In a recently published whitepaper titled "Enhancing the performance of Windows Internet Explorer 8," Microsoft detailed browser add-ons, toolbars, malware, restricted sites, plus more advanced topics such as User Agent String and concurrent download settings. In itself, it's a useful guide for IE8 users who are having trouble with their browser's speed. For our purposes, though, there's some interesting information about add-ons included:
Although browser add-ons can add great new features to your browser, they can also introduce performance issues if written poorly. Add-ons cause most browser crashes, accounting for over 70 percent of Internet Explorer 8's crashes. Slowdowns in Internet Explorer 8 are very often caused by add-ons—especially when you open a new browser window or tab.
It's good to see that only 30 percent of IE8's crashes are actually the browser's fault. Theoretically, IE8 users could simply run their browser in "No Add-ons mode" (iexplore.exe -extoff) and have a much more stable experience. In the real world, today's Web expects add-ons.
In the document, Microsoft also outlines the 20 most popular add-ons from IE8 users worldwide as of July 2009:
|2||Windows Live Sign-in Helper|
|3||Adobe Acrobat Reader|
|4||Windows Live Toolbar|
|7||Thunder Download Manager|
|8||KingSoft Browser Shield|
|9||AVG Security Toolbar|
|11||Norton Internet Security|
|13||Kapersky Internet Security|
|18||Google Browser Address Error Redirector|
|19||Spybot Search and Destroy|
Interestingly, Flash is noticeably missing from the list, though we're not sure why. It's possible that Microsoft simply did not count ActiveX add-ons. It could be because some businesses disable it. It may also be the way it is invoked (Java is present, but Silverlight is not), compared to other add-ons, though, we do know IE definitely treats it as an add-on (running in "No Add-ons mode" will turn it off, and it is listed in the Manage Add-ons window).
Most of the add-ons listed are installed along with other software. The major search and Web portals are well represented thanks to bundling. There are also numerous security-related add-ons and even some malware at number 20.
Microsoft's two biggest competitors in the browser market, Firefox and Chrome, both put a big emphasis on add-ons. Microsoft claims that IE add-ons are very easy to develop and that it made sure the developer tools are not a separate download. That may be true, but IE still isn't as good an extensibility platform as other browsers: it's harder for plugins to intercept Web traffic and so add-ons like NoScript are much harder to port.
There were only 1,200 add-ons available for IE8 at launch. The Internet Explorer Add-ons Gallery, which doesn't include all the add-ons for the browser, has only about 600 listed today. It appears that the total number has also barely grown since IE8's release in March 2009.
This highlights the lack of third-party interest in IE8 development. Because the browser is hated by so many Web developers and is harder to code for, there are very few add-ons being created for it.
Given that all this telemetry data is coming directly from Microsoft, we can only hope that the software giant is working on a huge overhaul for the add-on system in IE9. First off, add-ons should not be able to commit murder, only suicide. Both Chrome and IE isolate tabs to ensure that a crashing page cannot take down the whole browser. Similarly, they isolate plugins to limit the damage that can be done when they crash. A case could therefore be made that IE should take the same approach to add-ons—spin them off into separate processes so that they cannot take down the browser. Secondly, add-ons should update themselves from within the browser. Users should not have to maintain every single add-on they have, although we admit automatic updating means a poorly written update affects more users.
Internet Explorer general manager Dean Hachamovitch said at MIX10 that he believes the IE extensibility platform is pretty good. It needs to get significantly better in IE9.
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