PixieBrix: The Power of Browser Extensions, Bookmarklets, and Userscripts in One Tool

In this article, we will explore the potential pitfalls and drawbacks associated with browser extensions, bookmarklets, userscripts, SaaS app marketplaces and RPA.

PixieBrix: The Power of Browser Extensions, Bookmarklets, and Userscripts in One Tool

The digital world has given us many tools and technologies to enhance our online experience and streamline our daily tasks. These include browser extensions, bookmarklets, userscripts, SaaS Apps and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). While they may seem like convenient solutions to optimize your web browsing, automate repetitive tasks, or add extra functionality, several important considerations should make you think twice before using these tools.

In this article, we will explore the potential pitfalls and drawbacks associated with browser extensions, bookmarklets, userscripts, SaaS app marketplaces and RPA. By understanding the limitations and risks, you can make informed decisions about whether these technologies are truly the right choice for your specific needs and how to use them responsibly.

Why not Browser Extensions?

  • Development Learning Curve: Developing a browser extension to enhance a SaaS application presents a significant learning curve, encompassing intricate facets such as JavaScript build systems, the extension API, inter-context messaging, and understanding the SaaS page lifecycle. With PixieBrix, you just need to know programming basics, e.g., variables, CSS selectors, and regular expressions. We aim to go even further to allow anyone to extend their applications.
  • Publishing Speed: Extension stores have slow and unpredictable review times (between 1-7 days). With PixieBrix, you can publish and deploy updates immediately. PixieBrix focuses on lightweight, efficient extensions, minimizing performance impact and ensuring a smooth browsing experience for employees.
  • Security: Most browser extensions are closed-source. Despite web store security reviews, there have been high-profile cases of bad actors buying popular extensions and repurposing the extension to steal private data. With PixieBrix, the extension and all the bricks you install are open-source. PixieBrix allows IT teams to create and manage custom extensions with controlled permissions, reducing the risk of security breaches. Additionally, because PixieBrix doesn't support arbitrary code, it makes automatic security checks more feasible.
  • Privacy: Extensions may request access to sensitive data. With PixieBrix, you have full control over the permissions granted to extensions, reducing the risk of privacy breaches. You can configure extensions to access only necessary data.

Why not Userscripts?

  • Development Learning Curve: While better than browser extensions, developing userscripts that integrate with modern SaaS applications involves a steep learning curve. Deploying userscripts to a significant number of users or devices can be complex, particularly in locked-down enterprise environments where users may not have the necessary permissions to install or manage userscripts.
  • Security: Userscripts are just Javascript, and, therefore can perform arbitrary behaviors, including stealing your private data. Userscripts often run with elevated permissions, making them a potential security risk. If not carefully reviewed and controlled, userscripts can introduce vulnerabilities that could lead to data breaches or other security issues. PixieBrix's block and service model makes it easy to understand and control how your data is used.
  • Availability: Chrome is moving to eliminate remote code in browser extensions. This rule will prohibit userscript managers like Tampermonkey from the Chrome Web Store. Userscripts may be developed by third-party developers, and their support and update schedules can be inconsistent. Enterprises relying on these userscripts may face challenges if the developer discontinues support.

Why not Bookmarklets?

  • Action-only: You have to click on a bookmarklet to trigger it.
  • Context: bookmarklets all live in the bookmark toolbar, so you have to hunt for the bookmarklet you want. With PixieBrix, you can add buttons and menu items to the user interface of the site, so they're always right there when you need them.
  • Limited Capabilities: bookmarklets have length limits (Firefox limits bookmarklets to 64KB) and content security policy (CSP) incompatibility. To create complex behavior with bookmarklets, you end up re-directing a user to a different service, or injecting untrusted remote code into the source page.

Why not SaaS App Marketplaces?

Many SaaS applications have introduced their own App frameworks/marketplaces. Why not use those?

  • Extensibility: Integrating N services with each other requires N^2 integrations. With PixieBrix, a brick can be re-used to integrate with any number of applications.
  • Cost: With marketplaces, you often have to pay extra for additional integrations.
  • Long-Tail SaaS: Indie and niche SaaS apps can't all afford to create their own app frameworks. With PixieBrix, you can add missing functionality to your favorite SaaS application.

Why not RPA?

Robot Process Automation (RPA) tools simulate user actions (typing, clicking, etc.) to navigate, fill out forms, and scrape data. They're good at performing high-volume, low-intention activities at scale.

  • Enhancement: RPA tools interact with the page as-is. They provide no way to enhance the functionality on a page.
  • Human Judgement: RPA tools don't handle workflows where part of the task requires significant human judgment. (However, many vendors are baking in BPM, form builder, and attended automation features.)