Microsoft is somehow keeping developers from creating them.

Seriously - the amount of anti-MS FUD recently is reaching fever pitch. And its incredible how much is coming from the communities that screamed so loudly when THEY were having FUD spewed about them.

Where the heck has civility and decency gone in this world? Are we all just so stressed out that we have to fight and try to one up everyone we see? Mac vs. PC. Linux vs. Microsoft. Dell vs. Apple. Boxers vs. Briefs. Why can't we just get along and learn from each other?

Mark   [04.21.07 11:07 PM]

> Where the heck has civility and decency gone in this world?

We have badges for that now.

Jack   [04.22.07 03:11 AM]

Tim, very interesting point about the community making the Firefox extensions as popular as they are.

I've just switched from Windows to Ubuntu, and I've found the Ubuntu community far more helpful and actually *willing* to help than the Windows community. You find if you ask people in the Windows community how to do something, often the reply is a mocking "Don't you know how to do *that* yet?" With Ubuntu you get a community not just able to help, but willing to help.

In the end, as you say, the platform wins out, and the community around the platform makes the platform what it is.

Tim O'Reilly   [04.22.07 07:40 AM]

Dave -- I know that Microsoft has historically had a great developer community, and I've made the very argument that you've made when talking with open source developers: "If you don't think that there's a Microsoft developer community, go to TechEd. It's as exciting a place as any open source developer community."

But it seems to me that there's a big difference in recent years. Despite all the ways that Microsoft reaches out to its developers -- and they do, constantly, and consciously -- it seems to me that the steam has gone out of the platform.

You put your finger on it with your comment that "you have to want to use their toolset to make these add-ons." Microsoft is famous for their "strategy tax," and enforcing a particular toolchain is an example of that tax, taking away choice from developers to fuel their business model.

That being said, you're right that I didn't do my homework to verify how healthy the IE toolbar ecosystem is before making my comment. The site where the various third party plugins are listed is pretty hard to use, so I wasn't able to verify how many plugins there are, but it doesn't look as rich or as varied as the firefox ecosystem. I'd love to see some comparative stats on the two of them.

BTW, I'm curious what part of my comment you found uncivil. Disagreeing on matters of substance is not lack of civility.

GerardM   [04.23.07 04:39 AM]

Microsoft lost its exclusive dominant market position. It used to be true that companies could ignore the other browsers. Now with Firefox having over 30% of the browser traffic in many countries, it is no longer possible to create web applications that rely on a Microsoft infrastructure on the client side.

Obviously you can maintain such applications. The result is that the clients will vote with their feet where they can. The result is that competing websites providing the functionality for 100% of the market. What marketing manager or customer relation officer worth his salt will allow for this once the realisation sinks in why the competition does better? ... It is only 43% on top or their current market.


Jon Udell   [04.23.07 09:56 AM]

Regarding this trackback:

"Here's a challenge for some bright intern at Microsoft - write an IE7 add-on that allows GreaseMonkey scripts to run on IE7. Impossible? Maybe - I'm not sure. But it would be a hell of an add-on!"

There have been several. Reify's Turnabout seems to have the most traction. And by a very strange coincidence, I just ticked off a longstanding todo item which was to get my LibraryLookup Greasemonkey script working in IE:

michael holloway   [04.23.07 11:16 AM]

I've heard from a good source that Ubuntu OS does not run video applications very well. I think audio/visual platforms are going to dominate in web 2.0. I want to switch to the open source OS, but I don't want to miss the leading edge of the revolution (this one apparently, Will be on 'TV').
John's input has made many points mute; but I still like FireFox.
There are essential logic faults in IE. The 'finish' button is often hidden away top-left instead of bottom-right. The illiterate way MS platforms are laid out is frustrating.

Asa Dotzler   [04.24.07 04:06 PM]

Dave, I think you're missing _the_ key difference between IE toolbars and Firefox add-ons. Firefox is built on open web standards and that empowers an entire community of existing web developers to build applications or application extensions for Firefox. The toolkit is the web toolkit, all based on free and open standards.

Firefox is more like the Web than IE and that's why the Firefox extension growth is more like the growth of the Web. It's can be quick and dirty but it works and the barriers to participate are very low.


Tim, this reminds me of a day almost three years ago. You were meeting with Brendan and Mitchell, and talking about extensions, and I interrupted to show you all an extension I'd just recently discovered called the All Music Guide Corrector.

AMG had just redesigned their site for the worse and one enterprising user decided to fight back. Firefox was the tool that gave him the leverage he needed and today we have GreaseMonkey and thousands of scripts being developed and shared (and in this case, mashed up) empowering millions of users to directly improve their web experience.


This is precisely why Firefox (and Mozilla) are more like the Web than IE and Microsoft. This kind of thing will happen over and over again in communities that are based on the free and open exchange of ideas, code, tools, etc. Sure, there's a "Yahoo Toolbar for IE" that pops up every once in a while but it's not natural in an ecosystem which is based on capturing users rather than empowering them.

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