You may have never heard of NPAPI, but it stands for Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface. It’s a cross-browser plugin architecture that was first developed in the 1990s for Netscape. The plugins provide web developers with the ability to add items such as audio and graphical enhancements to their websites. Most notably, NPAPI support provides access to such plugins as Java, Silverlight, Facebook and Google Talk.
So Why Does It Matter?
Towards the end of 2013, Google announced that they would be blocking NPAPI plugins by default starting January 2014, with only a handful being whitelisted. For forex brokers, these six remaining plugins were important as they included Silverlight and Java. Java itself was available, but blocked by default due to security reasons, with users needing to initiate the connection.
Silverlight, on the other hand, continued to be available throughout 2014 as a website initiated plugin. Created by Microsoft, Silverlight is their version of Flash, with several brokers and technology providers using the technology for operating charts and other images on their web-based platforms. According to Google, as of September 2013, 15% of Chrome users had initiated a Silverlight website in the previous month. By October 2014, that number had dropped to 11%. Similarly, Java usage among Chrome users had declined to 3.7% from 8.9% in September 2013.
Starting this month, and with Google showing that usage of these technologies is dwindling in favor of HTML5, the remaining six will begin being blocked by Chrome. For users, this means websites using these NPAPI plugins will no longer render correctly when loading them on the Chrome browser. According to Google, the overall move away from NPAPI is to improve browser speed and security. Other browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer will continue to support them. For its part, Firefox has stated that it will continue to allow third party plugins, but it will require many of them to have to be initiated by web viewers themselves, without the plugin operating by default.
Within the forex industry, the most notable user of Silverlight is Saxo Bank, wherein the plugin is used for its charts on the Saxo WebTrader platform. During December, Saxo Bank had already been preparing, with the broker as well as their white-label partners, alerting users of the change. According to Saxo Bank’s correspondence with clients, users will continue to be able to use Chrome browsers, but will also need to “accept” running of the Silverlight plugin. However, according to several developer websites, the ability for Silverlight to work in Chrome is also dependent on a user’s operating system, with advice given during 2014 to switch technologies to HTML5 or Adobe Flash.
In terms of Saxo Bank, while the broker won’t comment publicly about its upcoming technology plans, several developer sources have cited to us that the bank is believed to be developing an updated version of its webtrader as part of an overhaul to its existing platforms. Previous platform attention has been given to their 2014 Saxo Bank launch of the TradingFloor social trading offering, as well as resource allocation to consistent iterations of their iOS and Android mobile apps.
Interestingly, Adobe Flash is the one plugin that will continue to be available on Chrome. This is due to the popularity of the product, as well as Flash players being integrated with the Chrome browser. However, while a solution for websites, smartphone users know that Flash, as well as NPAPI, is typically unavailable on mobile browsers by default.
At this point, most forex broker customers will not experience much difference, as the industry’s webtraders mostly run using HTML5. The move towards the technology within the industry has been taking shape for several years, with HTML5 launches escalating during 2014.
Where web and mobile users do experience older technology within the forex industry is among banners and trading widgets such as charts and economic calendars. As such, despite many industry representatives referring to plugins such as Java, Flash and Silverlight as “old” and “dying” technologies, they are still used by many forex portals and brokers.
Speaking to Forex Magnates about the evolution of HTML5 within the industry, Dan Schleifer, President and Co-Founder at ChartIQ, stated, “Silverlight, Java and Flash have all been dead technologies for quite some time, and many brokers have put off making the change to HTML5.” He explained broker rationale by saying, “I think a lot of brokers actually don’t know these technologies are dying, and just assume it’s a problem for a small number of their users (Mac users, etc).”
However, Schleifer added that a lot of interest for HTML5 products is already in place, stating, “We continue to see huge demand for HTML5 charting and web trading platforms, and we know that eventually every single Java, Flash and Silverlight platform will go away; It’s just a matter of time.”