Browsers & Plugins
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
- Mozilla FireFox is a slim, standards-compliant browser that takes advantage of hardware acceleration. Strongly recommended.
- Windows, Linux & Macintosh 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's behaviour can be controlled by group policy (why it is common in corporate environments).
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 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.
- 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
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-based Technology Improving
HTML5 Video can be played back on the latest desktop and mobile devices without special plugins — even on older browsers that require Flash.
HTML5-based technology is gradually becoming available.
- Firefox can play some HTML5 audio and video yet is still listed by Netflix as requiring Silverlight.
- 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 now 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
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 Pogo.com) require Java. Firefox and Chrome have flagged Java as vulnerable and disable it by default.
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. Newer HTML5-based technology just works better and Flash .
Uninstall Flash if Not Needed
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.
- Download Adobe Flash Player | Test your Flash installation.
- Uncheck any optional downloads (like “McAfee Security Scan Plus” or “Google Chrome”) before downloading Flash.
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.
- LibreOffice & OpenOffice require Java only for extended functionality.
- Some gaming sites, like Pogo.com, require Java to function.
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 Chrome browsers have built-in capability to read PDF files.
- 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.
- NitroPro has more extensive editing features and is affordable.
- More details on the Recommended Software page.
There are other alternatives to Adobe Reader if you don't require all of the extensive capabilities built into it:
- 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:
As this is a brand new product you might wish to wait to update to ensure the major bugs are dealt with first (some portable users report losing documents). See also 404TechSupport.com's review.
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.
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.
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.
Basic Firefox Addons
I add these basic addons to enhance the user experience on most installations:
- 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.
- Use LastPass for superior FREE password protection. Premium gives you more for 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 like the Microsoft Support "Fix it" Solutions.
- BetterPrivacy removes or manages a new and uncommon kind of “permanent” cookies (LSOs or Flash Cookies).
- Webutation indicates the reputation of a site at a glance.
Remove DoNotTrackMe or Blur
Uninstall the obsolete DoNotTrackMe (replaced with Blur which is no longer recommended). Instead, install Ghostery and LastPass (see above). ZoneAlarm installs Blur by default which may be required to meet the ZoneAlarm Extreme virus-free guarantee.
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 the various Firefox addons for web developers.
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.
Troubleshooting Web Browser Problems
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.
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.
- Many browsers and versions have come and gone over time.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Updated: September 26, 2015