Chrome extensions draw near, but advanced HTML 5 features recede

Now's the time to start trying to build Chrome extensions, Google says. But some sophisticated Web page features coming with HTML 5 will have to wait longer.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

A new developer version of Chrome takes some significant strides to adding the top-requested feature--the ability to accommodate extensions that customize what Google's browser can do--but programmers also pushed back support for a collection of significant advanced Web features.

Google Chrome emerged Tuesday night for people willing to try the developer preview version. The new version installs some of the plumbing necessary to support the feature, according to the release notes.

"The extensions posse would like to point out that as of today's dev channel release, extensions are starting to be a bit more useful. We can now put little bits of UI (user interface) in the chrome of Chrome, and some of the APIs (application programming interfaces) are starting to come together," said Google programmer Aaron Boodman in a mailing list post Tuesday. "There is still quite a ways to go, but if you're interested in building extensions for Chrome, this might be a good time to start taking a look."

Extensions are a big advantage Mozilla's Firefox has over rival browsers, not just because the browser supports them but because thousands are available.

A lightweight sample Chrome extension shows how many Gmail messages you have.
A lightweight sample Chrome extension shows how many Gmail messages you have. Google

Google also updated its extensions how-to page and provided some sample Chrome extensions. To use extensions, people must launch the browser through the command line with the "--enable-extensions" option.

Extensions work has begun. Cleeki has a Chrome extension, for example, that lets people select a word and then perform various actions with it such as searching for it without leaving that page.

The new version also lets you allow pop-ups from a specific Web site, fixes a few bugs, and upgrades to the latest versions of two major components, WebKit for rendering Web pages and V8 for handling JavaScript.

At the same time, though, it looks like more waiting for fans of a handful of new features arriving in HTML 5, the upcoming revision to the Hypertext Markup Language that's used to describe Web pages. Chrome developers had planned support for several HTML 5 features in a forthcoming main incarnation of Chrome, version 2.1, but now they've been pushed back to 3.0. (That's still a ways out: Even version 2.0 has yet to arrive in Google's mainstream "stable" version of Chrome.)

The HTML 5 features pushed back include the following:

• Local storage, technology for storing information on a person's computer. That's good for using your Web-based e-mail system while offline, storing browser extension preferences, and other more sophisticated aspects of Web usage.

• Video support that permits easier embedding of video on Web pages and better integration than is possible with current video technology such as Adobe Systems' Flash.

• Web workers, which let a browser perform processing chores in the background. This technology enables more sophisticated Web applications that can get work done without bogging down the user interface.

A Chrome programmer noted the change in a terse note Wednesday. "Moving out of Mstone:2.1 (milestone 2.1) as there just isn't enough time to work on this issue," said a Chrome programmer in a status update note about the local storage feature on Wednesday.