Google Chrome to ban the Netscape Plug-in API -- in 2014

Back in the 90s, while everyone was watching Melrose Place and listening to Pearl Jam, internet usage was exploding. At the time, the Netscape Navigator browser was all the rage -- it was the most popular way to access the web. One of the most innovative features of Netscape was the introduction of plugins. You see, this ushered in the era of web-based multimedia. For example, while it is almost extinct now, the Realplayer plugin was mind blowing -- you could stream video in a web browser; amazing at the time. This was all thanks to the Netscape Plug-in API (NPAPI).

Of course, all things must end, and Netscape Navigator is just a memory; a no longer developed piece of software. However, despite that particular web browser's demise, the NPAPI lives on. Unfortunately for NPAPI, Google Chrome and the Chromium project have just put it on death row -- lethal injection in 2014.

According to the official Chromium blog, "today’s browsers are speedier, safer, and more capable than their ancestors. Meanwhile, NPAPI’s 90s-era architecture has become a leading cause of hangs, crashes, security incidents, and code complexity. Because of this, Chrome will be phasing out NPAPI support over the coming year."

"Starting in January 2014, Chrome will block webpage-instantiated NPAPI plug-ins by default on the Stable channel. To avoid disruption to users, we will temporarily whitelist the most popular NPAPI plug-ins that are not already blocked for security reasons", says Justin Schuh, Chromium Security Engineer.

It lists the following whitelisted plug-ins:

  • Silverlight (launched by 15% of Chrome users last month)
  • Unity (9.1%)
  • Google Earth (9.1%)
  • Java (8.9%)
  • Google Talk (8.7%)
  • Facebook Video (6.0%)

The Chromium blog also explains, "the Chrome Web Store will also be phasing out NPAPI support. Starting today, no new Apps or Extensions containing NPAPI-based plug-ins will be allowed in the Web Store. Developers will be able to update their existing NPAPI-based Apps and Extensions until May 2014, when they will be removed from the Web Store home page, search results, and category pages. In September 2014, all existing NPAPI-based Apps and Extensions will be unpublished. Existing installations will continue to work until Chrome fully removes support for NPAPI".

While this is sad from a nerd-nostalgia perspective (nerdstalgia?), it seems that this is for the best. It should only make future versions of Chrome and Chromium more stable and secure. After all, change can be good. Now, where is my Myst CD-ROM?

Image Credit: Svilen Georgiev / Shutterstock

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