A browser plug-in (or plugin) is extra software installed on a PC that allows a browser to display additional content it was not originally designed to display. Some examples of popular plug-ins are Flash Player, Java and Silverlight. Plug-ins were created because, at the time, browsers were fairly immature and browser development was not happening fast enough, if at all. So this created big opportunities for plug-in developers to create software that would expand the capabilities of browsers.
Now, let's talk about what the problems are with plug-ins. The biggest problem that I see is the fact that they are not very secure. There have been numerous attacks through either Flash or Java and since everyone has the same plug-in an attack works across every browser and operating system. Other problems include not working on different operating systems as they are designed to only work on certain ones or they can be be very unstable which can cause your browser to crash or just behave badly. These are the reasons why Mozilla announced in 2013 that they would changing the way Firefox loads third party plug-ins such as Flash, Java and Silverlight. Google has also announced their three-step approach to plug-in elimination:
- In January 2015 they began blocking plug-ins by default.
- In April 2015 they will begin to disable Chrome's ability to run plug-ins at all, unless a user specifically enables it by setting a flag in Chrome's technical preferences.
- In September 2015, they will begin to completely remove all ability to run plug-ins from Chrome.
So now you're probably wondering, "If they're going away, what's going to be replacing them?". The answer is that we are in a much healthier environment of rapid browser development (Firefox and Chrome both release a new browser version every 6-weeks) and web standards. Many of the features plug-ins implemented are now being introduced in the form of built-in browser features. Don't feel bad that plug-ins are going away -- they had their time and now like everything else on the Internet it's time for a change.