Changing Web usage is hard. Google has granted a few extra months of leeway to those who rely on a handful of popular plugins, such as Silverlight, to extend what their browser can do.
Instead of cutting off all old-style browser plugins at the end of 2014, Google has given a temporary break to people who rely on plugins that extend the abilities of its Chrome browser.
The company is gradually banning plugins that hook into the browser using a mechanism called NPAPI (Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface) that's more than a decade old. But it's been tough getting Chrome users to completely stop using those plugins.
In September 2013, Google announced its plan to cut off support for NPAPI plugins. But it took a phased approach that still permitted the most popular ones: Microsoft's Silverlight, Unity Technologies' Web Player, Oracle's Java, Facebook's video-calling tool and Google's own Google Talk and Google Earth plugins.
Google decided not to leave plugin-reliant customers in the lurch quite as soon as it had planned. Justin Schuh, a Google Chrome programmer, explained why in a blog post Monday:
Although plugin vendors are working hard to move to alternate technologies, a small number of users still rely on plugins that haven't completed the transition yet. We will provide an override for advanced users and enterprises (via Enterprise Policy) to temporarily re-enable NPAPI while they wait for mission-critical plugins to make the transition. Good riddance
After years of slow going, the Web programming world is now working productively to expand the Web's possibilities not with plugins, but rather with new Web standards like HTML5's video and audio support. Plugins date back to the era when Microsoft's Internet Explorer ruled the roost but Web standards stagnated. Now the browser market is highly competitive, and plugins are on their way out.
And good riddance: plugins don't work on smartphones and tablets, they're hard to maintain, they're a bother for users to install, and are a top culprit in browser crashes, slowdowns and security vulnerabilities.
Plugins aren't totally disappearing from Chrome, however. Google will continue to indefinitely support plugins that use its own PPAPI (Pepper Plugin API), which includes the most widely used browser plugin, Adobe Systems' Flash Player.
Google has been working to add new interfaces to its preferred system for extending Chrome abilities, called extensions, and has shifted its own Hangouts app to Web standards.
Some of the affected plugins are still fairly common. Among Chrome users, Silverlight was launched 15 percent of the time in September 2013, falling to 11 percent of the time in October 2014. Java dropped from 8.9 percent to 3.7 percent over the same period. Google Earth plunged from 9.1 percent to 0.1 percent.
Three-step removal over 2015
Initially, Google said it estimated it would completely remove Chrome's NPAPI support by the end of 2014, subject to usage patterns and feedback. Now it's pushed that back, but the ban will still continue over a three-step process in 2015.
The first step, in January 2015, will be to begin blocking even whitelist-permitted NPAPI plugins by default -- a setting that can be overridden.
The second step, in April 2015, will be to disable Chrome's ability to run plugins at all unless a user specifically enables it by setting a flag -- chrome://flags/#enable-npapi -- in Chrome's technical preferences. Google also will remove all NPAPI plugins from its Chrome Web Store at this stage.
The last step, in September 2015, will be to completely remove all ability to run NPAPI plugins from Chrome.
Google also recommends plugin programmers look to its NPAPI deprecation guide for advice.
'With each step in this transition, we get closer to a safer, more mobile-friendly Web,' Schuh said.