Google Docs performance upgrade could break Chrome extensions

There was a point in time when the war between Google, Microsoft, and even Apple was just over productivity suites. While Microsoft Office probably still reigns in that market, Google Docs and its siblings have definitely eaten a large chunk of that pie, partly thanks to being browser-based as well as the surging popularity of Chromebooks. The platform's age, however, may be starting to show and Google is giving it an important upgrade that could, in turn, make third-party Chrome extensions for Google Docs stop working properly.

Given its reliance on the Internet and the Web, Google naturally pushes Web standards and technologies more heavily than some. It is, for example, a strong proponent of HTML-based content in contrast to those that require plugins like Flash. For Google Docs, it used an HTML-based approach to display documents, one that it is now abandoning for a canvas-based alternative.

Canvas, which is still part of the HTML standard, is designed specifically for drawing and displaying things that go beyond text and images, for example, videos and diagrams. Google says that switching to a canvas-based approach will significantly improve the performance and consistency of the way Google Docs displays documents, especially across different platforms. End users shouldn't notice any change in functionality, other than Docs feeling faster, not unless they happen to use some third-party Chrome extensions.

Google warns that those extensions could suddenly break if they happen to depend specifically on how a Google Doc is structured with HTML. This might be especially true for companies that develop internal Chrome extensions specific to their needs, in which case they will need to update their software, which might not be a small undertaking at all.

Fortunately, the migration from HTML-based to canvas-based rendering will be happening slowly over the next months, giving those developers time to adjust. Either way, Google recommends that developers use its Google Workspace Add-on framework to make sure those extensions will work even when Google changes things like it often does.