Firefox community roiled by Java crackdown

The Firefox web browser will, henceforth, require users to manually activate Java objects on sites that they visit, Mozilla has confirmed. The change is aimed at improving security and moving away from a dependence on proprietary plug-ins, but critics say it will cause untold headaches for developers, admins and less-technical end-users.

When a page that features Java elements is loaded, a red security warning will display in the address bar -- clicking on this will provide the option of activating Java. Many of those opposed to the change say that less technically savvy users might either miss the warning or simply decline to click through, out of a fear that they are compromising their security.

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Java is a key underpinning of a vast amount of rich web content, including everything from games to line-of-business apps, despite its long-standing role as a major target for malicious online activity. Requiring users to click past a warning that the plugin may be unsafe before running any Java content could head off some security threats, but it's also likely to break Java apps designed to run automatically and generally create a less convenient web experience for Firefox users.

At the center of the controversy is Mozilla engineering manager Benjamin Smedberg, who has remained resolute on the issue. He's received the bulk of community outrage in a lengthy bug tracker thread, which features several lengthy diatribes about the disruptive nature of the change.

It was pointed out, as well, that Java is also currently blocked by default in Google Chrome, though one discussion participant argued that Google's interface for activating Java -- a simpler and more obvious drop-down bar that states "java needs your permission to run" -- is more suitable.

In an announcement of the prospective change last month, Smedberg urged web developers to move away from the use of plugins like Java.

"Even though many users are not even aware of plugins, they are a significant source of hangs, crashes, and security incidents. By allowing users to decide which sites need to use plugins, Firefox will help protect them and keep their browser running smoothly," he said.

The change seems likely to be a further damper on Firefox's reputation among institutional users, many of whom will have a lot of work to do to prepare end users and their own code. Mozilla's move to a rapid release schedule was not well received by businesses, and the company eventually added a long-term support track to help address concerns.

But Mozilla is one of the prime movers behind the general trend toward more open web technology, and may simply find the prospect of accelerating HTML5's ongoing replacement of older plug-in-based frameworks too tempting to pass up.

Email Jon Gold at and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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