Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Browsers & Plugins

Recommendations | Downloads | Plugins | Extensions | Tips | Troubleshooting
About Web Browsers | See also: Email Clients


The About Web Browsers section (bottom of this page) describes the function of a browser as well as some of the features that may or may not be included in a particular browser.

The Main Contenders

Download Firefox: Fast, Fun, Awesome

Beta Versions

Beta (or pre-release) versions of various web browsers are sometimes available. This gives developers (and adventurous folks) a chance to preview new features and to determine how they'll work with existing sites and prepare for coming enhancements.

Do not install beta software on production machines and not if you are unsure how to recover from a potential crash. Problems with beta software can include data loss and critical operating system errors.

Alternative Browsers

  • Opera is a slim yet full-featured browser.
    • Windows, Linux, Macintosh & FreeBSD are supported.
    • Opera is the only significant browser that still includes an integrated email program.
  • Vivaldi is fast, but also rich in functionality, highly flexible and puts the user first.
    • Currently available as a Technical Preview (beta).
    • Additional features like mail, sync, spacial navigation and extensions are in the works.
    • Windows, Linux and Macintosh are supported.
  • SeaMonkey is a community effort to deliver a production-quality browser suite.
    • Windows, Linux & Macintosh are supported. | Known issues.
    • SeaMonkey addons provide extra features and styles.
    • Whereas the main focus of the Mozilla Foundation is on Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird, this group of dedicated volunteers works to ensure that you can have “everything but the kitchen sink” — and have it stable enough for corporate use.
  • SRWare Iron — based on the free Sourcecode “Chromium.”
    • Windows, Linux & Macintosh are supported.
    • The features of Google Chrome without its privacy and security concerns.
    • Chrome v Iron compares features.
  • Maxthon Cloud Browser does more right out of the box, including free cloud services.
    • Maxthon Cloud is not limited to a single device ecosystem or operating system.
    • Windows, Android, Mac, iOS, Windows Phone & Linux are supported.
    • Maxthon extensions provide extra features and styles.
  • Avant is a standalone application designed to expand services provided by Microsoft Internet Explorer.
    • Windows 2003, 7, Vista & XP are supported.
    • Because Avant uses Internet Explorer components, that makes it subject to the same vulnerabilities.
    • Avant Browser new technology will release all occupied memory after a tab is closed, fixing issues with memory leaks associated with Ajax techniques.
  • iCab is shareware and costs $20 — highly customizable.
  • Lynx is an aging text-only browser.

Browser Archives

These archives are useful primarily to researchers, web designers and others wishing to see how older browsers display current content. Installation of these browsers can corrupt Windows settings (such as earlier versions of Internet Explorer) or not work properly at all. They also lack any security improvements, so using them makes you much more vulnerable to malware and other hazards found on today's websites.

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Web Browser Plugins

Check Your Plugins | Silverlight | Flash | Java | Multimedia | PDF | Disable .NET

Plugins are add-in software (helper applications) that enables your web browser to view and hear multimedia content. Not all plugins are supported by all browsers.

The Technology is Changing

HTML5-based technology is gradually becoming available.

The commercial media industry is undergoing a major transition as content providers move away from proprietary web plug-in based delivery mechanisms (such as Flash or Silverlight), and replace them with unified plug-in free video players that are based on HTML5 specifications and commercial media encoding capabilities. Browsers are moving away from plug-ins as well, as Chrome is with NPAPI and Microsoft Edge is with ActiveX, and toward more secure extension models.
Microsoft Edge Team [emphasis mine]

HTML5 Video

HTML5 Video can be played back on the latest desktop and mobile devices without special plugins — even on older browsers that require Flash.

Try it out on the “Video For Everybody” test page.

Reader View Improves UX

Reader View makes viewing pages easier by removing page clutter like background images, ads and other distracting content and presenting the text in a readable font size on a white background. Apple Safari, Firefox and Microsoft Edge support reader view.

HTML5 3D Rendering

CSS Preserve-3D allows for the 3D rendering of animated objects (supported by most modern browsers including Microsoft Edge but not IE).

The Internet Explorer Team Blog's Living on the Edge post displays a traditional flat rotating GIF along side two rotating GIFs using CSS Preserve-3D (shown below as GIFs so you can visualize the difference):

Traditional flat IE & HTML5 rotating logos

CSS Preserve-3D IE & HTML5 rotating logos

Firefox Plugin Checker

Check Your Plugins

Out-of-date or misappropriated plugins leave you vulnerable. Check frequently for updates to installed plugins, removing obsolete or unused plugins.

Adobe & Java Make Windows Insecure

Adobe Reader, Flash and Java are responsible the majority of vulnerabilities in Windows systems exploited by malware:

A long-term examination carried out by AV-TEST has proven that Adobe's Reader and Flash and all versions of Java are together responsible for a total of 66 percent of the vulnerabilities in Windows systems exploited by malware. Such weaknesses enable Trojans and other forms of malware to invade PC systems, in some cases in an unstoppable manner.

Unsafe Plugins Disabled By Default

Current versions of Firefox and Chrome disable unsafe plugins like Java and Flash as well as providing a built-in PDF viewer.

Plugins based upon the obsolete NPAPI are disappearing. Chrome already has abandoned that standard, moving to PPAPI while Microsoft Edge has removed support for plugins altogether.

Mac & Linux User Now Insecure

Mac and Linux users now share that vulnerability by running Flash and Java.


Until plugins are being replaced with newer technology, I recommend that you:

  • replace Adobe Reader with Nitro Reader;
  • uninstall Java where possible.1
  • Uninstall Flash. Necessary on some sites.2

1Advanced LibreOffice & OpenOffice components and some games sites (like require Java. Firefox and Chrome have flagged Java as vulnerable and disable it by default. I strongly recommend NOT installing Flash in Internet Explorer.

2Flash is still used by some sites to display content. If you require access to sites using Flash, be sure to continually test your plugins for vulnerabilities. NPAPI-based Flash plugins are blocked by Firefox and no longer supported in Chrome.

Microsoft Silverlight Animation & Video

Download Silverlight, a free plug-in, powered by the .NET framework. Windows and Mac (Intel only) platforms are supported.

Silverlight may be required to run content on sites such as NetFlix if newer HTML5-based video technology isn't supported by your browser.

Adobe Flash Player

NPAPI-based Flash plugins make Windows insecure (see US-CERT Alert TA15-195A). Flash is now blocked by Firefox and no longer supported in Chrome. Flash can be turned off via the settings in Microsoft Edge.

Before you activate Flash: Allow Flash only for trusted websites and content providers. Avoid activating Flash for ads or third-party content, or on sites you don't trust. — Mozilla Support

Flash has other issues including the high level of energy consumption and lack of performance on mobile. As Google began to penalize sites for poor mobile performance this has become a critical issue.

Uninstall Flash if Not Needed

Newer HTML5-based technology just works better and Flash .

Unless you frequent Flash-based sites, you may no longer need flash as it is gradually being replaced with newer technology. Uninstall it unless you need it. If installed, be sure to update it regularly.

I strongly recommend that you do NOT install Flash in Internet Explorer.

Download Adobe® Flash player

There are three different installers, each supported by the indicated browsers. The difference in the installer name is in bold:

  1. ActiveX (Internet Explorer): flashplayer20ax_ha_install.exe
  2. NPAPI (Firefox — no longer supported by Chrome and Opera): flashplayer20_ha_install.exe
  3. PPAPI (Chrome and Opera): flashplayer20pp_ha_install.exe

Note: the version number (20 in this example) is subject to change.

Windows users can verify the Flash version for each type of installation by opening the Flash Player Settings Manager in Control Panel and selecting the Updates tab.

Uninstall Shockwave Player

Most people don't need Shockwave Player (Flash has replaced that functionality) and should uninstall it. If installed, be sure to update it regularly.


Java is known to make Windows insecure. Now Mac and Linux users share that vulnerability by running Flash and Java.

Oracle's is deprecating support for the Java browser plugin in version 9.

Uninstall Java if Unnecessary

Upgrade or remove Java if you don't need it. If installed, be sure to frequently update it and to remove older versions.

Download Oracle® Java

View Multimedia

Browsers are beginning to either disable or stop support for certain types of plugins.


  • VLC Player, a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework, plays almost all multimedia files as well as DVD, Audio CD, VCD, and various streaming protocols.
  • Apple Quicktime plays most video and audio formats. Vista or later & MacOS X Leopard or later.

RealPlayer has been flagged as unsafe by Firefox and Chrome. The plugin has been replaced with a cloud service.

Read PDF Documents

PDF is a format invented by Adobe that allows files to be viewed anywhere with the proper fonts regardless of the operating system that it was created on. Firefox and most current browsers have built-in capability to read PDF files.

Nitro Reader

Nitro Reader (free). Make it. Mark it. Sign it. Share it.

  • Quickly and easily create PDF files from any source (over 300 formats) and sign them securely.
  • Print to PDF (virtual printer), collaborate on documents with other users, extract images or rotate files.
  • Easy navigation within larger documents including Pages, Bookmarks, Comments, Output, Signatures, and Attachments.
  • Nitro Reader is much faster than Adobe Reader.
  • Check the Quick Tour bar down the page on the Nitro Reader site for more information.

Nitro Pro (free to try; $159.99 to buy) allows you to create professional quality PDF documents that anyone can view, with any PDF reader, on virtually any device.

Nitro Pro provides all the tools you need to create a paperless office at a price that is affordable.

  • Create PDF files from scratch, or turn any kind of paper or digital file into a fully editable document.
  • Add, delete, replace, and correct text and images in PDF documents. Page editing tools let you insert, extract, and rotate individual pages, as well as copy and paste text from your PDF into Word and other MS Office files.
  • Convert files to PDF from virtually any application that can print, or create PDF files direct from your scanner in a single step.
  • Turn PDF files into editable MS Office files including: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint—all while retaining the original fonts, images, and formatting.
  • Learn why Nitro Pro is the affordable alternative to Adobe Acrobat. Nitro Pro 10 vs Adobe Acrobat.
  • View the Our Customers Love Us infographic.
  • See the Nitro Pro features for more.

Other PDF Alternatives

There are other PDF alternatives:

  • Foxit Reader is probably the best known of the free alternatives.
  • Sumatra PDF is a free PDF, eBook (ePub, Mobi), XPS, DjVu, CHM, Comic Book (CBZ and CBR) reader for Windows.

Adobe Reader Not Recommended

Adobe Reader makes Windows unsafe, particularly when combined with Flash. Uninstall it and replace it with an alternative (NitroPDF recommended).

Adobe Acrobat Reader DC icons

Adobe Acrobat DC (Pro) has more capabilities and can access documents from anywhere (including on portable devices) than the Reader, but requires a subscription.

Disable .NET Framework Assistant in Firefox

Microsoft surreptitiously installed the .NET Framework Assistant addin to Mozilla Firefox using Windows Update.

Websites can take advantage of this addin to quietly install software without the user's knowledge, making your computer more vulnerable to malware.

If the Uninstall button is grayed out or unavailable, follow these instructions.

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Extensions: Small Addons

Firefox Addons

Extensions add new features to Firefox or modify existing ones. They don't simply provide access to "helper" applications like plugins do — they're complete on their own.

Basic Firefox Addons

I add these basic Firefox addons to enhance the user experience on most installations. Some are available for other browsers.

Ghostery's “alert bubble” displays a list of 27 trackers found on
  • Ghostery stops beacons, ads, analytics services, page widgets and other third-party page elements from secretly tracking your every move. FAQ. Ghostery can also delete Flash and Silverlight cookies on exit.
  • Privacy Badger blocks spying ads and invisible trackers and may provide a less invasive solution if you struggle with Ghostery.
  • LastPass — The Last Password You Have to Remember. Superior FREE password protection. LastPass Premium is only US$12 per year.
  • Add Bookmark Here2 allows you to place a bookmark exactly where you want it. Simply click "Add bookmark here" in the folder you're viewing.
  • IE View allows you to launch the current Firefox page (or link) in Internet Explorer (some Microsoft tools may not work except with IE).

Panopticlick is an online test that analyzes how well your browser and add-ons protect you against online tracking techniques, even if you are using privacy-protective software.

Remove DoNotTrackMe or Blur

Uninstall the obsolete DoNotTrackMe (replaced with Blur which is no longer recommended as a free addon). Instead, install Ghostery and LastPass (see above). ZoneAlarm installs Blur by default which may be required to meet the ZoneAlarm Extreme virus-free guarantee.

Password Addons

Passwords are unavoidable but present a risk to your privacy and security if not properly managed. I use Ultra High Security Password Generator to avoid repetition and LastPass to remember them. These addons help manage passwords:

  • Saved Password Editor allows you to edit and create password entries in the Firefox password manager.
  • Password Reuse Visualizer allows you to quickly see where you're vulnerable because you're using the same (or similar) passwords on multiple sites.
  • LastPass Password Manager is a free secure online password manager. Your sensitive data is encrypted locally before upload so even LastPass cannot get access to it. Premium gives you more for only US$12 per year.

Addons for Web Developers

Web developers will want to check out my listing of useful Firefox addons for web developers.

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Web Browser Tips and Tools

  • MozBackup is a freeware program which allows you to create backups of Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird profiles, including your mail, favorites, contacts, etc.
  • PwdHash is a Firefox extension which can generate a password based upon the site and your master password, making it unique to that site thereby helping to prevent successful phishing.
  • Internet Explorer Tips and Tricks—50 Ways to Tweak Your Browser.

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Troubleshooting Web Browser Problems

These resources will help you if something goes wrong during the install or operation of your web browser.

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About Web Browsers

Web browsers are multipurpose Internet applications that include the ability to view websites and often include other functions as well.

What is a browser? will give you a better idea of what a browser does and how you can change various features on them (or even the browser itself).

More Than One Browser to Choose From

Many people mistakenly assume that Internet Explorer loading MSN are the Internet since Internet Explorer and MSN are the defaults when Windows is installed.

However, there are many web browsers to choose from — and most offer greater security and functionality than Internet Explorer.

More Than Start Page to Choose From

Likewise, MSN is not the only web portal (or startup page) that can be launched with your browser.

  • Most ISPs, news services, search portals and domain resellers provide one.
  • See the settings in your browser to choose a customized default start page.
  • Choose one that doesn't necessarily load all the news, weather etc. every time you start your browser.

Bringing Together Software for the Web

The web browser brings together all the elements that we've come to consider the Web: stylized text with integrated images, sound and video.

Early web browser suites included other features such as electronic mail (email), chat & instant messaging (IM) and even components that allow you to build a web page (web design software).

Trimming Down

More recently, the focus has been on browser speed rather than functions.

This resulted in the slimming down of the browser and allowing people to add functions as they need them using extensions and addons. As a result, the browser itself opens quickly and is more responsive.

Plugins, Extensions and Addons

There are several ways to add features to your web browser of choice and dozens of addons that do everything from customizing the look of your browser to provide specialized tools.

Plugins typically add access to external "helper" applications like the Adobe Reader. Extensions add features or simply customize what is there.

Potential Problems

Whenever you add these features into your browser, there is the potential for problems ranging from the inability to start your browser to freezing your browser or computer. The more features and plugins you add, the more memory the program will use and the slower your computer will be.

While it is unusual for something to be released that is dangerous, you might be better letting more experienced individuals discover and report any problems.

  • If your computer is used for work or has critical applications, you should be more careful with experimenting.
  • Avoid beta (or test) versions because these are more likely to have problems. These are usually indicated with a version number less than 1.0 (e.g. version 0.6).

Be aware of issues with privacy, particularly when adding toolbars because these applications report your usage to their owners.

Email Clients

Integrated or Separated?

At one time most browsers included an email client (program). While this can be convenient,it also means that you are limited to the choices made by the designer of your web browser. More recently, it is rare to include email. For example, Opera has now separated the email program (Opera Mail). SeaMonkey is the only current exception I'm aware of.

The Choice is Yours

Using a separate email client gives you a much wider range of options and features. If you are a heavy user of email, stand-alone email clients will offer a greater range of filtering and other customization options. Some of the stand-alone email programs are worth their price due to the more flexible tools included with them. There are now some excellent free programs as well.

Security Concerns

Web browsers and their associated email programs have known security issues that vary from browser to browser (and sometimes depend upon the operating system).

  • While the configuration of some devices, including wireless networking, may suggest that you use Internet Explorer, it is strongly recommended that Windows users do NOT use Internet Explorer for their primary browser because of significant security issues.
  • Try your main browser to configure these devices before resorting to Internet Explorer by default.
  • Don't use any browser other than Internet Explorer for Windows Update (there is a plug-in for Firefox, but you don't want to introduce any vulnerabilities into Firefox).

While some web pages don't display properly using Gecko-based browsers such as Firefox or Chrome, these tend to be the exception and are the result of poorly designed sites, not poorly designed software.

All trademarks, company names or logos used on this page are the property of their respective owners.

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Updated: January 28, 2016

Current web browsers include Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera Safari and Chrome


I strongly recommended using Firefox as your primary browser and regularly ensuring that your plugins are up to date.

Ten years ago, the Internet was a different place. Websites were kinder and gentler. Now, many of them want to attack you. It's time to take stock of your Internet browsers and make sure they are as up to date as they can be. — Windows Secrets

Always Update IE

Always update to the latest version of Internet Explorer (IE) available for your system (even if you're using another browser) because it provides the best security and features. Windows 10 includes IE along with Microsoft Edge.

IE Particularly Vulnerable

All browsers suffer from vulnerabilities and need to be updated regularly.

Internet Explorer has been long known to be vulnerable to the covert downloading of software from malicious Web sites…Merely visiting the corrupted site is all it takes. — BusinessWeek

Internet Explorer is so tightly tied into Windows that Microsoft has used IE updates to provide additional functionality for Windows.

Any IE vulnerability is a Windows vulnerability.

See the Web Security page for more.

Noted IE Vulnerabilities

These IE vulnerabilities allow “remote code executions” which allow an external user to take control of your computer. I strongly recommend moving to another browser.

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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