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A Note About Toolbars

A few years ago toolbars became a hot, must-have plugin for web browsers and there was a small explosion of toolbars on the Net.

For a time, it seemed that almost everyone had a toolbar of some kind on offer. But these days the gloss has well and truly worn off this area.

Why? Well, for a few good reasons:

The major reason is that there are a lot of unethical toolbars on offer around the Net.

Because toolbars plug into browsers and become part of the browser software, they can be used to exploit security holes in Windows. And many corrupt companies produced toolbars that - when installed - downloaded and installed a lot of adware, spyware and other malware along with them. This quickly gave toolbars a bad name.

A second reason that toolbars became unpopular was because many of them were badly programmed. This led to system slow-downs, lock-ups and other annoyances that could only be removed by removing the toolbar itself.

And a third reason for the decline in toolbars was that many - probably the majority - didn't add any real value to a web browsing experience anyway. They were little more than ads for whoever made the toolbar.

These days we believe the only two toolbars that hold any real value are the ones issued by Google and Alexa (which we list on this page).

They perform well, provide useful background data on web sites and are issued (and regularly updated) by reputable companies.

Other Browser Plug-In Resources

Browser Plugins
Background: A web browser plugin is a software program that adds extra capabilities to your web browser (such as the ability to view movies, see Flash animations or run Java applets).

Plugins allow third-party developers to extend a browser's capabilities; to support features that might have been unforeseen when the browser was developed; to reduce the size of a browser; and (most commonly) to separate the plugin source code from the browser source code because of software licensing issues.

Plugins began to be invented not long after browsers first appeared. All major browsers support them. And these days there are two plugins that are absolutely essential for everyone who uses the Net - Acrobat Reader (to read PDF files) and Flash Player (to view Flash animations).

The downside of plugins is that since they run with all the privileges of real applications, they can do absolutely anything to your computer. And this weakness has been exploited by many corrupt companies over the years.

You can avoid this risk by never, ever agreeing to install a plug-in unless you have very good reason to trust the source. This is why most people now limit their plugins to a handful of essential ones from the world's leading IT&T companies (eg: Adobe, Apple, Google etc).

The upside of plugins, though, is that they're all absolutely free. And here's where you can get the main ones:

 

Popular Web Browser Plugins
Acrobat Reader
Adobe's Acrobat Reader allows you to view PDF files created with Adobe Acrobat Writer (or other PDF creation programs) and we rank it as the most essential browser plugin you can have. Most government agencies around the world (and many private companies) make their documents available in PDF format and without this plugin you'll be unable to view and/or print them them out. Acrobat Reader is a free download from Adobe and it installs into all major browsers quickly and easily. We've found that the main problem with Acrobat Reader is that sometimes browser updates - or other software updates - can knock it out of action. So if this occurs you'll need to install it again. Get Adobe Acrobat Reader

Flash Player
Adobe's Flash Player allows you to view Flash animations created in Adobe Flash (or other SWF creation programs) and we rank it as the second most essential browser plugin you can have. In the last five years Flash has pretty much obliterated its predecessor Shockwave (which introduced multimedia animation to the web, but is now largely confined to gaming sites) and Flash animations are now very common on a wide variety of web sites. Like Acrobat Reader, the Flash Player is a free download from Adobe (and so is Shockwave, if you want it). Both plugins install into all major browsers quickly and easily.

Quicktime
Apple's Quicktime plugins allows you to view videos and other multimedia created in Apple's Quicktime software. Quicktime has proved to be a surprisingly resilient application over the last decade - perhaps because it's so inexpensive to move up from the free plugin to Quicktime Pro, which allows you to create Quicktime web videos as well as view them. And if you encounter Quicktime videos on the Net that you'd like to watch, you'll need to download and install this plugin first. Get Quicktime

RealPlayer
RealNetworks' RealPlayer provides live, on-demand playback of RealAudio and RealVideo files which function without download delays. At one time in the late 1990s RealPlayer was also regarded as an essential browser plugin, but the rise of Windows Media Player has seen its market share in that space decline in recent years. Even so, RealAudio and RealVideo files are of much higher quality than normal web audio and video files. And if you want to access them you'll need this plugin too. Get RealPlayer

Windows Media Player
Microsoft's Windows Media Player allows you to view video and access audio files online, as well as store and manipulate those files offline. Microsoft have included Windows Media Player with evey copy of Windows since 1996 (under a variety of names, as the software evolved) and the company's enormous market power has helped make this the default viewer most people now use. If (for some reason) you don't have WMP on your PC or need an updated copy, you can download one for free from Microsoft. Get Windows Media Player

Google Toolbar
Toolbars first became popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s and at one time the number of different toolbars on offer was staggering. Unfortunately, though, many early toolbars were poorly engineered and caused lock-ups or other problems with the browsers or the PCs they ran on (which made many users uninstall them). These days there are still a lot of useless toolbars around but the Google Toolbar isn't one of them. It combines Google searching with automatic site rankings, automatic form fill-in, pop-up ad blocking and a number of other useful productivity enhancers that make it a popular bolt-on for many people's browsers. Google make a toolbar especially for Firefox and they also make a toolbar for Internet Explorer, both of which run on Windows XP and Windows Vista. You can obtain either one on the Google Pack page. Get Google Toolbar.

Alexa Toolbar
Apart from the Google toolbar, another toolbar that's very popular in some circles is Alexa's. Alexa is a search engine that crunches the data provided by its toolbar users to rank web sites in order of popularity. The Alexa engine can provide all sorts of interesting background information about a web site but the accuracy of Alexa's ratings really depend on how wide its toolbar user base is. On a personal note, we installed the Alexa Toolbar ourselves several years ago and later had to remove it when it caused browser lock-ups. However, in fairness we must add that was a very early version and the latest (Version 7.x) appears to have left those issues well in the past. Get the Alexa Toolbar
This page last updated: 05-Aug-2008

 


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