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Google begins barring browser plug-ins from Chrome

Reliant on plug-ins like Silverlight, Unity, and Java? Make plans to move on or change browsers, because most plug-ins will be banned from Chrome in the next year.

Google Chrome logo

In case it wasn't clear before, a Google decision has shown the writing is on the wall for plug-ins such as Java and Silverlight that for years have been used to extend what browsers can do.

Starting in January 2014, Google will ban all but the most widely used browser plug-ins in favor of programming methods that use standards built directly into the Web, Chrome security engineer Justin Schuh announced in a blog post Monday. And those plug-ins will be barred "over the coming year," he said.

Most Chrome plug-ins (not to be confused with the lighter-weight add-on option called extensions) use a technology that predate Google's browser by years: the Netscape plug-in application programming interface, or NPAPI. Chrome, unique among browsers, has a second interface called Pepper (PPAPI) that isn't affected by the change -- and that's how Google connects Adobe Systems' Flash Player, by far the most widely used plug-in.

"The Web has evolved. Today's browsers are speedier, safer, and more capable than their ancestors," Schuh said. "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."

The move is the newest step to move beyond an earlier era of browser development, when Internet Explorer 6 ruled the roost and much online innovation moved to plug-ins such as Flash Player. Microsoft already banned most plug-ins from Internet Explorer when running in Windows 8's newer touch-focused interface.

The company said it will "temporarily whitelist" these popular plug-ins on Chrome to run through NPAPI starting in January 2014:

• Silverlight (which Google said was launched by 15 percent of Chrome users in the last month, though not necessarily used by them)

• Unity (launched by 9.1 percent)

• Google Earth (9.1 percent)

• Java (8.9 percent)

• Google Talk (8.7 percent)

• Facebook Video (6.0 percent)

And of that list of most-popular NPAPI plug-ins, Java is already blocked by default for security reasons.

Microsoft chose to enable Flash Player in Windows 8 through an exceptional procedure. Google also gets some special favors of its own, Google's PDF reader and Native Client plug-ins also use the Pepper API.