In search of thriving open source

Which browser has the most extensions?

Had a bit of an eye opener today, something a bit unexpected, at least for me.

Recently, I did a review of Firefox extensions for ITworld, which turned out to be a really long article that my editors decided to break up into a series. Part 1 was posted starting on Monday, with Part 2 and Part 3 following on subsequent days.

I decided that in a shameless combination of self-promotion and open source advocacy, I would check out how many extensions Firefox had, find out how many extensions Internet Explorer used, and then mercilessly tease the latter as yet-another-example of the pitfalls of proprietary software.

(Working with a headache today, so objectivity tends to be lower.)

And to be sure, there's opportunity aplenty for teasing. Firefox currently can use 4640 extensions, and Internet Explorer a mere 827. To be fair, that's a lot more than what I thought IE would have, but I still think it's clear that an open source community like the one surrounding the Mozilla Project can thrive far more than within a proprietary software environment--even if the proprietary software has a much larger user base.

But then, for the sake of completeness, I looked at Chrome's extension count, and was completely blown away: Google's rising-star browser lists 11,431 extensions. That's nearly 250 percent more extensions than Firefox!

[Insert expletive here]!

That's a staggering number of extensions, and while quantity does not equate to quality, the Chrome community has clearly got something going on. The question I have is, what?

Is the stronger corporate presence and sponsorship of a company like Google the difference? Or is it the very pervasiveness of Google on the Web itself that drives such large numbers of developed extensions? Is developing that much easier?

This is definitely something that needs exploring, particularly when ChromeOS, Chrome's eventual bigger sibling, will try to dominate the mobile platform space. With a broader array of available extensions, this could bode very well for ChromeOS' chances.

Or is this number really an important one?

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