Plugins are one of the main sources for browser stability and security issues. This is especially true for plugins that are installed on nearly every computer system out there, such as Adobe Flash or Java.
The plugin system, the Netscape Plug-In API (or NPAPI) has been designed with good intentions and at a time where browser extensions and things such as HTML5 were not even on the radar yet.
Plugins are still widely used today, especially Adobe Flash as it is still the driving force behind most video streaming services, but also others such as Silverlight which is used by Netflix for the streaming of video or Unity for gaming.
Google just announced that the company will phase out all NPAPI-based plugins in the Chrome browser in 2014. It is a two-step process according to a post on the Chromium blog where Google engineer Justin Schuh explains the reasoning behind the move.
Phase 1: whitelist
Google's current plan is to start the first phase of the project in January 2014. This affects the stable channel of the browser at that time, and all but a selection of widely used plugins will be blocked in the browser automatically. According to Google, the plugins that won't be blocked at that time are:
- Microsoft Silverlight
- Google Earth
- Google Talk
- Facebook Video
This is based on anonymous usage data that Google collects in the Chrome browser. Note that security has priority. This means that if a plug-in is blocked due to security reasons, it won't be available in the browser even if it has been whitelisted.
Options to enable other plug-ins will be provided in the short term, so that other plug-ins may be used in Chrome for the time being as well.
Phase 2: Plug-ins begone
Google will remove support for NPAPI before the end of 2014 from Chrome. This means that no plug-in that uses the API, not the whitelisted ones nor others, will work after that time in the browser.
This will affect existing NPAPI-based apps and extensions in Chrome's Web Store as well. Google gives developers time to update those apps and extensions until Max 2014. They are then removed from the Web Store home page, search and category pages, and unpublished in September 2014.
Adobe Flash in Chrome is not using NPAPI, but is integrated natively in the browser. Flash in Chrome is not affected by this and will continue to work just like before. Google's implementation may miss a couple of features though and it is not clear if the company will integrate those before the "real" Flash is removed from the browser.
The announcement may have serious consequences for Internet companies. The Unity team for instance needs to find a way to bring the game engine to the Chrome browser without the use of plugins, and Netflix needs to move away from using Silverlight for streaming to other technologies.
While it is certainly possible to ignore the Chrome browser, it would be foolish for most businesses to do so, considering that it has a sizable share in the browser market.