Once Extensions Arrive on Chrome, Firefox Should Worry

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Yesterday, CNET dug up a document from Google that outlines where the company plans to go in terms of extensions for their Chrome web browser. Though the document doesn’t offer any specific time line regarding when extensions are coming, it does outline a number of use cases and specific extensions that Google would like to support.

  • Bookmarking/navigation tools: Delicious Toolbar, Stumbleupon, web-based history, new tab page clipboard accelerators
  • Content enhancements: Skype extension (clickable phone numbers), RealPlayer extension (save video), Autolink (generic microformat data – addresses, phone numbers, etc.)
  • Content filtering: Adblock, Flashblock, Privacy control, Parental control
  • Download helpers: video helpers, download accelerators, DownThemAll, FlashGot
  • Features: ForecastFox, FoxyTunes, Web Of Trust, GooglePreview, BugMeNot

Google says that it realizes that Chromium, the open source project that backs Chrome, “can’t be everything to all people,” which is why extensions will be important. Google aims with Chrome to have an extension system that rivals the one implemented by Mozilla with Firefox. “We should start by building the infrastructure for an extension system that can support different types of extensibility,” says the document. “The system should be able to support an open-ended list of APIs over time, such as toolbars, sidebars, content scripts (for Greasemonkey-like functionality), and content filtering (for parental filters, malware filters, or adblock-like functionality).”

Though Chrome has seen an uptick to about 1% browser market share over the past month due to an occasional homepage link on Google.com, according to Net Applications, many early adopters remain hesitant to switch from Firefox. The reason we hear most often is indeed that Chrome lacks extensions, and as CNET points out an extensions system is the top requested feature by far on the Chromium project’s issue tracker.

Just take a look at some sample comments from our previous Chrome coverage on SitePoint:

“I like Chrome … it’s fast and opens fast too. However … I post this comment in Firefox. For me it’s simple … no Foxmarks, web dev toolbar and several other add-ons.” — Greg

“I spent a bit of today in Chrome and it is pretty nice. Very quick and super clean UI. It shows how slow some sites really are. I agree […] about the web dev toolbar. I use that and Firebug every time I fire up the browser.” — awasson

“I still am not going to convert due to the lack of support for add-ons – which I use every day. I mean, I opened up chrome this morning, to send a screenshot to someone, and where was my screen-grab….oh thats right this is Chrome :-(. If they managed to support the FF add-ons in Chrome, then yes, they could well get rid of FF, and then start converting the IE users.” — the moose

Pulling mainstream users away from Internet Explorer will be as difficult and slow a process for Google as it has been for Mozilla. The best users to target at the outset are the early adopters — or in this case, people already using alternative browsers like Firefox and Opera. These people generally rely on browser extensions (such as Firebug and AdBlock), which Chrome will need to compete.

Once Google adds the planned extension framework to the Chromium project, I think we can expect to see its market share jump considerably. It won’t overtake Firefox overnight, but it will become a fairly major minor player — by which I mean: watch out Firefox, Opera, and Safari.