Rivals Create IE Alternative for Browser Plug-Ins

Mozilla, Opera and Apple partner with plug-in developers Macromedia, Sun and Adobe to make multimedia content more functional in non-Microsoft browsers.

A group of Web browser makers has banded together to make software plug-ins as functional in their own browsers as in Microsofts dominant Internet Explorer browser.

The Mozilla Foundation, Opera Software ASA and Apple Computer Inc. announced earlier this week that they have developed an extension to a plug-in API that serves as an alternative to IEs method of using ActiveX for plug-in scripting. ActiveX also has been faulted in recent weeks for opening IE to security attacks.

The three browser makers are working with plug-in makers Macromedia Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Adobe Systems Inc. on the extension. Plug-ins allow other software programs, such as Macromedia Flash or Suns Java, to run within a browser and provide multimedia content.

Except for Microsoft Corp., browser makers have relied on the Netscape Plug-In Application Program Interface (API) for handling interaction between browsers and plug-ins. But until the browser makers banded together, they had used different implementations for scriptability with the Netscape Plug-In API.

Scriptability allows for greater interactivity between the browser and a plug-in, such as letting a user manipulate the actions of a plug-in from the browser, said Mitchell Baker, president of the Mozilla Foundation, in Mountain View, Calif. For example, using the new extensions, a Web site could use a Flash movie to let a shopper mix and match colors and styles of a product and have pricing and other information automatically updated in an associated Web page.

"The missing piece was a unified approach by the browser vendors and the plug-in vendors to build something that we all could adopt quickly," Baker said. "Another missing piece was having Mozilla Foundation as the venue to be involved and lead that effort."

The Mozilla Foundation was formed last year after America Online Inc. split off the open-source development project from its Netscape division.

The new extension, unveiled Wednesday, provides a unified approach for developing and running scriptable plug-ins across browsers from Mozilla, Opera and Apple, Baker said. Browsers should begin shipping with the extension by the fall, and Mozilla plans to begin including in the next few weeks in its nightly builds for developers.

The updated Netscape Plug-In API is based on Web standards and is being offered in an open-source licensing model, the partners said. Test builds, plug-in SDKs and scripting examples are available here.

Next Page: Macromedia will include the API in future Flash releases.