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Mozilla to open - gasp! - Firefox add-on store

For-pay browserware mooted

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Add-on-Con Mozilla has said it will "probably" open a marketplace for Firefox add-ons sometime next year.

Add-ons product manager Justin Scott (reluctantly) announced the news this morning at an add-on-happy conference in Mozilla's home town of Mountain View, California. "We'll probably be doing a marketplace pilot in 2010," he said.

Scott did not provide details. But earlier in the morning, he did say that Mozilla has no intention of using DRM - not that you would have expected anything else. "I don't know what we'll do, but we won't do DRM," he said.

Clearly, an add-on marketplace is a touchy subject for Mozilla, an open source outfit viewed as one of the leading champions of free software. Earlier in a panel discussion meant to answer the question "Do add-ons need a marketplace?," Scott hemmed and hawed over the idea.

"I really wish we had more consumer feedback on these sorts of things," he said. "We don't get enough feedback from consumers who would actually be buying these add-ons. We haven't really brought it up for discussion among them yet. But from what we hear, developers all want a store. But we're not really sure how consumers feel about it.

"Occasionally, we do see people commenting on add-ons say 'I think software should be free.'"

Yes, Mozilla already offers a central download page for Firefox add-ons - addon.mozilla.org, affectionately known as AMO - but this is not a place where developers can actually sell their browserware. The best they can do is request contributions from users, and at least one developer at today's Add-on-Con reacted with incredulity to the waffling by Scott and various other add-on makers attempting to address the marketplace issue.

"Look at the Apple App Store," the developer told the panel, referring to the application storefront the Jobsian cult has set up for the iPhone. "You guys are really smart guys. If you can't see a great path like that, I think it's a real bummer for developers."

But thanks to some additional prompting from conference host Robert Reich - founder of the real-time search outfit OneRiot - Scott did admit that some sort of Mozilla marketplace is on the way. Though that's all he said.

At one point, Reich also asked Scott if Mozilla might provide built-in access to an add-on marketplace run by a third-party - i.e., add it to the Firefox toolbar, where Mozilla already links users directly to Google and other search engines. Scott pretty much ruled out that possibility. But he did acknowledge that anyone could add an add-on store to Firefox - with an add-on. ®

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