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What do Grammarly, AdBlockers, Java, and Adobe Flash Player have in common? They are all plugins. These tools are add-ons or extensions added as new functions on a host program or software – mostly web browsers – without altering the host program itself.
According to a report by TrueList, Google Chrome has about 188,620 extensions with over 1.3 billion instals. However, only 13 of those extensions have reached the ten-million user mark, namely, Cisco Webex Extension, Google Translate, Avast Online Security, Adobe Acrobat, Grammarly, Adblock Plus, Pinterest Save Button, Skype, AdBlock, Avast SafePrice, uBlock Origin, Honey, and Tampermonkey.
Most web-based plugins start by offering a free service to users on their browser as extensions. Though the main revenue source of plugins are paid-tools, by offering a free service, companies are able to extract users into paid versions of the tool.
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Grammarly, the most used auto-editing tool, started out as an extension for chromium in 2009, raised $200 million in funding with a $13 billion valuation. The company has now started investing more in their natural language processing and has launched Grammarly for Mac and Windows applications like Office, Discord, and Slack, breaking the shackles of being a browser extension.
Similarly in 2012, Honey started out as a plugin for browsers, evolved into a platform for free tools for shopping, like notifications on price drops and showing lowest prices, attracting 17 million monthly users. In 2020, PayPal announced its acquisition of Honey for $4 billion in cash. Toucan, a language-learning extension startup recently raised $3 million and $4.5 million from investors.
In the same year, Postman founders started out with the idea of building a tool to simplify the API testing process. The tool was originally meant for their use, but was later put up on the Chrome Webstore as an open-source client. In April 2022, Postman celebrated 20 million active users.
Notably, MetaMask, too, started out as a chrome plugin in 2016. It is a software cryptocurrency wallet that helps users interact with Ethereum blockchain. MetaMask’s monthly active users shot up in the past year from 1 million to 30 million. MetaMask and NFTs played a critical role in each other’s growth last year by allowing consensual and transparent crypto relationships.
In 2019, AdBlock Plus’ parent company Eyeo GmbH generated a revenue of $47 million. Surprisingly, the company earns money by allowing “Acceptable Ads” that are whitelisted and meet the criteria like size, placement, and distinction. Companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft pay a fortune to AdBlock Plus to get their ads whitelisted or unblocked.
Not just browser extensions
Extension or plugins on existing softwares date back to the 1980s when John Warnock and Chuck Geschke started Adobe with their first release language called PostScript, which was used to control output devices like printers. Warnock was an engineer with Xerox, who later joined Geschke to start his own company with an intention to build powerful printers. Later, they decided that they would develop tools for other manufacturers, instead of building their own.
The Czech software development company JetBrains, started out as a plugin called Renamer for Borland JBuilder in 2000, which was an integrated development environment (IDE). With the advent of Java, the company shifted focus to building softwares specialising in intelligent, productivity-enabling tools and allowing users to write clean codes in Python, PHP, C# and C++.
Additionally, Data and developer-focused assistant tools New Relic and Sentry started out as an add-on for Heroku – a cloud platform – as a service that supports programming languages like Python, Java, and Node.js.
In 2021, Klaviyo, the company that started out as a plugin for e-commerce platforms, last raised a total investment of $9.5 billion dollars, is now a unified customer platform that provides email, SMS, and other advanced marketing solutions for companies.
Even the best-selling game, Counter Strike, was built as an extension of Half-life. Developed by Valve in 2003, it was an in-game mod, later built into a separate game. It still has one of the highest active online player-base.