Google's Chrome to pull plug on plugins next September

Firing squad scheduled for ancient Netscape tech

Google is moving ahead with its plan to end support for Netscape plugins in its Chrome browser – and has set next September as the date for when they will stop working altogether.

The Chocolate Factory announced its intention to drop the venerable Netscape Plugin API (NPAPI) tech in September 2013. At the same time, it urged browser extension makers to upgrade their code to use newer technologies, such as Google's own Pepper Plugin API (PPAPI).

Current versions of Chrome already block NPAPI plugins automatically, with the exception of a short whitelist of approved plugins. Users have to manually authorize plugins to run on specific sites.

On Monday, however, Google said its next step will be to remove the whitelist so that no NPAPI plugins will run on any sites without user intervention, beginning in January 2015.

Next up, the version of Chrome that ships in April will arrive with NPAPI support switched off by default. Users will no longer be prompted to enable Netscape plugins for sites that request them; the plugins simply won't run at all.

That version of the browser, however, will include an override feature that will allow "advanced users" to re-enable NPAPI support using a hidden configuration option or via Enterprise Policy.

"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," Google engineer Justin Schuh said in a blog post.

That reprieve will only last until September 2015, though. That month's stable release of Chrome will remove support for NPAPI completely, and Google says it will never come back.

Google's plugin retirement plan mainly applies to Windows users. Chrome users on OS X lost support for most NPAPI plugins last week when Google killed off the 32-bit version of its browser for Macs. The 64-bit version can't run old, 32-bit plugins.

There is also a 64-bit version of Chrome for Windows, but so far it's optional. The Chrome download page defaults to the 32-bit version, even for users running 64-bit versions of Windows.

Truthfully, though, losing support for NPAPI plugins won't affect most Chrome users. Support for Adobe Flash is already built into the browser and doesn't need a separate plugin.

As of October 2014, Google says the plugins most frequently launched by Chrome users were Microsoft Silverlight, Google Talk, Java, Facebook's video chat plugin, the Unity gaming engine, and Google Earth, in that order. Of these, Silverlight – the most popular one – was only launched by 11 per cent of Chrome users. ®

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