Browser Soup-Ups

If an automobile aficionado (okay, ‘car nut’) can ‘soup-up’ his/her engine, then why can’t a Web-whiz soup-up his/her browser?

After all, Web browsers are the engines that drive us along the ‘Information Superhighway’ (okay, the Internet). And thanks to their "extensible" architecture, we can soup-up these browsers capabilities by installing third-party add-ins called plug-ins or plugins. Popular plug-ins from RealNetworks (RealPlayer), Apple (QuickTime), and Macromedia (Flash) run or display multimedia content, empowering browsers like Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla, Safari, Firefox, etc. to play movies, animations, or audio clips right in the browser window. The Web offers several plug-ins for your browsing enjoyment. Here we look at some of the very best!

Pop-up Blockers

You can banish annoying pop-up ads by downloading and installing a free pop-up blocker. If you install Window XP SP2 (Service Patch 2) you automatically set up a pop-up blocker for Internet Explorer. Read more at “Block Pop-up Windows with Internet Explorer” (http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/web/sp2_popupblocker.mspx).

But for Windows operating systems other than XP (SP2) you can obtain free blockers elsewhere. For example, Netscape offers the free Netscape Toolbar for IE: Block Annoying Pop-Ups

(http://channels.netscape.com/ns/search/install.jsp) as does Google with its Google Toolbar (http://toolbar.google.com). Netscape for Windows and Apple's Safari for Macintosh include popup blockers. Just remember to activate them.

Netscape Desktop Navigator

Beef up your Windows-compatible browser with Netscape's Desktop Navigator, a Google-based toolkit available right from the browser window. Desktop Navigator includes a Web search tool, the latest news headlines, local weather, Mapquest access and more. In Preview Beta release at the time of this review, it works with any Windows browser. You need only provide your ZIP code at installation (for local news, weather, and movie showtimes, etc.).

Macromedia Flash Player

Often you'll visit a Web site and discover that multimedia content (such as video, audio, and animated images) or interactive content (such as menus that slide) does not display correctly. An older or missing Macromedia Flash plug-in might be the culprit. To ensure that you can view Macromedia Flash content on the Web, download and install the Flash Player (at no charge). Setup automatically installs the required files in your browser's plug-ins folder. There are versions available for Mac OS X, Linux, Pocket PC and Windows. Windows users, who want to save flash movies from the Web while running Internet Explorer, should also download and install Flash Saving Plugin 1.1 (http://www.unhsolutions.net/Flash-Saving-Plugin/index.shtml). Once installed, it places a click-on button in the Internet Explorer toolbar for easy access.

Macromedia Shockwave

You'll want to download and install the free Macromedia Shockwave Player to ensure that your browser can play back applications created by Macromedia Director Shockwave Studio. Shockwave offers built-in support for 3D environments and interactive simulations. There are versions available for Macintosh and Windows, Safari, America Online, Internet Explorer and Netscape.

Adobe Reader

The fashion world has faux fur and Gucci knock-offs; the computer world has PDF (Portable Document Format) to replicate the look and feel of documents created by applications that may not be installed on your computer. When you generate a PDF file from an original, you create a read-only "look-alike," preserving text, graphic and color layouts. You can share this PDF with others across platforms, networks, and operating systems even if they don't have an installed copy of the original application, or the fonts used to create the document. With the Acrobat Reader plug-in installed, you can view, print, and search these PDFs right from your Internet browser. There are versions of Acrobat Reader available for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.

Adobe SVG Viewer

SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) is a relatively new file format based on the XML (Extensible Markup Language) Smaller in size than its JPEG or GIF raster counterpart, it can hold its resolution at any zoom size. This gives you more precise control over layout, fonts, color fills and gradients, animation and printing. To ensure that your browser can display SVG files, be sure to download and install Adobe's SVG browser plug-in. It's available for both Mac and Windows platforms.

QuickTime

By installing QuickTime (it comes with a browser plug-in), you can view QuickTime animation, video, music, MIDI audio, and VR (Virtual Reality) panoramas directly from your browser window. Apple installs QuickTime on Macs with the installation of the Operating System (it's part of the package). On PCs you must visit Apple's QuickTime Web site to download and install the software (it's free). QuickTime is also bundled with Apple's iTunes for Mac and Windows.

RealPlayer

Those of us who use the Web for classroom instruction or research quickly discover that increasing numbers of Web sites transmit audio and video files over the Internet in RealPlayer format. Without the Realmedia player installed on your computer, you'll be hard-pressed to enjoy this streaming media extravaganza. At the Real.com Web site you can download RealPlayer versions for Mac OS X, Macintosh OS 8/OS 9 Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP, Linux & Unix. Older versions of the player are available from Real Legacy Software Archive ( http://forms.real.com/real/player/blackjack.html?src=092804rpchoice_1_2_2_1_1_3)

Panda ActiveScan

This free online antivirus utility works within Internet Explorer 4.0 or later running under Windows. It uses Microsoft's ActiveX technology to scan your hard drive for 70,000+ viruses and Trojan Horses. You won't need to install any software. Just connect to the Internet, head for the Panda ActiveScan Web site and click the Scan Your PC link. Trend Micro's HouseCall (http://housecall.trendmicro.com) also uses ActiveX controls to perform scanning through the browser and detect viruses already active on your hard drive.

Netscape Browser Central

At this plug-in center you'll find links to the 5 most popular browser plug-ins (QuickTime, RealPlayer, Flash, Shockwave and Reader), plus a link to Netscape Plugin Manager (http://channels.netscape.com/ns/browsers/pi_manager.jsp), an online application that will check to see if you have the most popular plugins plugged in!

Java Plug-in Technology

The Java Plug-in enables Windows browsers to run applications, called "applets," written in the Java programming language. Once installed, you can view Java-based 3D graphics such as Library of 3D Molecular Structures ( http://www.nyu.edu/pages/mathmol/library/ ) or Clock Applet (http://java.sun.com/openstudio/applets/clock.html), as well as play online games, run spreadsheet calculations, and more right from a browser window. The Java 1.4.2 Update ( http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/apple/javaupdate142.html) for Macintosh OS X browsers is available from Apple.

Cortona VRML Client

Plug this VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) client into your Internet browser (Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla, etc.) and you can bring 3D virtual worlds to your Web desktop. Navigation controls allow you to interact with objects on screen, spin them around, and view them from all angles. For example, you can tour a cardiac museum, explore the classic Jaguar XJ220, change the color of a chair, and visit The Farm (http://www.optimum-web.com/vrml/farm/flash.htm). A Macintosh compatible version of this browser add-on is available at Cortona VRML Client for Mac (http://www.parallelgraphics.com/products/cortonamac/).

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