Firefox to follow Chrome's lead on Flash, PDFs

As part of efforts to remove generic plugin support, Mozilla's Project Mortar explores alternative approaches to providing non-web platform technologies, starting with the Firefox browser's handling of PDF rendering and Flash support.

The newly unveiled project looks to deliver these technologies cheaper while providing a better user experience. To that end, Mortar will explore the possibility of bringing Google's PDFium library, used in the Chrome browser, and the Pepper API-based Flash plugin into Firefox. Pepper API also was developed by Google, and both Pepper API and PDFium are Chromium projects. Switching to Pepper will reduce support costs because "we will only need to support a subset of the Pepper API to achieve our goal," Johnny Stenback, senior director of engineering at Mozilla, said.

Mozilla already has integrated Firefox with the PDFium library and enabled basic PDF rendering. If the company is successful in using the minimum set of Pepper APIs for the PDFium library, NPAPI support could be removed from Firefox once it's disabled for general plugin use.

"Due to security and stability reasons [NPAPI] is being broadly phased out," Stenback said. "Removing it completely drastically reduces code complexity and the support costs associated with maintaining Gecko." Gecko is Mozilla's layout engine in Firefox for reading Web content like HTML and JavaScript.

Browser vendors have been moving away from proprietary, security-plagued Flash technology in favor of HTML5. Finding an alternative path for Flash support "would allow us to completely remove NPAPI from Firefox earlier," Stenback said. The effort allows Mozilla to invest more heavily in core web technology. "While Mozilla's credo is all about promoting standardization of the web platform for the benefits of the web ecosystem, this project doesn't change that at all," Stenback said. "It is true that this project does use some non-web standards internally inside of Gecko, and the same can be said for the vast majority of the rest of the internals of Gecko."

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