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Plug-Ins Leaving Google Chrome; What now?

by | Apr 23, 2015

With the recent news that Google’s Chrome will be disabling plug-ins that support Flash, Java, Silverlight and more, it is worth taking a look at how we got here and what this means for the future.

chrome-plugin-list

When browsers and the web were young, some 25 years ago, a handful of pioneering individuals had a vision regarding the creation of browser-based applications. Typically, in those days, applications needed to be downloaded or shipped on floppy disks. The visionaries believed browsers could become platforms for many different applications. But because of the rudimentary capabilities of browsers, you needed to install programs that would enhance the browser in order to do more than just view static HTML pages.

To allow this capability, Microsoft introduced the ActiveX software framework into its Internet Explorer browser in 1996. Netscape, in similar fashion introduced NPAPI (Netscape Plug-in Application Programming Interface) in the same year. Microsoft then added NPAPI support into IE. This adapted technology allowed the installation of various types of programs into browsers to allow such things as viewing Adobe Flash (not available within a standard browser), Adobe Acrobat files, or image viewers for image types not supported by browsers (which were limited to JPEG and GIF back then). Later on, a Java runtime environment was enabled through the NPAPI functionality, allowing a Java plug-in to be installed in the browser.

Though browsers were seeing development of additional features along the way, the fastest way to add new capabilities, especially sophisticated ones, was for the developer to create a browser plug-in. Adobe Flash, Acrobat Reader, Google Earth, Silverlight and Java were big drivers for web-based activity that improved the utility of browsers and by extension, the web. However, their popularity created browser instability as some of the newly introduced capabilities were never anticipated by the browser developers. Crashes, conflicts between applications, and eventually malware all became part of the experience.

These negatives are what drove Microsoft to drop NPAP years ago, though they still support plug-ins with different interfaces. These problems and lack of plug-in support in mobile devices has now driven Google to slowly terminate support in Chrome. However, the usefulness of these plug-ins is unmistakable and not everyone agrees with Google’s decision. Many companies operate in a protected environment where malware and unreliable plug-ins are excluded. Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer all still plan to offer some sort of plug-in support.

So, should you worry? Definitely not, but you should plan for your future needs. Many companies know that mobile devices are vital parts of the BYOD environment and they need to be included in any planning for future web-based applications. Browser technology, including HTML and Javascript capabilities, have evolved considerably to the point where much can be done in a browser without plug-ins, thereby providing universal device support.

Snowbound used to provide ActiveX plug-ins but saw the market need decline many years ago. We still have many customers who actively benefit from our Java products, including our servlets and applets, not to mention the ones they create themselves. Nevertheless, many of our customers like the universal device support afforded when using HTML5 technology. They get greater security, fewer customer support requirements and universal browser support without the need for plug-ins. The benefits are especially great when delivering content to a wide range of users and devices. So, no need to worry today. You’re covered for whatever choice you need to make, but get ready for the growing mobile revolution that can’t be denied and start planning on your migration to HTML5 and modern browser technology. Snowbound is ready for you.