Chrome extensions are meant to be lightweight, helpful additions to your browser, but not all extensions abide by these best practices. That’s why Google is making these simple UX guidelines into law with the hopes of giving you back control over the Internet.
According to the Google Chromium Blog, Chrome has been about speed and simplicity since the very beginning:
Simplicity was important to us because browsers had become overly complex, with bulky user interfaces (commonly referred to in the industry as “chrome”). That detracted from the content of the page, which was the whole point of the browser. The name “Chrome” came from this principle as we wanted the browser to be about ‘content, not chrome.'”
Google wanted to get rid of those ridiculous, bulky 3rd party Internet Explorer toolbars of old (think Yahoo and Alexa) and make each extension into a single visible page action button. But developers are clever and have found ways to use scripts to bundle additional features into extensions, which makes it difficult to track down where the additional browser features are coming from. Such additional features could include 3rd party ads that run continuously and hog up your CPU performance or display. Even worse, some (often malicious) extensions are being loaded into people’s browsers without their knowledge when they are bundled with other software or through an attack by another rogue application.
The catch to this new Chrome policy is that your favorite and most useful extensions might need to make significant changes to the services they provide. Some might even need to break up into multiple, separate extensions. For this reason, Google isn’t going to enforce the policy change for existing applications until June 2014, but all new extensions will have to play by these rules. Developers who want to produce multi-purpose extensions, however, will still be able to host and distribute them on their own websites – just not on the Chrome Store.
While you can applaud Google’s effort to improve our browsing experience on Chrome, could it do a better job of defining what a multi-purpose extension is? What will the real fallout for developers look like? In the Extensions Quality Guidelines, it states not to create extensions that require users to accept bundles of unrelated functionality like an email notifier or news headline aggregator, saying that if any two functions are clearly separate, they should be considered as two different extensions. Does this mean that something like the popular Evernote extension will no longer be able to simultaneously take screen captures and bookmark notes? Or is Buffer in trouble for cleverly injecting its button to appear naturally in multiple 3rd party sites like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit? Or will these policy changes only be enforced on clearly abusive and far-reaching extensions?
What do you think: will this new Chrome policy make Chrome a better browser?