Internet Explorer's successor, Microsoft Edge, didn't offer support for browser plugins or "extensions" as Microsoft calls them, when it first shipped with Windows 10 in 2015. As many avid web users can attest, plugins are a vital part of the internet experience, allowing them to automate repetitive tasks, organize web content and avoid online annoyances, among countless other benefits.
Edge extensions finally arrived a year later in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, but unlike the massive browser plugin ecosystems users may have grown accustomed to, Edge extensions are an exclusive affair.
Users wishing to add more functionality to the browser must first visit the Windows Store, Microsoft's app marketplace. There they'll find approximately 70 carefully-selected extensions, not the plugin free-for-all of years past. It's all a part of creating a "thoughtfully curated ecosystem" of browser plugins, according to Colleen Williams, senior program manager, of Microsoft Edge.
"We have taken a purposefully metered approach as we onboard new extensions. Extensions are one of the most substantial features in a new browser, and we have a high bar for quality. Because extensions interact so closely with the browser, we have been very attuned to the security, performance, and reliability of Microsoft Edge with these extensions enabled," wrote Williams in a blog post.
Considering the current cyber-security landscape, Williams' assertions have some merit.
In early 2016, Oracle announced that its ubiquitous Java plugin, which was often targeted for malware attacks, was nearing the end of the line. In July, Adobe announced that it was pulling the plug on Flash Media Player, another plugin at the heart of countless web-based attacks. Sometimes plugins containing spyware are unknowingly installed on user PC through software bundling techniques.
By being selective, Microsoft is sparing Edge users the pain of dealing with the aftermath of a malware infection caused by potentially dangerous plugins, said Williams. "Poorly written or even malicious add-ons for browsers remain a potential source of privacy, security, reliability and performance issues, even today. We want users to be confident that they can trust extensions in Microsoft to operate as expected."
So rather than allowing developers to create and freely distribute Edge extensions, Microsoft uses a submission process that thoroughly evaluates each and every plugin before its published to the Windows Store. This meticulousness helps explain why there are relatively few plugins for Edge, just over 70 in total.
Plugin developers may also be focusing their efforts on rival browsers.
According to the latest desktop browser market data from web analytics firm Net Applications, Edge holds less than six percent of the market. Google's Chrome browser dominates the market, with over 59 percent, followed by Internet Explorer (15.58 percent) and Firefox (12.28 percent).
Oftentimes, browser developers publish plugins themselves, adding more functionality to the stock experience.
In January 2016, Google's Data Saver joined dozens of other Chrome plugins from the company, allowing users to reduce their data usage on spotty WiFi or cellular networks by first compressing web pages using Google's servers. The Firefox Lightbeam add-on by Mozilla creates interactive visualizations that show users the relationships between the sites they visit and the third-party sites that may be tracking them online.