Using Chrome only to discover that your favorite game or video site isn’t working anymore? No error, no icon, no warning, no nothing? Congrats, you just discovered that Google killed off a whole subset of online software without so much as a fallback warning! Affected plug-in include Sliverlight, Shockwave, Flash, Unity Web Player, Java, older versions of Facebook Video, Google Earth, and Google Talk, as well as a great number of enterprise level custom software solutions.
So, what happened? Google announced in 2013 their roadmap to remove NPAPI (Netscape Plug-in API) support from the Chrome web browser. Why remove a framework that has enable to web browser capabilities to be extended far beyond anyone’s expectations for the past 20-ish years? Google justifies their viewpoint stating that:
“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”.
While the statement is an amusing mix of fact and hyperbole (with a dash of hypocrisy if you consider how many major malware incidents can be traced back to Google’s own DoubleClick ad network), the intent is clear: NPAPI’s days are numbered in the eyes of The Big G. Considering the update-crazed online society of today where newer is always believed to be better, they’ll probably get their way.
As of April 2015, Chrome still technically supports NPAPI plug-ins. However, it has been disabled by default in v42 of the browser. NPAPI support is projected to be removed altogether in September of 2015.
For the short term, you can re-enable NPAPI support in Chrome by using the following URL: chrome://flags/#enable-npapi . Once there, click the Enable link under “Enable NPAPI”.
Finally, click the “Restart Now” button at the bottom of the browser page (Closing/Reopening Chrome is NOT sufficient to enable this option).
Of course you could always switch to another web browser such as Mozilla’s Firefox. As a bonus, you’ll be supporting a company that believes in protecting Internet user’s privacy, a philosophy diametrically opposed to Google.
However, even switching web browsers may prove to be a mere Band-Aid for the issue. Most other web browser creators have announced similar plans to remove NPAPI support as well. While none have thus far actually made any moves to remove the plug-in support (or even set a timeline), NPAPI support and the web apps that require them, may very well be going the way of the dinosaurs.
Can Google’s war on plug-ins change the face of the Internet as much as Apple’s war on Flash? It all depends on how much users are willing accept.