Article for Website Compass magazine

Plug-in to the Essentials
Five Must-Have Programs For Your Web Browser

You may think a browser such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer is the only software you need to explore the Web. Technically, that’s true, but that’s like watching black-and-white television when color television is available.

In other words, you’d be missing a lot.

What your browser needs are plug-ins, those software programs that interact with your browser software to give you the sound, graphics, multimedia goodies and other helpful capabilities found on the Web.

Today, there are literally hundreds of plug-in programs. With so many plug-ins out there, which ones do you truly need? Here’s our list of five essential browser plug-ins, what they do, and where to get them.

1. Adobe Acrobat Reader. An Adobe Acrobat document is like a paperless fax. Download the free Adobe Acrobat 6.0 plug-in from the Adobe Systems Inc. website (http://www.adobe.com), and you can view Portable Document Files (.PDF) you find on the Web.

PDFs give users an easy way to read documents from one to several hundred pages. You cannot alter the contents of a PDF (it’s like a photograph of a document) but you can search for keywords, zoom in or out on content, and quickly jump from page to page. PDF also can be easily and neatly printed, making it the preferred way for businesses to deliver forms and similar documents to users.

2 and 3. Macromedia Flash and Shockwave. Macromedia Flash is appropriately named; it adds multimedia flash to your online experience.

Flash files are those full-motion animated videos with sound you find on splash pages on sophisticated websites.

But Flash has more workmanlike uses, as well. It’s increasingly used in banner ads, Web navigation menus and other interactive content.

Newer versions of Internet Explorer and Navigator already come loaded with Flash, but it’s a good idea to periodically visit the Macromedia Inc. website (http://www.macromedia.com/software/flashplayer) for a painless update to the latest version.

Shockwave, also made by Macromedia, (http://www.macromedia.com/software/shockwave), is similar to Flash, but it is more for complex games and when highly detailed animation and interactive content are needed.

4. RealOne Player. RealNetworks’ RealOne Player is a popular standard for playing video and audio.

Go to http://www.real.com for the free RealOne Player download, and you’ll get software features that include high-definition video capabilities with sound, a MP3 burner to make your own music discs and even a built-in web browser.

5. QuickTime. Apple Computer’s QuickTime, the most popular video and audio player, is all about versatility. Not only does QuickTime give you leading-edge video and audio capabilities (including the emerging MPEG-4 standard), it can play files created on any platform, not just Macintosh. It also supports more than 200 types of digital media.

As a result, QuickTime’s capabilities extend behind simple audio and video to include interactive virtual-reality displays and movie viewing. Go to http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download to pick up your free version of the software.

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