Apple's Safari extensions API is “the most limited”

A developer of browser extensions has built a nice comparison chart of the three most popular open source web browser families  – Mozilla´s, Google´s and Apple´s and their respective extension APIs, concluding that Apple´s  browser is much more restrictive than Mozilla about what a browser add-on can do, and that even Google´s Chrome trumps it.

Google´s Chrome web browser started supporting extensions for all platforms -Windows, Linux and Mac OSX – in its developer builds earlier this year, and the company began heavily promoting its extensions feature three months ago, which pundits say contributed to its rise in its market share.

Suffering from Google-envy, the Church of Cupertino -which promises salvation in the form of trade secrets and control of its users, and worships round borders and the white colour-, headed by His Holiness Steve Jobs didn´t want to be left out of the browser extensions game.  Thus, days ago it unveiled version 5.01 of its Safari web browser, sporting extensions.

But what about the software programmer´s point of view?. Which browser delivers a more palatable and powerful environment for extensions development?. We wondered that ourselves. And that´s when we came across Davide Ficano, a developer of  browser extensions from Italy, who tackled exactly that question.

In his blog here, Ficano, who goes by the nickname ´dafizilla´ in open source programming circles built a nice table comparing the capabilities offered to extension developers by´s Firefox, Google´s Chrome, and Apple´s Safari. His conclusion? in a nutshell, “Safari is less extensible than Chrome” he writes, and Firefox trumps both. “Firefox is a platform, Safari and Chrome are applications with minimal support for pluggable code” he says.

Titled “A survey on Safari 5, Chrome and Firefox extensions API” the post explains that “Safari and Chrome are applications with minimal support for pluggable code. Minimal support doesn’t mean you can’t create great extensions but it means you are very limited in advanced topics like web page listeners, clipboard, file and network system access and many other programming areas.”

He apparently decided to write that post -which was before the v5.01 release, it should be noted-after he got several emails from Mac users asking him to port his extensions to Apple´s browser: “A couple of hours after (the)  Safari 5 release I’ve received an email asking me to port Table2Clipboard to Safari, after two days I’ve received five emails asking to port on Safari both Table2Clipboard and ViewSourceWith. The same happens with Google Chrome, people asks to migrate extensions to their new favourite browsers but this is in many cases very difficult or impossible.”

He thinks Safari is the most limited  – oh boy are we not surprised of the words “Apple” and “limited” in the same sentence- but seems to think that´s in part due to the early age of this feature´s development: “Safari extension API set at this time is very limited also when compared with Chrome, as mentioned above this doesn’t mean all extensions are toys but the user experience can be limited and the developer creativity is seriously damaged” he concludes.

Davide is not a newbie. Although he refers to his creations as “bonsai extensions”, he wrote plenty of extensions for the Firefox and SeaMonkey Mozilla-based browsers, with “ViewSourceWith” and “Table2Clipboard” being his two most popular. He has also written code for the Komodo development environment, and in the past has released utilities for Windows.

In his blog, Giorgio Maone, another Italian software developer and author of the popular Flashgot  and NoScript extensions, agrees: “Firefox exposes almost everything of its internals as a full-fledged cross-platform development frameworkm while Chrome/Safari extensions offer a very limited and shielded subset to extensions developers.”

What´s your extension number?
Perusing each browser´s extensions directory reveals that the current King of Extensions continues to be Firefox, having popularized the concept years ago and definitely giving it an edge at a time when IE was stale and rotting while people were getting increasingly fed up with IE´s insecurity track record.

Chrome  – which has only made at best moderate inroads into the browser market- brought extensions with the goal of winning more market share. It seems to have worked a little. The Chrome extensions gallery now boasts over six thousand extensions and you can see them ranked by user rating, here.

Safari  – despite its name – has been unable to catch and bring any prey home to its dining table, with less than five per cent of the desktop browser market, and it seems destined to be last. While version 5 supports extensions as well, the number of extensions listed at Apple´s on-line catalog y pales in comparison with Chrome´s over six thousand and the impressive 13,000+ number you get by adding up all categories shown at the Firefox add-ons site. -although there´s chance some might be repeat entries in that number, we guess.

In any case, our Editorial Review Board says we are all wrong for highlighting this, and that the limits imposed by Safari are surely A Good Thing, because Apple always does everything for The Common Good. Yet, we don´t note this to avoid hordes of Apple zealots who could surely discipline us all for being infidels. Finally, here´s a picture of another Safari gone wrong. That might help dis
tract the lynching mob while this scribbler runs for cover. ☼