Open Source Browsers Change Their Tunes on Extensions

by Ostatic Staff - Sep. 26, 2013

Is the era of the browser plug-in heading into its last days? Especially if you go back a long way with the Firefox browser, you know that browser extensions have been a huge attraction, often allowing functionality that wasn't even close to arriving natively. However, extensions are also known to cause performance problems, and that has caused the major browser makers to change their stances toward them, as I noted back in January.

Now, there are signs emerging that at the very least, browser makers are going to change their technical approaches and their policies toward extensions.

As Brad Chacos notes on PC World:

"Google announced that plug-ins using the uber-popular NPAPI architecture would be shifted to “click-to-play” by default this coming January, rather than running automatically. Many top plug-ins use the technology, including Java, Silverlight, Unity, Google Earth, Google Talk, Facebook Video, RealPlayer, QuickTime, Shockwave, Windows Media Player and Adobe Reader prior to Adobe Reader X."

"That’s just a stopgap, though: In May 2014, Google will stop publishing new NPAPI-based plug-ins in the Chrome Web Store, leading up to a complete removal of all NPAPI plug-ins in September."

Actually, a  Google Chrome security engineer has put up a blog post saying that “NPAPI support will be completely removed from Chrome.”

Mozilla also radically changed the way Firefox loads third party plug-ins such as Flash, Java and Silverlight, which I wrote about here. Mozilla started leveraging Click-to-Play and blocklist features to cause Firefox to only load plug-ins when a user takes the action of clicking to make a particular plug-in play or the user has previously configured Click To Play to always run plug-ins on a particular website. These changes came in response to complaints about browser performance. 

Now, click-to-play features have arrived in Firefox Aurora and will arrive in an official release in a fewweeks. So you have to explicitly allow extensiobns to run. 

What can we expect in the future? Both the Google Chrome team and the Firefox team have gotten used to rapid release cycles where they wrap in new, advanced features at a fast clip. New features will take the place of many plug-ins. The whole trend is yet another sign that in the browser game, performance matters a whole lot.