What’s the Cost for Extending Chrome?

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Chromium Extensions

Also, Google now released extensions for Chrome. These are little browser add-ons and tools, or speaking in Chrome evolution terms, it’s the discovery of fire: you can now cook meat, look at cave paintings at night, scare away the sabertooth tiger, and accidentally burn your fingers.” – by Philipp Lenssen, Google Blogoscoped

For many people, the primary obstacle in contemplating a move to Google’s Chrome browser was the lack of extensions. Having become wedded to them on Firefox, their absence from the would be challenger made it a non starter.

As of yesterday, that justification is either defeated or in full retreat, depending on your viewpoint. The three hundred available extensions certainly can’t compete on a volume basis with the thousands available for the Firefox platform, but enough of the major basis are covered that it’s likely to be an 80/20 situation before too long. AdBlock is present, Speed Tracer’s there for the web devs, and there are no fewer than 43 extensions that at least mention Twitter.


It’s clear from the installation experience that Google’s learned from Firefox. Installation is fast, requires but one confirmation dialog and does not ask for a browser restart. There’s something disproportionately rewarding in seeing the extension icons appear with no delay.

While I haven’t plowed through the entirety of the extension cataglog, I’ve been through just shy of two dozen from which fourteen remain. None of the above are the greatest since sliced bread, but most extend the utility of Chrome and thus the time I spend in it. They may eventually make it more difficult for me to leave Chrome, but I missed my Firefox extensions less than I anticipated.


Browser Memory Usage

The primary question for me, and for many, regarding the influx of extensions is performance, and so far the jury’s out. Right now with sixty-something tabs (yeah yeah, I know) and 14 extensions running, my memory consumption is at 83 MB, as shown. Firefox, meanwhile, is at around 114 MB loading just my homepage, boston.com/sports. It’s worth mentioning, however, that this comparison is apples to oranges, with Chromium a nightly build and Firefox at version 3.5.7 – 3.6.b6pre appears to be much quicker. Then again, Mozilla’s packaging for Linux is suboptimal, as Simon noted last night (kudos to Davis Ascher for acknowledging this quickly).

Back to Chromium, here’s the bad news: loaded down with extensions, the browser leaks memory. Just a bit at first, but after six or seven hours of continuous usage yesterday, it locked up on me completely, forcing me to kill it from the command line. That’s a first for Chrome, and a sign that extensions may yet be a performance problem for the browser whose primary differentiation, to date, has been speed.

The Net

I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to call this the invention of fire, then, but there’s no question that the Chrome’s extensions will at once reduce barriers to usage and improve the experience. What’s not yet clear is what the performance cost for that will be.

Firefox, remember, was once the lean and mean alternative. Lacking one of James’ personal trainers, it grew heavier over time. So it will be interesting to see where Chrome’s trend towards functionality and Firefox’s weight loss program take the two browsers.


  1. Sounds like someone needs to request a tool to list how much memory the extensions are using, over time. So you can figure out which one(s) are leaking.

    Actually, I thought they already had something like that, but a google doesn’t immediately point it out.

    Chrome already ships a heap profiler, and with the architecture of the extensions, seems like memory use/extension should be do-able.

  2. A Mozillan’s view, primarily about JetPack and Google rejecting extensions.

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