Plug-ins are software that add functionality, such as viewing a document, listening to audio or playing a video, to your Web browser. Their purposes range from adding music, video and animation to Web pages to allowing users to access files that weren't designed to work through a Web browser.
Below is a list of essential and most common plug-ins. The process for downloading and installing a plug-in depends on its maker, so follow the directions on the plug-in maker's Web site.
All of the plug-ins listed here are available to download for free. Some offer advanced versions of their plug-ins for a fee, but in most cases the free version is all you'll need.
Adobe Reader - This program allows you to read Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files. This is a stand-alone application as well as a plug-in, which means you can use it to read PDF files that you have saved to your computer without using your Web browser.
realPlayer - The realPlayer is used to play streaming audio and video. Many Web browsers come with some version of this player. You need to download it to listen to Internet radio stations or news broadcasts among other things.
Adobe Flash Player - This player is needed to view Flash multimedia files. Most Web browsers will have some version of this plug-in. Flash is used to create items such as virtual tours and animations.
Adobe Shockwave Player - This player is needed to view Shockwave multimedia applications. Shockwave is very close in functionality to Flash, but used when more advanced features are needed, such as online interactive courseware or demonstrations.
Java Plug-in - This plug-in is used to run Java applets (short application programs for performing simple, specific tasks) and applications through the Web browser. It is only for Windows systems. The Mac OS X has Java built in, so the plug-in is not needed. Sorry, there is no Java Plug-in for older versions of the Mac OS.
Other Useful Plug-ins
QuickTime - This plug-in is used to view QuickTime movies. QuickTime is a video file format created by Apple computers.
Windows Media Player - This is used to play many different media file formats.