Thursday, December 10, 2009

Google launch Chrome extensions

Google has launched Chrome Extensions for its browser which it hopes will further enhance the web experience for users. As of Wednesday 8th December Chrome users can add an application programming interface which provide a number of facilities. There are already some 300 extensions and growing. One useful and lightweight chrome extension is "Gmail Compose." It quickly allows the user to compose an email through their Gmail account, and works instantly and with a single click. However, the drawback with this extension is that once a user clicks outside the extension area, the window closes and the email is automatically discarded. Of course many of the extensions are still in a development phase and only users of Chrome in beta can make use of them. 

Despite the speed and stability of Chrome the browser has not managed to increase its market share. Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox remain the most popular browsers. And there are still compatibility issues with some sites. Some websites will not display in some browsers correctly. For example many banking websites, particularly in China and other parts of Asia, will only work in IE6 Internet. One extension may solve this problem. The Chrome IE Tab extension allows the user to run Internet Explorer from within a tab in Chrome enabling them to display such web pages without leaving Chrome. It may also be configured so that specific URLs are displayed automatically in this mode. 

Social networking, which is increasing in its popularity, is also catered for. Extensions which provide connections to Twitter and Facebook may also be incorporated into the browser. In addition there are extensions for Google Wave and other Google applications such as Tasks, Calendar and Translation.

Since the launch of Chrome a little over a year ago, some have expressed the lack of a Google toolbar, similar to that which can be added to either IE or Firefox. The addition of extensions, though not quite the same, does address some of these issues. It also puts the browser on an almost equal footing with the Firefox browser which has provided extensions for some time. Unlike Firefox extensions, Chrome extensions install without a browser restart and they update automatically. One criticism often cited about Firefox is that the browser can crash with so many extensions added. Google says this is less likely to happen in Chrome since the architecture built around their extensions is built in a similar way to that employed in their 'sandboxed' tabs. In sandboxing, if one tab fails to work only that tab needs be closed, and it is rare that the whole browser needs to be shutdown.

As to whether Chrome will increase its market share through the introduction of new functionality, only time will tell. Internet Explorer still dominates the market with usage hovering just over 60 percent. Mozilla's Firefox takes a 28 percent share while Google Chrome and Safari (used on Apple Macs) each hold a 4.5 percent share of the browser market. Google has an uphill struggle to convince people to change their browser however. Even amongst Internet Explorer users nearly 40 percent have failed to upgrade from IE6 to IE7, and only 33 percent have moved to IE8.

Mac users have also been given the chance to take part in the experience of using Chrome extensions. Macs have often been the last to receive support from Google.While PC users had Google Earth since 2005 it was not until a year later that the program became available for Apple Macs. Even Chrome did not become available for Macs until six months after its original beta release for Windows. While extensions may enhance the use of Chrome for many around the world and gain fresh interest from those still using other browsers, there are millions of people being denied a chance to try out the new technology. In China the Great Firewall is once again proving to be an inhibitor of technological movement on the web. Even before the launch of extensions many of Google's services were blocked and recently so was its development site for Chrome OS. On launch of extensions there will be few able access the official Google site to add the applications since that too is blocked. So much for a country that claims to be interested in progress.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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