released a beta version of its Mac browser this morning and opened up an official gallery of browser extensions. That's exciting news because the addition of more than 300 extensions, combined with blazing speed and good stability, makes Chrome the best browser on the market today.The Google Chrome team
We got a chance to talk with Nick Baum, Product Manager and Brian Rakowski, Director of Product Management at Google Chrome this afternoon and they shared a number of interesting tidbits with us about the nature and future of extensions in Chrome.
Chrome was released more than a year ago and users have been clamoring for extensions ever since. Rakowski and Baum said that a request for extensions was bug #18 filed in the browser's bug tracking system - it's something that Firefox has conditioned users to expect.
Now those extensions are here and it's a very interesting story.
Understanding the Versions of Chrome
Between Chrome, Chromium, dev and beta releases, things are getting a little complicated. Here's how it breaks down:
- Chromium is open source developer channel, "the bleeding edge" of Chrome development. That's what we've been using here on Mac and it's the only Mac version today that supports extensions. It's untested and less stable than the other versions. We've been using it for months, though, with only occasional problems.
- Chrome is the official release. There are 3 versions of Chrome: dev, beta (Windows or Mac) and stable (Windows only). The vast majority of users use the stable version, Mac users got beta build 4.0 today.
- Dev builds come out every week or so and are at most 1 week behind Chromium. Baum and Rakowski asked in our interview for us to please switch to using the Dev version for Mac instead of Chromium as soon as it supports extensions.
Mac Dev Version Will Get Extension Support Very Soon
Some of Nick Baum's Favorite Chrome Extensions So Far
Right now the official extension gallery won't allow Mac users to download extensions. Officially, at least. This bookmarklet will allow you to install them in Chromium on a Mac with just one extra click. (Thanks, MG Seigler, for finding that.) That bookmarklet will not allow you to use extensions in the official beta for Mac that launched today, just in Chromium.
Baum and Rakowski told us today that the next dev build for Mac will allow extensions. That could be out as early as tomorrow morning or in a few days, and it's anyone's guess when extension support will come to the Beta version released today. (Who wants to use the Beta version when Dev is so much cooler?)
Anyone can get extensions from an unofficial site called ChromeExtensions.org and if you're on a Mac it's probably most effective tonight to grab Chromium and the bookmarklet above. Then you can get extensions from the official site as well.
Chrome Extensions Are Not Like Firefox Extensions
Unlike Firefox extensions, Chrome extensions install without a browser restart and they update automatically.
Too many extensions have been a part of the bloat that's made Firefox-use nearly intolerable for many of us, but the Chrome team says extensions will cause no more drag on Chrome performance than opening up a new web page in another tab would. That's a big part of the premise of Chrome, that every process is running distinct from other processes, so one tab can't slow or crash the others. It's an architecture well suited to running web applications, not just loading web pages, and it's great to hear that the extensions platform works the same way.
GreaseMonkey? Oh, There Will Be GreaseMonkey
What of Chrome, though? Guess where, Aaron Boodman, the creator of GreaseMonkey works now? That's right, on the Chrome Extensions team.
Boodman recently made it even easier for GreaseMonkey scripts to be added to Chrome than they are in Firefox. A single click transforms the scripts into Chrome Extensions, at least for Windows users. We haven't found a successful Mac implementation yet, but we've got our fingers crossed that this will no longer be an issue when full extension support comes to Chrome for Mac.
Red Hot APIs On the Way
Baum told us today that the team "will add APIs for other data types soon, personal web history being a prime candidate, so extensions will be able to access that and manipulate it in all sorts of ways." That sounds great. It's one thing for a browser to promise not to sell my web history, but it's a whole new ball game when developers can build software that lets me derive all the more value from the history of my activity around the web.
Bring it on, Team Chrome! We might feel a little guilty for abandoning the wonderful community project that is Firefox, but this new browser is just so damn good it's hard not to give it a serious try.
It just so turns out, we have a particularly relevant sponsor this month that we should point to. Add-on-Con is a major event all about browser add-ons. It's being held in Mountain View, CA this Friday. Google is a sponsor and Aaron Boodman, the man behind GreaseMonkey and now working on Chrome Extensions, is a speaker. Check it out!