Sometime between version 7 and 8, Google Chrome added new options for managing plug-ins to the standard browser settings. Next to the usual choices of running plug-ins always or blocking them completely, you get a middle-of-the-road option, ‘click to play’. After a quick Google search, I discovered the feature was first added in version 6, when it was only available as a command line switch, and then got integrated in the user interface in the next version. In version 8 there are only minor tweaks, improving the description in the settings menu and dropping the info-bar that used to pop up on the top of the page every time a plug-in was blocked.
If you enable it, it’s very similar to how the NoScript extension worked under Firefox – it took me a while to remember where I saw something like that, because I haven’t used NoScript and Firefox in a long time. You will see a placeholder where the plug-in should be running and can enable it with a single click. Alternatively, on pages with several plug-in instances – like online Flash games – you can use the small puzzle icon in the Omnibox to authorize all of them at once until you navigate away or refresh the page.
While constantly clicking to start Flash animations or read PDF files can become annoying, there are some nice advantages of this option. Apart from the obvious ad-blocking, the browsing security will be marginally better. Even though Chrome automatically updates Adobe plug-ins, that will not protect against unpatched or undiscovered security holes. It can also be a big help on low-powered systems, where you can prevent plug-ins from eating up free RAM memory. Not no mention on low-speed Internet connections – or worse, in case you have a traffic cap. I was forced to live with a 200 MB limitation for the last two months, so I quickly realized how every online video counts.
Preventing Flash from loading together with the web page has another interesting side-effect: it also keeps the page silent until you explicitly allow them to play. Even though HTML5 introduces native ways to render sounds and videos, the majority of sites still rely on Flash for multimedia. So this could partially solve an old problem raised in the Chrome help forums: how to mute a page? I even presented a possible solution back in the starting days of this blog, even though the small software didn’t work very well with Chrome’s multi-process architecture.