Will Extensions remain a browser selection factor?

Martin Brinkmann
Aug 7, 2016

How did you end up with the web browser that you are using right now to read this article? Was it installed with the device, or did you install it manually? If the latter is the case, why did you pick it, and not another browser?

There are plenty of possible reasons: you like the company, the browser is fast or secure, offers better privacy, more control, more customization options, extensions that you rely on, a recommendation, or it was offered to you and you kept using it.

For instance, one of the reasons why I use Firefox as my main browser is the NoScript add-on. It is only available for Firefox and no other browsers. Sure, there are comparable extensions but they don't offer the same functionality, and probably won't ever.

Extension landscape is changing

But the extension landscape is changing, and heading towards an extensions system that is largely compatible between browsers.

All Chromium-based browsers for instance, Google Chrome Opera, Vivaldi and others, share the same extension system. While Chrome is the primary driver behind extensions, Google maintains the largest web store of Chromium-compatible extensions after all, most install just fine in other compatible browsers.

As a Vivaldi user for instance, you can simply hop over to the Chrome Store, and click on the install button next to extensions to add them to the browser; and most will work just fine.

Microsoft introduced the Edge browser in Windows 10, and recently extensions support for the browser. While you cannot visit the Chrome Web Store to install extensions in Edge yet, Microsoft did release the Microsoft Edge Extension Toolkit recently which turns Chrome extensions into Edge extensions nearly automatically.

As far as Firefox is concerned, its add-on landscape is changing as well. Mozilla launched the first stable version of WebExtensions in Firefox 48 recently for instance. This lets Firefox users head over to the Chrome store to install Chrome extensions in Firefox.

Not all Chrome extensions are compatible yet with Firefox, but compatibility will improve over the next releases of the Firefox browser. Firefox users will be able to install a large part of Chrome extensions eventually.

Mozilla wants to deprecate much of the organization's old add-on system in the process. It plans to migrate add-on features to WebExtensions however giving developers access to additional functions.

The future

Microsoft and Mozilla focus on bringing extensions closer to Google's system. This leads to extensions becoming available for all browsers with little effort for the developer.

One has to ask whether the move will remove extensions from being a browser selection factor. If all extensions you rely on are available for all browsers, there is little need to it being a factor after all.

There will be differences still. Mozilla plans to make WebExtensions more powerful and if the other browser developers don't support these add-on features as well, will see add-on ports and new add-ons that won't make their way to Edge or Chrome.

Some extensions may focus on browser features that the other browsers don't support. These will also be exclusive then to select browsers. The vast majority of add-ons however will become available across browsers.

Closing Words

The time where every web browser used its own extension system, or none at all, will be largely over soon. While some differences remain, with Mozilla probably offering extension developers more features than other companies, the bulk of extensions will be compatible across browsers.

Now You: Are extensions a deciding factor for you?

Will Extensions remain a browser selection factor?
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Will Extensions remain a browser selection factor?
With all major browser companies moving towards supporting a compatible extensions system, will extensions remain a factor when picking browsers?
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  1. kubrick. said on August 10, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    I tried chrome very briefly and installed an extension and was amazed to be confronted by so much adware..its shocking and i removed chrome as i genuinely saw nothing in it which i couldnt get from pale moon my now default browser for many months.
    Chrome is rubbish.

  2. Charlie said on August 9, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    I use current IE11, Edge, Firefox & Chrome. I’m on a 64bit desktop using the W10 Anniversary edition, btw. It is frequent that a web page that does not render correctly in one browser does work fine in a different browser. I get frequent “pauses/freezes” in both MS browsers where everything in the browser just freezes solid for a couple of seconds at a time. IE11 blows out at least daily with that pop-up message that many others have complained about. In at least one of the browsers (not IE or Edge), Privacy Badger & uBlock Origin seem to not get along well with each other on certain web pages. I’ve searched for solutions to the various problems but no joy. I use very few extensions and seldom have open more than 2-3 tabs. These days I just try another browser to get around whatever is failing at the moment.

  3. vosie said on August 9, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Classic Theme Restorer and Classic Toolbar Buttons are essential extensions. Besides Firefox, no other browsers will ever have addons like these.

    1. George said on August 9, 2016 at 10:53 am

      That’s because no other browser needs to have their main UI patched by extensions, completely replaced and restored to its previous, sane status as a workaround…

      1. vosie said on August 9, 2016 at 3:58 pm

        All browsers have minimalistic, dumbed down UI, so all of them need to have their UI to be fixed, but only Firefox has the capability to do it.
        Plus, I use about 20 extensions in Firefox and proper settings to get the world’s best possible user / browsing experinece. And it’s possible ony with Firefox.

  4. Doc said on August 8, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    I tried Chrome (around version 28-30) and found its extensions weak; I fired it up last week (I occasionally use it to check cross-browser CSS compatibility with sites I design), and it’s still weak; it takes 2 extensions to load a digital clock (hours and minutes) where one extension (SimpleClocks) in Firefox adds “Mon, Aug 8, 10:42 AM” – Chrome only allows a square toolbar button!
    Another indispensable addon is DownThemAll! – multi-threaded downloads (which, in the past, required buying GetRight).
    If Mozilla decides that “Chrome-type addons” is the future, my future will be Cyberfox or Pale Moon. Not going to use Edge, not going to give up customization.

  5. Joker said on August 8, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Without some Firefox-only addons, there is no reason for me to use Firefox at all.
    If they stop working, either by lack of updates of Mozilla abandoning their powerful addon-system, the only rational move is to switch to Chrome.

  6. T J said on August 8, 2016 at 11:10 am

    I use Cyberfox for user.js settings and grease monkey. “No Resource URL-Leak” works fine in Cyberfox 48. The icon does not show in the menu bar but is accessible in “Tools” “Addons”

    Chome is my secondary browser because it is too nosy and leaks information

  7. b said on August 8, 2016 at 10:22 am

    firefox because of the wide range of add- ons and privacy features. palemoon for similar reasons plus ethics. unfortunately with fewer add- ons but that might change little by little in the future. I really miss “No Resource URL-Leak” though and I can’t make “Privacy Badger” work properly: the icon wont show at the menu bar. anybody got a solution?
    also, within the last couple of days, Privacy Badger started acting weird in FF as well: claims no tracker cookies to be found no matter what site I visit. anybody with the same experience?

  8. Tony said on August 8, 2016 at 1:21 am

    Hopefully Mozilla will make WebExtensions much more powerful that what is found in Google Chrome.

    Either that, or maybe just keep XUL. After all, they haven’t even announced a deprecation date for XUL, so that could be years away or never happen. Remember, it took them years to release other major technologies, like e10s, and that’s still not mainstream. XUL could potentially be available to developers and users for a very long time.

  9. NeverM$ said on August 7, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    Opera because everything else was dumbed down.
    Vivaldi now because Opera too was dumbed down.

  10. Earl said on August 7, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    Firefox began as just a browser–simple and effective (bare-bones, really), and that’s why I started using it. As more and more extensions were created for it, it became almost an application platform–a user environment created by the user, for the user (each user being different). Then Mozilla said FU to all of us long-time Firefox users who actually used the hell out of Firefox features. So we’ve left for other pastures. (Actually, I’ve left Windows for another platform and Firefox doesn’t play here, so I’m using Chrome. The available extensions have little to do with it, though Stylish works and that’s as close to essential as it gets for me.)

  11. George said on August 7, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    Yes, extensions are very important for me, as well as user privacy. That’s why I’m using what I believe is the best available combination for both: Pale Moon (and Firefox in the past). Chrome will never be an option however, even if its extension-ecosystem surpasses Firefox/Pale Moon’s.

  12. Bobby Phoenix said on August 7, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    I use Chrome more for the ease of use out of the box, and the easy sync with all my devices (most Android). The extension system is also better for me compared to Firefox for the main simple reason they update in the background. I still have Firefox tell me I need to restart to finish updating extensions. It’s so annoying.

  13. Vrai said on August 7, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    Extensibility is the determining factor when selecting which browser I use. That is why I use Firefox almost exclusively. The No-Script extension is a “must have”. Customizability is also a determining factor.

    Is there anything more annoying than to have to use Internet Explorer on a fresh install of Windows in order to get the Firefox download?

    1. George said on August 11, 2016 at 1:45 pm

      About your IE nuisance: use Patch My PC instead for that, and much more.

  14. ilev said on August 7, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    What’s that “hamburger” icon up right ? My Chrome has a “No Entry” icon. :-)

  15. Capt. Smith said on August 7, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Many people ask about the path take n by Firefox/Mozilla and Herr Brinkmann answers doesn’t satisfy me at all. When most people think about firefox, they refer to:
    Mozilla Firefox – http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new

    But there’s more that meets the eye, as: https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/foundation/moco/

    “The Mozilla Corporation was established in August 2005 as a wholly owned taxable subsidiary that serves the non-profit, public benefit goals of its parent, the Mozilla Foundation, and the vast Mozilla community.”

    That’s when the Firefox community was hijacked. Mozilla Corp. Estimated Value is $4 billion.

    The Community is dead, short life to the CORPORATION !!

  16. A or B, not C. said on August 7, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    I hv to use the Chromium-based Flashpeak Slimjet browser for 32bit Linux Mint 17.3 to watch DRM-protected videos, eg at subscription-based video-streaming websites like Netflix.
    …….Google Chrome has DRM-decoding but only supports 64bit Linux since March 2016, besides supporting the more popular Windows n Macs. Firefox for Linux cannot stream such videos, only Firefox for Windows/Macs can.
    For web-surfing, Slimjet may even be better than Google Chrome.

    Firefox tends to crash more than Chrome.

  17. Dresandreal Sprinklehorn said on August 7, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Firefox has better extensions. But Chrome is my default browser because of speed and stability. If Chrome could use Ant Video Downloader and Tabmix Plus I’d never use slow ass Firefox again.

  18. firefox said on August 7, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    I’m encountering strange thing.
    When I open the article https://www.ghacks.net/2016/08/06/firefox-51-socialapi-parts-removal/
    I got the mobile version.
    I repeatedly clicked desktop version but still get the mobile version.
    It’s not only that article, I encountered one or two before but they did not ‘persist’ in mobile version

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 7, 2016 at 9:45 pm

      That’s really strange. Did you force a reload or do a normal reload?

  19. Antonio said on August 7, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Addons in general and tab management addons in particular are the reasons I stay with FF. And there are no alternatives. For any user having many tabs opened, Chrome and IE are pure shit.

  20. vux777 said on August 7, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    how to install ” Microsoft Edge Extension Toolkit”?
    no install button or any kind of…

    1. Guest said on August 7, 2016 at 10:48 pm

      You need Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

      1. vux777 said on August 8, 2016 at 8:38 am

        I have it

  21. Moloch said on August 7, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Used to use PaleMoon for a long time, but no MSE support killed it for me. Using Waterfox now instead, havent looked back.

    I might be wrong but wasnt the reason many of the firefox addons dont have an equivalent on Chrome because of the limited API? Tried Chrome but the lack of customization and the amount of addons i would have to miss made me stick with Waterfox.

    1. Andy said on August 8, 2016 at 5:31 pm

      Firefox now has an officially-supported 64-bit stable channel. Wasn’t that the only reason to use Waterfox in the first place? If so, why are you still using it?

    2. Ron said on August 7, 2016 at 6:23 pm

      [Quote] Used to use PaleMoon for a long time, but no MSE support killed it for me.[end]

      MSE support is coming in Pale Moon version 27. It’s in alpha stage right now.

      1. Liv said on August 7, 2016 at 10:15 pm

        I am currently using Pale Moon 27.0 Alpha 2 and have no MSE support, I hope to one day.

    3. firefox said on August 7, 2016 at 5:03 pm

      That’s why the article said ‘Firefox want to make the Web Extensions more powerful”.
      So I think Firefox dev will open API which is not in other browser. The addon dev will only need to change the code a little for the additional feature I assume.
      If they don’t that, Firefox with the XUL system removed will be just another Chrome’s clone.

  22. Jeff said on August 7, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Is there any technical reason why Mozilla wants to deprecate their old addon system or just because they have added WebExtensions? That seems like a stupid move to me.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 7, 2016 at 12:36 pm

      The usual: maintenance, security, issues.

  23. yapadkoi said on August 7, 2016 at 11:58 am

    “For instance, one of the reasons why I use Firefox as my main browser is the NoScript add-on”

    Same for me, even if use Pale Moon, NoScript is the only reason why i still keep an eye on Ghacks to maintain Firefox Portable the most clean (recent and functional) as possible, using the user.js by Pants and some other tricks found on other places to keep some old add-ons working. NoScript probably will not be maintened for Pale Moon… I really hope for this reason not to be forced one day, as main and installed browser, to return to Firefox.

  24. pg5 said on August 7, 2016 at 11:28 am

    In my case, yes. Chrome doesn’t offer an extension that protects and lock a tab. For this, I need to continue using firefox.

    1. A41202813GMAIL said on August 10, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      Try This CHROME Extension ID:



    2. Pants said on August 8, 2016 at 9:07 am

      What extension is that? Does it use a temp/preset password? Does it hide the tab contents? Am interested – might be handy for clients

      1. Ken Saunders said on August 12, 2016 at 4:54 am

        “an extension that protects and lock a tab”
        “What extension is that?”

        Tab Mix Plus was the first to offer it but there are a few others with similar features including Tab Utilities and Tabloc.
        From http://tabmixplus.org/support/viewtopic.php?t=3 > Events – New Tabs > Protected Locked and Frozen Tabs

        Protected tab
        A tab that is prevented from closing. You can load other sites in the tab and browse to other URLs in that tab. Notice that the close button is missing, so you cannot close the tab. If you try to close Firefox®, you will get a warning message about closing a protected tab.
        Locked tab
        A tab that is prevented from navigating to another page or URL. Your tab is locked on the current page or URL. Nothing new can load in the tab, but you can refresh the same page. All links will open in a new tab (link, history, bookmark, etc.). Notice that the close button is available, so you can close a locked tab.
        Frozen tab
        A tab that is both locked and protected. It will not close and nothing new can be loaded in it. You will not be able to navigate away from the current page. All links will open in a new tab (link, history, bookmark, etc.) Notice that the close button is missing, so you cannot close the tab. If you try to close Firefox®, you will get a warning message about closing a protected tab.

  25. Max said on August 7, 2016 at 10:14 am

    …and NoScript also works in Pale Moon, not just Firefox…

  26. Max said on August 7, 2016 at 10:12 am

    Yes! That’s why Pale Moon is the future – most Firefox extensions will continue to work in Pale Moon (though do read the details at https://addons.palemoon.org/resources/incompatible/). Hopefully the Firefox extension deprecation will prompt those extensions authors not currently supporting Pale Moon will switch to doing so, rather than seeing their work trashed.

    1. Antonio said on August 7, 2016 at 5:00 pm

      Today current FF addons work in PaleMoon. Tomorrow past FF addons will work in PaleMoon.
      Palemoon is and will be the past. FF addons working in PaleMoon are and will be the past.

      1. Antonio said on August 8, 2016 at 6:52 am

        How large is the PaleMoon community compared to the Firefox One? How many developpers are willing to realize an addon to be used by a zero comma blabla percent of internet users?
        To be successful a browser has to anticipate the future and take some courageous (although uncertain) choices. To accompany, no, better, to drive its user base to the future. PaleMoon values its community holding it in the the past of well known platforms which have already seen their day.

      2. Liv said on August 7, 2016 at 10:22 pm

        The fact that Firefox extensions work in Pale Moon is only due to the fact that Pale Moon 26.x and Firefox still share alot of code, but with Pale Moon 27 you are going to start to see Pale Moon and Firefox begin to separate and go in opposite directions. I disagree with the “Pale Moon is and will be in the past” I feel that Pale Moon values it’s community far more than Firefox does anymore.

  27. Klaas Vaak said on August 7, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Interesting thought, and astute observation. 1 thing I don’t agree with is that Chrome extensions in Vivaldi “most will work just fine”. I have tried those extensions in Vivaldi 1st and was not impressed because the ones I need work in a clunky way in Vivaldi or not at all. In Opera the success rate is at least 95%. I don’t have anything against Vivaldi, I think it’s an interesting project, but Chromium extensions have a long way t go there.

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