Browser Extensions: The New Platform

There have been many business software platforms over the last 20 years. Usually, these things go in waves of popularity. Some examples that were very popular:

  • Novell
  • Windows 3.1/95
  • Netscape
  • Flash (short lived)
  • IE6
  • iPhone/iPad
  • Android
  • Facebook
  • Salesforce

I see a new platform gaining in popularity: Browser Extensions. I have been compiling more and more. They are coming out from many software vendors.

The reality is that people still use their laptops. iPads and smart phones are great for gaming and light work, but they just aren’t popular as the primary business device. Go into any business office and you will see laptops and even desktop computers. You won’t see a room full of people using their phones for creating landing pages or doing their taxes.

I think the mobile frenzy was ahead of its time. The phone just isn’t good enough yet for many of the desired business uses. It’s great for Uber, but not for creating a PowerPoint presentation. I remember hearing from misguided executives that mobile is the most important platform to pay attention to. I believe it’s misguided because it doesn’t take into account the reality of the desktop/laptop dominance. Imagine a developer programming on an iPad: It’s possible, but not going to become popular.

Think about how much time you spend in your browser. Not only is it a tremendous amount of time, it is a much richer experience than mobile. This is fundamentally due to the larger screen real estate, keyboard and mouse, plus a more powerful chip, more ram and storage.

All of this brings us to the current trend of developing a significant part of the business experience using Chrome. It allows you to play with sites even if they  don’t have APIs. It allows you to mashup different sites in creative ways. It is a rich interaction platform and fairly easy to debug because each plugin works with only one browser. I’ve seen some cases where the entire sophisticated business application is delivered via the door of an extension.

Extensions are not cross-browser, so you will need to maintain 3 versions (Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer). This is a bit onerous, but much of the code will be shared.

How many extensions to you use? I have over a dozen at this point. I think this trend will continue for a while.

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