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By Jim Gerland and Mark Winer

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Web Browser Plug-Ins
April 17, 1998

Recently, my wife visited www.titanicmovie.com, one of the many Titanic web sites. To be able to really use that site to it's fullest, though, we needed to download and install the Quicktime plug-in www.quicktime.apple.com, from Apple Computer. We need to warn you that this file is almost 7Mbs in size. It will take a while to download even at 28.8Kbs. Once we downloaded the file (we're using Windows 95) we simply double clicked on the QuickTime30.exe file and it walked us through the installation. Fairly easy.

When we had finished I figured it would be a good idea to write this column on the topic of web browser plug-ins that might make your web surfing more enjoyable. Plug-ins are programs that work with your web browser to allow you to do more than just view static web pages on the 'net. Most plug-ins are available for both the Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers and on both Mac and Windows 95/NT platforms. Most web sites that require browser plug-ins have a button or link on their pages to help you get the plug-in you need for their site.

In our opinion, the most useful browser plug-in is the Adobe Acrobat Reader, www.adobe.com/prodindex/acrobat (about 4Mb). This plug-in allows you to view and print files that are created using the Adobe Portable Document Format (pdf). PDF files make it easy for the people who create documents to distribute their documents in an electronic format that allows them to maintain the layout of their document, including graphics, columns, and hyperlinks. Since the Acrobat Reader is available for Windows, Mac, and Unix platforms it is also a way to share documents with other people without worrying about what type of machine they might be using to view those documents. This is particularly useful for the US Government as a way of distributing tax forms via the Internet, www.ustreas.gov.

Another very handy plug-in to get is RealPlayer, www.real.com/products/player (about 1.3Mb), from the Real Audio folks. Once you download and install this plug-in you'll be able to listen to sounds on web pages (that is, of course, if you have speakers and a sound card installed in your machine). You'll also be able to listen to hundreds of radio stations from around the world over the Internet and you'll be able to view full motion video clips and animations via the web. I require the students in my online course to have this plug-in so they can view and hear the PowerPoint presentations I put on my course web pages.

The last browser plug-in we'd like to mention is Shockwave, www.macromedia.com/shockwave, from Macromedia. This plug-in is in the "coolest tool" class. Once you download and install it (they say it takes 10 minutes over a 28.8Kbs connection) you should visit their ShockRave site, shockrave.macromedia.com, and check out the games and toons areas. Warning, the South Park clip is not suitable for minors or people without a healthy and liberal sense of humor.

There are hundreds of browser plug-ins out there. Some of them, like the ones above, can be very useful. If you're interested in finding out more about this topic check out www.yahoo.com/Computers_and_Internet/Software/Internet/World_Wide_Web/Browsers/Plug_Ins for a more complete listing of over 60 browser plug-ins. You may also want to stop at the Plug-In Plaza, browserwatch.internet.com/plug-in.html, at BrowserWatch. This site is well organized and easy to use to find just the right plug-in for your need. One final place to look is The Plug-In Gallery, www2.gol.com/users/oyamada, another well designed, easy to use search site for browser plug-ins.

Finally, we want to continue to help you utilize the Internet in your life. Let us know what you're interested in and we'll check it out. You can email us, info@internet-guys.com , or fax us, (716) 853-1350 and let us know what's happening on the Internet in WNY or any computing related activities you're involved with.