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Paring Your Plug-Ins

After recently writing a column that noted how many different third-party programs in your Web browser can pose security risks for you -- and then being prompted yet again by Major League Baseball's MLB.com site to install Microsoft's Silverlight plug-in to watch a video -- I thought I'd take a moment to inventory all the stuff running inside my browsers on various machines.

Here's the list:

* Flash: This one's the most essential one of the bunch, running the vast majority of the animations and videos I come across on the Web (along with, sadly, most of the more annoying ads). Too bad keeping up with Adobe's security fixes for Flash is such a chore.

* Java: This runs the interactive features on many advanced sites. But creator Sun Microsystems has inflicted one of the most horribly broken auto-update systems I've ever seen -- notwithstanding repeated promises to fix it. Not having to deal with Sun's nonsense on a Mac, where Apple provides its own Java software, is an underrated benefit for Mac users.

* Adobe Reader/Preview: Speaking of Apple advantages -- being able to use its compact, fast and reliable Preview plug-in to view Portable Document Format files instead of Adobe's Reader is another plus for the Mac. Adobe Reader has become a little quicker in recent releases, but it still takes too long to update itself.

* QuickTime: Apple's multimedia-playback software is needed to play back many movie trailers. It's painless to update on a Mac, but not so in Windows, where Apple insists on dumping useless program shortcuts on your desktop.

* Windows Media: It surprises me how rarely I run this, considering Microsoft's overall influence. (On a Mac, I use the Flip4Mac QuickTime add-on to play Windows Media file. That's right, a plug-in for a plug-in. Complicated enough?)

* RealPlayer: RealNetworks' multimedia software is a granddaddy of browser plug-ins, but I run this even less than Windows Media these days. Its most recent release adds the ability to download many audio and video streams to your computer--in addition to being far less intrusive than its often-loathsome predecessors--but I have yet to find myself making any use of that feature.

* Silverlight: Despite some initial promise, this Microsoft plug-in doesn't seem to have gotten much traction in the market. So I've yet to install it on my primary desktops at home and work. But if its presence pushes Adobe to improve the Flash update mechanism, I'm all for it!

Looking over that list, Silverlight seems skippable, and both Real and Windows Media look expendable too--although since a lot of Web radio stations only stream in one of those formats, I might only be able to vote one of those two off the island. In that case, I suspect Real would lose out.

If only Web-site operators could stop using Windows Media or Real entirely, in favor of Flash (for audio and video) or streaming MP3 (for audio).

What about you? Can you prune any plug-ins from your browser?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 30, 2008; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  The Web  
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