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Opera calls for browser extension standard

Several Web browsers are converging on technology to customize the software. That means that standardization makes sense, Opera's chief technology officer argues.

One sample Opera extension sends addresses to a map site.
One sample Opera extension sends addresses to a map site. Opera Software

OSLO, Norway--With extensions coming to Opera 11, the Norwegian browser maker says it's time to consider making the technology a standard for all browsers.

That's because Opera 11 extensions will use the same collection of Web page technologies--HTML for page contents, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for formatting, JavaScript for processing--as extensions in Google's Chrome, Apple's Safari 5, and Mozilla Firefox's upcoming Jetpack. The approach generally makes it easier for at least lightweight extensions, and browser technologies handle the interface.

"We think extensions are ripe for standardization," Håkon Wium Lie, Opera Software's chief technology officer, said at a press conference here.

Opera Chief Technology Officer Håkon Wium Lie
Opera Chief Technology Officer Håkon Wium Lie Stephen Shankland/CNET

A standard for extensions holds the promise of easier development for programmers, as they wouldn't have to rewrite their extensions for each browser. However, there are obstacles, including the facts that the Web technology extension approach is relatively new, and different browsers expose different interfaces to the extensions.

Opera hasn't yet begun talking to other browser makers about the idea, though, Lie said in an interview.

"It's still a bit too early for that, but we're indicating willingness to do so," he said. "We think it would be fairly easy to write up that specification, if there is willingness."

Extensions come with the possibility of an app store, a very trendy mechanism for technology companies to keep users in their orbit these days.

Opera already has an add-on store where people can find the more independent applications, called widgets, and elements for the Opera Unite technology. Opera plans to use the same infrastructure for offering extensions, Chief Development Officer Christen Khrogh said in an interview.

Of course, Opera also has a cousin of Opera 11 for mobile phones, Opera Mobile. Opera co-founder John von Tetzchner wouldn't say whether it, too, would get extension abilities.