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Google hugs Adobe harder with Chrome-PDF merge

'Long live the plug-in!'

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

After announcing plans to integrate Adobe Flash with its Chrome browser, Google is now integrating a PDF reader as well.

On Friday, Mountain View rolled out Chrome developer builds for Windows and Mac that include a PDF viewer based on NPAPI Pepper, the revamped plug-in model Google originally developed for use with its Native Client setup. Native Client, a plug-in that runs native code inside the browser, will play an "important role" (Google's words) in the company's Chrome OS, due on netbooks this fall.

NPAPI Pepper is an update to the Netscape Plug-in Application Programming Interface (NPAPI), and though Google says Mozilla is supporting the effort, it's not yet available with Firefox or any other non-Google browser. The new model is also used by the Flash plug-in that was integrated with Chrome dev-channel builds in late March.

"As we’ve previously mentioned, the traditional browser plug-in model, though powerful, presents challenges in compatibility, performance, and security. To overcome this, we’ve been working with the web community to help define a next generation browser plug-in API," Google engineering director Marc Pawlige says in a blog post.

"We have begun using this API to improve the experience of viewing and interacting with PDF files in Google Chrome. This mirrors our efforts to optimize the Adobe Flash Player experience in Chrome."

Yes, part of Google wants you to believe that it's pushing the world towards the standard web stack, but other parts are doing their best to keep plug-ins alive. Particularly Adobe plug-ins. Following Steve Jobs' fatwa on Adobe, Google has taken pity on the company.

Google's PDF viewer is not on by default. To activate it, you must visit "chrome://plugins". In the "coming weeks," however, with a future dev build, Google will flip the default switch. The company is also working on a Linux dev build with built-in PDF support.

The plug-in doesn't do everything that the Adobe Reader does. It can't handle, for instance, certain embedded media — but at some point Google will allow users to install the full Adobe Reader separately, and the company says it would "like to" work with Adobe to integrate all Reader tools with Chrome.

Yes, the PDF plug-in is contained in a security sandbox, and though Google says the PDF rendering quality needs some improving, it claims that "PDF files will render as seamlessly as HTML web pages" and that "basic interactions will be no different than the same interactions with web pages." This includes zooming and searching.

You can find the new builds here. The builds also offer extension-syncing, faster scrolling on Mac OS 10.6, and various big fixes for Mac and Linux. ®

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