Multimedia is one of the most exciting things about the web — listening to radio programs and music, watching animations and videos, even gaming in three-dimensional space. Life online can be a much richer experience when you aren’t restricted to just words and static pictures. In fact, for most people these days, the internet is a multimedia platform — a replacement for most of their traditional entertainment sources like radio and television.
Only download and install plugins from reputable sources.
When you encounter a web page that requires a special plug-in that you don’t have, you will usually be prompted to download it. Clicking the appropriate button takes you to the website of the plug-in developer, where you can download what you require. Most plug-ins are free and since they are small programs, they download quickly.
Downloading and Installing a Plug-In
The procedure is basically the same regardless of which browser you use — Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Edge, Safari, or any of the many others available today.
With the introduction of HTLM5, the need for many plugins has gone by the wayside. However, users with older computers may still find many plugins necessary and useful.
- If you are using an old operating system, you may need to create a special folder for downloading files. But most newer operating systems — Windows and Mac — download files to the appropriately named Downloads folder. On both systems, it is located on the hard disk: go into the Users folder; there you will find folders for each user account on the computer; go into that folder and you will find the Downloads folder. Most of the time you will only have to deal with this if you need the file after installing it.
- Generally, you will be asked if you want to download the file. But depending upon your system, it may just download automatically. If asked, agree to download the file.
- After the file is downloaded, close the other programs running on your computer. You can find and run the file from within your browser:
- Chrome: a bar will appear on the bottom of the browser with a button for the most recently downloaded file. You can simply click it.
- Firefox: a downward pointing arrow is on the button bar at the right of the browser. When the download is done, it blinks. Click on it to start the installation. You can also click on “Show All Downloads” to get a list of all your downloaded software.
- Internet Explorer: like with Chrome, a bar appears on the bottom of the browser, but with buttons to “run,” “open folder,” and “view downloads.”
- Edge: like with Firefox, Edge has a downward pointing arrow on the button bar. Click on it to find your recently downloaded files.
- Safari: a small window of downloaded files pops up where you can run the program directly.
- Once the plug-in has been installed, you may have to restart your computer or just the browser.
For visual instructions, review our article on downloading software. But for more specific information about managing plug-ins, check out the browsers’ plug-in pages:
A Brief History of Plug-Ins
In 2014, the web changed with the introduction of HTML5. It included direct support for video, audio, and 2D graphics rendering. Until then, these functions had to be added via plug-ins. And for older computers and browsers they still are. Listed below are the big plug-ins that were used to provide webpages with video, audio, and animation:
- Shockwave was one of the very first plug-ins to provide animation for webpages. At the Showcase page, you’ll still find links to exciting “shocked” sites.
- At one time, websites that wanted to add pizzazz to their content used Flash. It was also used extensively in advertising. But its main use was for streaming videos on YouTube. As of 2015, YouTube stopped using it in supported browsers. Flash is still around and used, however.
- The RealPlayer plug-in was an early way to turn a web browser into a radio. Once you install the RealPlayer plug-in, you could listen to the latest newscasts from National Public Radio, CNN, BBC, CBC and hundreds of other sites. And you still can, but most people now listen to online radio directly with services like Pandora.
- Apple Computer produced QuickTime, a plug-in for playing video clips on Macintosh and PC computers. It is still around and is used much like RealPlayer.
A Word of Warning
Plug-ins can damage your computer — both directly and indirectly. They can damage it indirectly by bogging it down because you have installed too many of them. So make sure that you really need the plug-ins that you install. Plug-ins can damage your computer directly by infecting it with viruses and other malicious software. Always be careful. Make sure that the maker of a plug-in is reputable. And make sure you download it from a reputable source. Finally, make sure you are running antivirus software!
Plug-Ins Offer a World of Opportunities
The world wide web is such a diverse environment. When you view a webpage, it is rare that you are looking at content from just one place. When you watch a video embedded, the content is coming from somewhere else: YouTube or Vimeo or one of the many other providers of video content. Browser plug-ins have made all this all possible. They enhance your work and play on the internet.