Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Browsers & Plugins

Downloads | Extensions | Plugins
Troubleshooting | Choosing a Browser

See also: Email Clients and Computer Basics & Terminology.

Downloads

There are good reasons for choosing a particular browser. Both 32- and 64-bit versions are available for most current browsers. Use only browsers that are a currently maintained.

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

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 32-bit browser.
    • Windows, Linux, Macintosh & FreeBSD are supported.
    • Opera is the only significant browser that still includes an integrated email program.
  • Cliqz is a new Mozilla-based browser that is ultra-safe and ultra-fast.
  • Vivaldi is fast, but also rich in functionality, highly flexible and puts the user first.
  • Firefox Developer Edition is beta software tailored for web developers.
  • 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 extensions 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.
  • 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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Extensions

Firefox Addons

Mozilla uses the term “add-ons” (referred to as “addons” on this site) to refer to three major forms of modifiers to Firefox:

  • Extensions add new features to Firefox or modify existing ones.
  • Appearance addons include complete themes which change how Firefox looks and background themes which only modify the title bar and tab strip with a background image.
  • Plugins provide support and access to "helper" applications that are already installed on your computer.

Watch for Obsolete or Insecure Addons

Watch for Mozilla “permissions” warnings, particularly on older and potentially unmaintained add-ons. When clicked, the following text appears:

Some addons ask for permission to perform certain functions. Since you’re in control of your Firefox, the choice to grant or deny these requests is yours.

Please note this addon uses legacy technology, which gives it access to all browser functions and data without requesting your permission.

Installing these addons is risky. Uninstall them if they are currently present.

Obsolete Extensions

I no longer install IE View which allows you to launch the current Firefox page (or link) in Internet Explorer. It is obsolete and insecure.

Extensions Complete on Their Own

Unlike plugins, extensions are complete on their own.

I add these basic Firefox extension 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.
  • HTTPS Everywhere is a Firefox, Chrome, and Opera extension that encrypts your communications with many major websites, making your browsing more secure.
  • Ghostery or Privacy Badger privacy extensions.
  • LastPass to replace the browser's potentially insecure password facility capability and to make it possible to share passwords with their other devices.

Firefox Privacy Extensions

Privacy is difficult to recover once it is lost. Marketing and advertising agencies are doing their best to downplay its importance, but they really don't want you understanding the value of what you're giving away for free. Most have NO privacy policy (i.e. they take anything they can grab and use it without any social conscience).

[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 and some ad networks have been used to spread ransomware.

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 extensions protect you against online tracking techniques, even if you are using privacy-protective software.

These extensions are designed to protect your privacy. Look at the 27 trackers found on the Forbes.com website (shown in a legacy version of Ghostery).

An earlier version of Ghostery's “alert bubble” displays a list of 27 trackers found on forbes.com
  • 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 FAQs.
    • Ghostery can also delete Flash and Silverlight cookies on exit.
    • More recent versions of Ghostery use a simpler alert bubble 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's Do Not Track FAQ.
  • Ghostery's 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.

Blur

Blur replaced DoNotTrackMe. 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. Note: browser password managers are not secure!

Creating Passwords

I use LastPass's password generator (or Ultra High Security Password Generator) to avoid repetition and LastPass to remember them.

LastPass Recommended

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, a free online password generator and manager, can be used on all your devices, for free! LastPass Premium is only US$12 per year and provides even more.
  • 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.
  • More about LastPass.

Password Tools

These extensions 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 extensions for web developers.

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Plugins

The Technology is Changing | Plugin Vulnerabilities
PDF | Flash | Java | Silverlight | VLC Player | QuickTime | RealPlayer

Plugins are addon software (helper applications) that enable your web browser to view and hear multimedia content. Unlike extensions, plugins are applications installed separately from your browser. Not all plugins are supported by all browsers.

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.

The Technology is Changing

While plugins were once the main method of adding functionality to browsers, they have extensive vulnerabilities and their reign is ending.

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.

Most current browsers support reader view including Apple Safari, Firefox, Cliqz and Microsoft Edge

HTML 5 Safer and Accessible

HTML 5-based technology is becoming widely used.

Unfortunately, big media companies have pursuaded the W3C to incorporate DRM into HTML5, ensuring they can control what you watch and how you use it.

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.

Return to Plugins Intro

Plugin Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities and exploits in plugins are a significant issue because they make our computers insecure.

Most current plugins have security issues that will be better addressed by newer technologies built into current and future browsers.

Adobe & Java Responsible for 66% of Vulnerabilities

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. — AV-TEST

Mac & Linux User Now Insecure

Windows users have long been insecure. By running Flash and Java, Mac and Linux users now share that vulnerability.

The currently unpatched vulnerabilities reside in the Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux versions of the most recent versions of Flash and allow attackers to remotely execute malicious code. — Ars Technica

Unsafe Plugins Disabled By Default

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

Beginning in Firefox version 52, support for NPAPI plugins in Firefox has ended, except for Adobe Flash. Some of the plugins that will no longer load include Java, Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Acrobat. — Mozilla Support

I recommend that you uninstall these vulnerable plugins:

If you need it only for a single activity, such as running Java for Pogo games or Flash for certain critical site, why not download a different browser so that your main browser is protected from vulnerabilities during regular surfing?

I strongly advise against using Internet Explorer as that browser (or as your primary browser).

 

Return to Plugins Intro

PDF Readers

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.

Uninstall Adobe Reader.

  • Adobe Reader makes your computer unsafe.
  • Many computers have obsolete (unsafe) versions installed.
  • Firefox and most current browsers have built-in capability to read PDF files.

Note: some features (like auto-fill) may not work with browser-based PDF readers in which case you'll need to open the PDF in a dedicated PDF reader that has the ability to manage these extras.

Nitro Reader

Nitro Reader is strongly recommended as your PDF reader.

Nitro Reader

Nitro Reader is the best free PDF reader and viewer. Create, review, sign, and share PDFs.

  • Quickly and easily create PDF files from any source (over 300 formats) and sign them securely.
  • Drag and drop files to instantly create a document.
  • Nitro Reader offers in-application functionality to create PDF from any file, with predefined profiles, as well as completely customized output options.
  • Installation of Nitro Reader also adds the Nitro PDF Creator to your list of available printers. To create a PDF, simply select Nitro PDF Creator from the print menu of any application that offers print capability.
  • Nitro Reader is much faster than Adobe Reader.
  • Unlike Adobe, Nitro has only had to release a single security fix over the past five years.

More about Nitro Reader is on the Nitro Reader page. Scroll down that page to learn more. View the license.

Nitro Pro

Nitro Pro is strongly recommended for those that need to create professional PDF documents.

Nitro Pro (free to try; $199.99 to buy) allows you to create professional quality PDF documents that anyone can view, with any PDF reader, on virtually any device. Learn 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 (NitroReader recommended).

If installed, be sure to update it regularly.

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.

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

 

Return to Plugins Intro

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

Adobe Flash Security is Pathetic

Last year [2015], on one infamous day, Adobe announced thirteen — count 'em thirteen — security vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash.

This time around, a successful attack on the flaw could cause give an attacker full access to the affected system. Or, if that didn't work, it would crash the system. Oh boy. — ZDNet

Newer Technology Available

Newer HTML 5-based technology just works better than Flash and is safer.

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

Uninstall Flash if Not Needed

Unless you frequent Flash-based sites, I recommend that you uninstall flash. If installed, be sure to update it regularly.

Set Flash to "Click to Play" and Activate Only Where Necessary

I'd recommend that you set Adobe Flash to "click to play" on Firefox and only enable Flash (allow it to run) where necessary for the functioning of the site.

Not only can your computer be infected by Flash vulnerabilities, but many sites use Flash ONLY for advertising or tracking purposes. Enabling Flash on these sites invades your privacy without anything of value in return.

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

Download Adobe® Flash player

There are three different Flash installers, each supported by the indicated browsers. The difference in the installer name is in bold (the version number will change as Flash is updated):

  1. ActiveX (Internet Explorer: installation not recommended): flashplayer25ax_xa_install.exe
  2. NPAPI (Firefox — no longer supported by Chrome and Opera): flashplayer25_xa_install.exe
  3. PPAPI (Chrome and Opera): flashplayer25pp_xa_install.exe

NPAPI Plugins Unsafe

NPAPI-based Flash plugins make Windows insecure (see US-CERT Alert TA15-195A).

Verifying Flash Version in Windows

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.

 

Return to Plugins Intro

Shockwave Player

You should uninstall Shockwave Player.

  • It is obsolete, vulnerable and contains obsolete Flash components.
  • The recommendation is to update it regularly yet the March 2017 security update was the first since October 2015 (Flash has had over 15 updates since then).

Download Shockwave or Test Your Installation

I advise against installing Shockwave Player, but you should maintain it if you do.

Download Adobe® Shockwave player

 

Return to Plugins Intro

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 when using older browsers.

NetFlix works without Silverlight on newer browsers. Check the Netflix system requirements for HTML5 Player.

 

Return to Plugins Intro

Java

It has been known for some time that Java makes your computer vulnerable.

Remove Java if you don't need it.

  • Most people don't need Java.
  • By uninstalling Java you can determine if it is really necessary. It can be quickly reinstalled if you really do need it.

If installed, be sure to frequently update Java and to ensure you remove older versions (you may need to manually remove these).

Download Java or Test Your Installation

Download Oracle® Java

Download Java | What is Java? | Test your Java installation.

More about Java installation and security.

 

Return to Plugins Intro

VLC Player

Browsers are beginning to either disable or stop support for many multimedia plugins. I strongly recommend VLC player rather than any of the alternatives, particularly for Windows.

Get VLC

VLC Player, a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework, plays almost all multimedia files (including QuickTime and RealPlayer) as well as DVD, Audio CD, VCD, and various streaming protocols.

I recommend that you uninstall these multimedia players and replace them with VLC Player:

 

Return to Plugins Intro

QuickTime

QuickTime is supported ONLY for macOS and iOS. You should update to the latest version or uninstall it.

QuickTime for Windows Vulnerable

Apple has ceased support for QuickTime 7 for Windows.

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

 

Return to Plugins Intro

RealPlayer

You should uninstall RealPlayer.

RealPlayer Plugin is Unsafe

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

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Troubleshooting

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

Backup and Recover Mozilla Profiles

MozBackup is a freeware program which allows you to create backups of Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird profiles, including your mail, favorites, contacts, etc.

Unfortunately, MozBackup is no longer developed and the developer has indicated there are problems with the program (I've never experienced any with Windows 7 but Windows 10 may be the issue).

Mozilla has documentation on how to backup, restore and recover data in Firefox profiles:

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.

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.

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

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www.RussHarvey.bc.ca/resources/browser.html
Updated: April 19, 2017

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

Choosing a Browser

Web browsers are multipurpose Internet applications that include the ability to view websites and web applications.

Recommendations

Whichever browser you use, it is important to keep all installed browsers, plugins and extensions updated.

Newer versions tend to be more secure, run faster and display current web content as it was intended.

I strongly recommended using Firefox as your primary browser. It is the only major independent browser that protects and respects your private information.

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

32- or 64-bit?

Most browsers are now available in both 32- and 64-bit versions. The choice depends upon several factors.

  • 32-bit browsers run on both 32- and 64-bit computers.
  • 64-bit browsers require both 64-bit operating system and hardware. Recent hardware is generally 64-bit but a 32-bit operating system may still be installed.
  • Some plugins and extensions run only on 32-bit browsers, although that is becoming less of an issue.

Choose Your Start Page

Likewise, there are hundreds of web portals (or startup pages) that can be launched when your browser starts.

  • 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.

Be wary of plugins, software downloads or other activities that automatically change your default startup page.

More to Choose From

Many browsers have come and gone over time. Most offer greater security and functionality than Internet Explorer.

Early web browser suites included other features such as email, chat & instant messaging (IM).

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.

Plugins, Extensions and Addons

Addons do everything from customizing the look of your browser to providing specialized tools.

Plugins typically add access to external "helper" applications. 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 slowing or freezing your browser or computer.

If your computer or browser is running slow, check to see if disabling or removing extensions helps.

  • 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.

Be Wary When Downloading

Carefully review the options when downloading and installing software from the Web.

Toolbars report your usage to their owners. Protect your privacy.

Security Concerns

Web browsers have known security issues that vary from browser to browser (sometimes depending upon the operating system).

Internet Explorer is particularly vulnerable because it is so tightly integrated into Windows.

  • Most devices like routers can be configured with any browser, not just Internet Explorer.
  • Use only Internet Explorer for Windows Update (there is a plug-in for Firefox, but you don't want to introduce any vulnerabilities into Firefox).

Web pages that don't display properly in modern browsers are designed poorly.

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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