Opera today detailed a proposal for NEX, the Navigator Extension format, a new vendor-neutral browser extension packaging format that it hopes to turn into a future W3C standard for packaging cross-browser, add-on development.
Currently, Chromium-based browsers use Google’s CRX format for delivering browser extensions. Opera, which recently switched to Chromium, says it developed NEX to “find a solution that would allow us to extend the Chromium CRX feature set without compromising the current ecosystem that has grown up around that format.” Because of this, NEX is basically a super-set of the CRX environment that developers are already using today. It supports a majority of the standard Chromium APIs for browser extensions, as well as Opera’s Speed Dial API. By default, Opera will also continue to run many CRX-based extensions.
Opera notes that its competitor Mozilla is currently driving the standards work on normalizing the packaging and manifest format for browser add-ons, and the company clearly wants to play a more prominent role in this process.
For users, Opera says, an open standard like NEX would allow them to switch browsers without being locked in to one specific vendor just because an extension they really need is only available on one browser. For developers, the company argues, this system would make their lives “easier and promotes shared innovation [that] continues to produce a healthy, competitive web ecosystem.”
The company also hopes that this kind of work will “make engaging at a shared System Applications API level much more useful [for browser vendors] – since the outcome of such discussions would likely make the lives of web developers easier while developing browser add-ons in the future.”