The plugins we use in our browsers are a holdover from an earlier time. They provide handy features not built into the browsers. But, plugins also provide a varied collection of problems. The problems are enough of a pain that Firefox, Google, and other browser publishers are going to remove support for them.
Firefox has a list of the plugins that cause problems for their browser. See: Firefox Blocked Plugins. But, it is not just certain plugins that are going to be blocked. We are talking support for all plugins. Firefox will start by blocking all plugins as their default behavior.
Google will be blocking all but a few plugins. Flash, Silverlight, and Unity plugins have Google’s blessing. But, by the end of 2014 even those will be blocked and eventually support removed. By May Google will be refusing to allow new apps or updates to apps in their App Store. See: Google Will Start Blocking Most Netscape Plug-In API Plug-Ins In January 2014.
What Are Some Plugins?
Flash is a ubiquitous plugin that nearly every person has installed. It is mandatory to play Facebook games. But, Flash is going away. My web design tools have lots of new tools to use for creating web apps that are not plugins.
Silverlight is a Microsoft plugin that Netflix users have to have installed. It provides a way to play movies while making it hard to record them or take screen captures.
Unity is a new type plugin that is a type of game engine that runs on various platforms; Windows, Mac, consoles, and mobile devices. We are seeing it move games to the various platforms. Game makers can make one game in Unity and just save a copy for a platform. It is like using Photoshop and GIMP to save JPG, PNG, TIF, TGA, and other formats. Way easier than having to design the game multiple times, once for each platform.
My Firefox is full of web design plugins I use for debugging complex sites.
AccuWeather, Weather Underground, and WeatherBug have popular plugins that many of us use.
The loss of all these would be a tragedy. Not to worry. These are being converted to newer technology supported by the browsers, mostly HTML5, which is the future language of the web. You won’t have to learn it. Web designers use it and your browser interprets it and present you a web page.
The map picture is an HTML5 app. It works like an app used to but requires no program code be added to your computer. The little WeatherBug image shows the alert note that it is a legacy app. It will not run in a browser at some point.
What Do We Do?
There is not much the typical user needs to do. They will need to find new apps as their old legacy apps get blocked. Otherwise there is nothing one needs to do. This will happen nearly invisibly to you.
When you use Google’s App Store, you may notice the New Apps that ‘run on your desktop.’ Well, that is true if you are running Google’s Operating System. Otherwise they run in your browser. Not exactly what I consider truth in advertising.
There are some great apps coming out. AutoDesk, the maker of the computer drafting system on which most of the world is designed, is providing a free app for image editing: PIXLR. It has some brothers and sisters that extend what you can do. So, if Photoshop is too expensive and GIMP is too much to learn, then try PIXLR.
If you’re wondering if this is good or bad for the end user, I’ll say it is a great improvement for users, with some reservations. These new apps run on all your devices; desktop, laptop, tablet, and/or phone.
Using the Google App Store you will quickly find out that you must log into Google. Everything is setup to require you to login. The reason for that is your apps and settings will be transferred to the cloud and made available to all your devices. That is pretty handy. If I install an app on my desktop, it will appear on my App Launcher enabled devices, those that I installed the launcher on.
Of course this makes for a maze of privacy and security problems. See: Android Users: Google Has ALL Your Wi-Fi Passwords and Manage your website passwords. Google has an article: Secure your passwords. But, they fail to mention that if you are sync’ing your passwords among devices then all those passwords live some place in the cloud. You are hopefully considering how long it will take hackers to figure a way into that treasure trove.
It has been pointed out that if the government or a gov employee that is some cowboy or irate x-lover that wants your information, they request it from Google. That is supposed to take a court order. But, various news agencies and Snowden are showing that is not what is happening. I am convinced things are such a mess we can’t know what is actually happening. Much less what may happen when no one is looking.
You’ll have to make a call on where you think the new apps are a good thing or not. I believe with time the cloud storage will become more secure from hackers. But, I doubt it will ever be safe from renegade gov employees and agencies or companies with a political agenda.
Apps are changing. That is an unchangeable fact and trend. We will adapt. Some of the new apps are way neat.