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Plugins: Everything You Always Wanted to Know, But Were too Busy to Ask!

Bet you've found yourself in this situation in the past six months. You are at a great web site that promises to have exactly the information that you need. As you click on a link you get a message stating that in order to view the page you need to get a special "plugin." If you are like many people you just don't bother with the site and move on. Some of you will spend the required time to download and install the plugin hoping all the while that you have enough hard drive space and that it will be worth the extra hassle. So, what is with all these plugins, what are they, how do you get, download, and install them, and which ones do you really need?

What is a plugin?
A plugin is a program that works with your web browser to add functionality. These functions may be audio, video, multimedia programs, 3D environments, documents; in short, lots of sensory and interactive components that make the World Wide Web an interesting place to visit. They also make it frustrating for many people. To take full advantage of plugins it is best to have a relatively fast connection; an ISDN line, T1 line, or a fast modem (56.6 bps or 33.6 bps) and a more recent computer. The computer must also have a sound card and speakers if you want to hear sound. If you meet these criteria, then you may want to consider getting certain plugins.

How do you get and use plugins?
Most of the time you get a plugin because you come across a web page that tells you that you need a certain plugin in order to take advantage of the special programming on their web site. Usually the site has a link to that particular plugin download site or some information about how to locate the plugin download site. With some of the newer technology the plugin may download and install automatically when you access the page and grant permission to the process, but most of the time you need to click on the link provided on the page and go to the plugin download site.

After you click on the link take a moment or two to see what the system requirements for the plugin are, generally this is located under a section that specifically says "system requirements." Make sure that your computer meets the system requirements for operating system, hard drive space, and processor speed before beginning the download. Once you decide that you want a certain plugin, you can proceed to download and install it.

When downloading software make sure you have a folder on your hard drive specifically for this named "downloads" or something similar to make it easier for you to find the file. Occasionally you will have a registration process when downloading the plugin. This usually involves filling in an on-line form listing your name, affiliation, etc. This information helps the producer of the plugin to keep tabs on who uses it and provides marketing data.

Because plugins are created by a variety of companies, the instructions for installing plugins vary. Print out any necessary instructions from the web site before you download the software. Download the plugin into the "downloads" folder, then close out all programs on your computer. Now you can go to the "downloads" folder and start the installation procedure. Usually this involves double-clicking on the downloaded program and allowing it to install itself to your hard drive and the browser. It may install to all browsers on your system if you use both Netscape and Internet Explorer for instance. Now you can restart your browser and go back to the original web site page to try out the plugin. If the browser was not closed the original page will still be available to you.

Which plugins do I get or need?
Usually you would get plugins on an as needed basis. If you come across a page that seems to be really on target for your needs and it requires a plugin then that is sufficient to consider downloading and installing it. If you find yourself coming across many web sites that use a certain kind of plugin, this is an indication that it would be beneficial to you to get it. There are some plugins that are "must haves" because they are very commonly used on the WWW. These are as follows.

General steps to downloading and installing a plugin.
(NOTE! When present, use the specific steps found on the plugin download site)

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