Browsers & Plugins
See Computer Basics & Terminology for help with technical terms.
Be sure to always update to the current version of all installed browsers. Uninstall obsolete browsers or those you don't use except where prevented by the operating system (e.g. Internet Explorer in Windows).
Not sure what browser you're running? See What browser am I using?
The Main Contenders
- Mozilla FireFox is a slim, standards-compliant browser that takes advantage of hardware acceleration. Strongly recommended.
- Windows, Linux, Macintosh & iOS are supported. | Troubleshoot problems.
- Firefox overview | features | customization | keyboard shortcuts.
- Firefox Add-ons. Refresh Firefox to fix slowness, crashing, etc.
- Sync now uses a Firefox Account. Setting up Sync.
- Firefox Developer Edition is beta software tailored for web developers.
- FireFox Mobile.
- Google Chrome combines a minimal design with sophisticated technology to make the web faster, safer, and easier.
- Google Chrome for Android and iOS.
- Apple Safari supports the latest Web standards.
- iPad, iPhone, iPod touch & Macintosh are supported.
- Safari extensions allow for new features to be added.
- Windows support ended on July 25, 2012 with version 5.1.7.
- Microsoft Edge has replaced IE as the default browser in Windows 10.
- Edge is built for web standards and has a new reading mode improves readability by removing unnecessary content.
- Vulnerable legacy technologies like ActiveX and BHOs (plugins and toolbars) are no longer supported. Flash can be turned off.
- Microsoft Internet Explorer 11 is available only for Windows 7, 8.1 or 10.
- IE 9 is the last version available for Windows Vista.
- IE 11 is retained in Windows 10 for compatibility with older sites.
- IE is more vulnerable than most browsers and not recommended but must be maintained as it is not uninstallable in Windows.
- IE's behaviour can be controlled by group policy (why it is common in corporate environments).
After January 12, 2016, only the most recent version of Internet Explorer available for a supported operating system will receive technical support and security updates. — IE Blog
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.
- Opera is a slim yet full-featured 32-bit 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.
- Pale Moon is an Open Source web browser optimized for modern processors.
- Based upon Firefox/Mozilla code, with carefully selected features and optimizations to improve the browser's speed, resource use, stability and user experience. It aims to provide close adherence to official web standards and specifications.
- Support for many Firefox extensions and a growing number of Pale Moon exclusive extensions.
- Windows and Linux 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.
- Supported on Linux, FreeBSD (*BSD), win32, Mac OS X and more.
- evolt.org Browser Archive has many of the dozens of browsers that have come and gone over the years.
- Netscape Browser Archive.
- Browser Timelines shows the relative timeline of various key browsers.
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.
Web Browser Plugins
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
HTML 5-based technology is becoming widely used.
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 HTML 5 specifications and commercial media encoding capabilities.
— Microsoft Edge Team [emphasis mine]
Learn more about how HTML 5 is changing Web content and replacing plugins.
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.
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
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
- Uninstall QuickTime for Windows.3
1Advanced LibreOffice & OpenOffice components and some games sites (like Pogo.com) 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 HTML 5-based video technology isn't supported by your browser.
Adobe Flash Player
Adobe Flash was the standard in creating animated clips and videos in the early days of the web. Back in the good 'ol days, it was a fan favorite for developers and designers alike, as it was very functional and easy to use. But as technology progressed, Flash did not. This made it a prime target for hackers who saw Flash as an easy entry point. — ZoneAlarm
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 HTML 5-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 | Test your Flash installation.
- Uncheck any optional downloads (like “McAfee Security Scan Plus” or “Google Chrome”) before downloading Flash.
There are three different installers, each supported by the indicated browsers. The difference in the installer name is in bold:
- ActiveX (Internet Explorer):
- NPAPI (Firefox — no longer supported by Chrome and Opera):
- PPAPI (Chrome and Opera):
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.
Uninstall Java if Unnecessary
- Download Java | What is Java? | Test your Java installation
- It is recommended that you regularly upgrade to the latest Java version and ensure older versions are removed (see Steps you should take to fix a Java SE security risk on your computer from Oracle).
- LibreOffice & OpenOffice require Java only for extended functionality.
- Some gaming sites, like Pogo.com, require Java to function.
- 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.
Browsers are beginning to either disable or stop support for certain types of plugins.
QuickTime 7 for Windows is no longer supported by Apple. New versions of Windows since 2009 have included support for the key media formats, such as H.264 and AAC, that QuickTime 7 enabled. All current Windows web browsers support video without the need for browser plug-ins. — Apple Support
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 (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 is a major update that moves towards focusing on access of documents from anywhere using Adobe Cloud (subscription required). Version number begin with the year: e.g. 2015.007.20033.
- Adobe Acrobat Reader DC FAQ. System Requirements.
- DC has a flat look more suitable for touch systems. See 404TechSupport.com's review. These are some on the top row:
Adobe Acrobat DC (Pro) has more capabilities and can access documents from anywhere (including on portable devices) than the Reader, but requires a subscription.
- Transforming Adobe's PDF Lineup on Adobe's blog.
- Get to know the new Adobe Acrobat DC interface.
- Tutorials and more on AcrobatUsers.com, an Adobe Acrobat user community.
Extensions: Small 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.
- Firefox extensions & addons.
- Firefox now treats unsigned addons with suspicion.
- See Mozilla's customizing Firefox with addons to learn more.
I add these basic Firefox addons to enhance the user experience on most installations. Some are available for other browsers.
- 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 work only with IE although this is less common now).
Firefox Privacy Addons
[T]here is another reason websites track you — It's because you're worth a lot of money. Websites record your activity so they can sell your information to third party advertising platforms, essentially delivering ads that they hope are relevant to you. — ZoneAlarm Blog
In addition, there has been a huge increase in malware in online advertising and ads play havoc with expensive data plans on mobile.
ZoneAlarm's Adblocking in 2016 provides a balanced look at the issue.
Test Your Privacy
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.
These addons are designed to protect your privacy. Look at the 27 trackers found on the Forbes.com website!
- Ghostery lets you see who is tracking you online (including information on their privacy policies). It stops beacons, ads, analytics services, page widgets and other third-party page elements from secretly tracking your every move.
- Ghostery FAQ.
- Ghostery can also delete Flash and Silverlight cookies on exit.
- Ghostery version 6 uses a simpler alert bubble (shown below) than previous versions (shown on the right).
- Privacy Badger blocks spying ads and invisible trackers by enforcing the Do Not Track header (you have to have “Do Not Track” enabled in your browser) and may be a better alternative if you're uncomfortable with Ghostery.
- Mozilla Do Not Track FAQ.
- Ghostery Global Opt-Out opt out of any or all of the companies listed. This requires you to allow third-party cookies in your browser for it to work.
Passwords are unavoidable but present a risk to your privacy and security if not properly managed. Note: browser password managers are not secure!
I use LastPass's password generator (or Ultra High Security Password Generator) to avoid repetition and LastPass to remember them.
I liked LastPass because your sensitive data is encrypted locally before upload so even LastPass cannot get access to it. There are several options:
- LastPass — The Last Password You Have to Remember. Superior FREE password protection. LastPass Premium is only US$12 per year.
- A single installation on Windows, Mac, Linux and mobile devices can interact with all your installed browsers.
- LastPass Password Manager is a free secure online password manager for Firefox.
These addons help manage passwords but involve the browser's vulnerable password management system:
- Password Reuse Visualizer allows you to quickly see where you're vulnerable because you're using the same (or similar) passwords on multiple sites.
- Saved Password Editor allows you to edit and create password entries in the Firefox password manager but is not recommended because of the vulnerability of Firefox's (or any browser's) password management system.
Addons for Web Developers
Web developers will want to check out my listing of useful Firefox addons for web developers.
These resources will help you if something goes wrong during the install or operation of your web browser.
- Firefox Help topics. Refresh Firefox to fix slowness, crashing, etc.
- Firefox standard diagnostic.
- Safari Support.
- Opera Support.
- Microsoft Edge Help & Support.
- Internet Explorer Help & Support.
Disable .NET Framework Assistant in Firefox
Microsoft surreptitiously installed the .NET Framework Assistant addin to earlier versions of 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 .NET Framework Assistant is present and the Uninstall button is grayed out or unavailable, follow these instructions to remove it.
Backup your Mozilla profiles or transfer them to a new computer.
- MozBackup is a freeware program which allows you to create backups of Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird profiles, including your mail, favorites, contacts, etc.
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.
- August 18, 2015: The CVE-2015-2502 vulnerability affects IE versions 7–11. Install the most current cumulative security update for Internet Explorer.
- April 26, 2014: The CVE-2014-1776 vulnerability affects IE versions 6–11. Install MS14-021 fix and undo any workarounds. US-CERT team recommends moving to an alternate browser.
- September 17, 2013: A vulnerability (see Microsoft Security Advisory 2887505) affects IE versions 6–11. Install the most current cumulative security update for Internet Explorer.
- September 17, 2012: A vulnerability (see Microsoft Security Advisory 2757760) affects IE versions 6–9. Switch immediately to another browser and install critical update KB 2744842 to patch this vulnerability.
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Updated: May 14, 2016