Starting as markup, the Web became more about script and styling. Browser plug-ins like Flash and ActiveX have been imparting rich online experiences for more than a decade. With the help of community and industry, we are trying to return to a plug-in free Web.
For the web developers, the next question is so, where are we going? Just to be clear, the plug-ins referred here are the browser extensions that operate natively, i.e. not on Web. These client codes use low-level browser interfaces.
What is the reason behind the shift?
For the most of us, it was Apple that actually got the “no plug-in” ball rolling. The company cited security concerns and thereby never supported plug-ins from its first iPhone and iPad. The m. <domain> web emerged from this lack of support. It also materialized from the lack of web standards like device size/orientation and network directives etc. These were some of the factors that affected the shift.
We are all aware of the staggering use of mobile so there is no need of rehashing the same here. The mobile data traffic has doubled between the years 2008 and 2011 (as stated in the report by Cisco). In 2012 itself, the tablets took off and a report by IDC stated that 52.5 million units were sold. 40% of those devices are operating without any plug-in.
The second part of the mobile story is the touch screen. Most of the plug-ins is not designed for touch. Plug-ins don’t gain any advantage from the touch optimized browsers.
All the standard based technologies that are specified by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) like HTML5 can perform like most of plug-ins. These technologies have strong support across all modern browsers. This enables the web developers to write the same markup and script that would operate across multiple browsers. There is no need to write or maintain separate codes, which would have third party frameworks or runtime dependencies. This is the reason that we see major brands are eliminating plug-ins and using features of HTML5 to use in their desktop, mobile and tablet optimized websites.
Sheldon concludes by saying, “HTML5 is no longer an emerging toolset for mobile and tablet development. Instead, it is fast becoming the de facto standard for Web experience innovation across touch points.”
Plug-in vs. Plug-in free
The web is now categorized into the Plug-in and the Plug-in free. The above-mentioned trends drove the change. Yet the story does not stop there. The world of plug-ins is simultaneously changing and, we are yet to see the preferred choice of the audience.
Plug-ins are applications that would operate alongside the browser and therefore, consume additional system resources and drain batteries. Different users especially the mobile users hate this. Plug-in free codes promise an enhanced battery life.
Plug-ins is the most common areas of vulnerability. The browser vendors are now creating sandboxed versions of plug-ins that would reduce the risks. Including them would require testing independently and within the web page, which is time consuming.
Fussy across multiple browsers and operating systems
The plug-ins is based on different proprietary technology. This is the reason that it is difficult to project or control their support and performance across multiple browsers. In contrast, the HTML5 enables interoperability across browsers, forward compatibility and seamless site maintenance. This improves the overall user experience. Lowering the costs of development, one would find a more accessible pathway that facilitates in reusing the code across multiple devices and platforms.
The Changing World of the Plug-ins