Firefox to drop old-tech plug-ins by end of 2016

Mozilla calls the end of NPAPI plug-ins but will continue to support Flash

Mozilla yesterday announced that it will follow in Google's footsteps and bar virtually all plug-ins built using a decades-old technology by the end of next year.

"Mozilla intends to remove support for most NPAPI plugins in Firefox by the end of 2016," wrote Benjamin Smedberg, a Mozilla senior engineering manager, in a Thursday post to his firm's blog.

One major exception, said Smedberg, will be Adobe Flash, which will continue to be supported by Firefox.

NPAPI (Netscape Plug-in Application Programming Interface) is the plug-in standard that harks back to Netscape, the 1990s browser that Microsoft buried in its antitrust-triggering battle over the browser market. NPAPI has long been the most popular plug-in standard, and is still supported by Apple's Safari, Mozilla's Firefox and Opera Software's Opera.

Google has dropped all support for NPAPI plug-ins in its Chrome browser, killing the final work-around with version 45, which launched a month ago. Google was the first to deprecate NPAPI among the browsers that relied on it -- Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) has always called on its own proprietary ActiveX architecture -- and used a several-year process to gradually wean users from the aged technology.

Google's rationale for dispensing with NPAPI was the standard's slack security and erratic stability.

Smedberg acknowledged the trail blazing of Chrome and another browser, Microsoft's Edge, the default for Windows 10. "This decision mirrors actions by other modern browsers, such as Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, which have already removed support for legacy plugins," he said.

Mozilla's move on NPAPI was another step toward synchronizing efforts with Chrome, and to a much lesser extent, Edge. In August, the open-source developer outlined major changes in its add-on model, long a selling point for Firefox, that will make it easier for creators to port Chrome extensions to Firefox.

Edge, which does not yet support add-ons or plug-ins other than Flash, which is baked into the browser, will also take the tack of adopting Chrome-like extensions.

If Mozilla sticks to its update-every-six-week schedule, NPAPI support would be ditched no later than in Firefox 52, which is slated to ship Dec. 27, 2016.

The current Firefox is version 41, with the next in line, Firefox 42, set to release Nov. 3.

According to analytics vendor Net Applications, Firefox accounted for just 11.5% of all browsers run in September, its lowest share since August 2006. Unless Firefox has a turn in fortune, Computerworld forecasts that it will slip under the 10% mark by April 2016, by which time Chrome will have captured 35% of the browser market.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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