The Internet For Dummies
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Web pages with text and pictures are old hat. Now, pages on the internet must have pictures that sing and dance or calendars that let you create events or games, such as chess, that play against you. Every month, new types of information appear on the web, and browsers have to keep up.

You can extend your browser’s capabilities with plug-ins (also, plugins) — add-on programs that glue themselves to the browser and add even more features. Internet Explorer can also extend itself by using ActiveX controls, which are another (less secure) type of add-on program.

What are you to do when your browser encounters new kinds of information on a web page? Get the plug-in program that handles that kind of information and glue it to the browser program. Star Trek fans can think of plug-ins as parasitic life forms that attach themselves to your browser and enhance its intelligence.

When you restart your browser, maybe because it updated itself, it may display messages about add-ons that are installed or that need to be updated. You can display a list of your plug-ins at any time:

  • Firefox: Click the Menu button and choose Add-ons to see a page about all kinds of add-ons and extensions. Click the Plugins tab to see a list of which ones are installed. You can click the More link for more information and click the Disable button if you don’t want to keep the plug-in.

  • Internet Explorer: Choose Tools→Internet Options, click the Programs tab, and click Manage Add-ons. To disable a plug-in, select it and click the Disable button at the bottom of the Manage Add-ons dialog box.

  • Chrome: Type “about:plugins” in the address box and press Enter. If you don’t like the look of a plug-in, click Disable to turn it off.

  • Safari: Click the Settings icon or choose Safari→Preferences and then select Extensions.

Three helpful plug-ins

Here are three useful plug-ins you may want to add to your browser:
  • QuickTime: Plays videos in a number of formats. (Mac users already have it.)

  • Java: All sorts of extensions are written in Java, from browser based animations games to remote control consoles. Java isn’t available on tablets or smartphones.

  • Adobe Reader: Displays PDF (Portable Document Format) files formatted exactly the way the author intended. Lots of useful PDF files are out there, including many U.S. tax forms.

How to use plug-ins

After you download a plug-in from the web, run it (double-click its icon or filename) to install it. Depending on what the plug-in does, you follow different steps to try it out — usually, you find a file that the plug-in can play and watch (or listen) as the plug-in plays it.

After you install the plug-in, you don’t have to do anything to run it. It fires up automatically whenever you view a web page containing information that requires the plug-in.

Plug-ins are subject to security problems, and they may not be automatically updated by Windows Update or Apple’s Software Update. Drop by their websites from time to time to see if there are any issues you should be aware of.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

John R. Levine is a recognized technology expert and consumer advocate who works against online fraud and email spam. Margaret Levine Young is a technology author who has written on topics ranging from the Internet to Windows to Access.

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