This document is a supplement to
Editing for Clear Communication
No portion may be reused without the author's permission.
To learn more about
Plug-insWith each new version, Web browsers offer more multimedia capabilities. Some of those capabilities are built in, but others require users to download additional software products known as plug-ins (for Netscape Navigator and Communicator) or ActiveX controls (for Microsoft Internet Explorer).
These helper apps number nearly 200 now, and therein lies a cautionary tale for Web developers: Few Web users have more than a couple of plugins or ActiveX controls. As of early 1999, the most common ones were the RealPlayer streaming audio/video plug-in and the Macromedia Shockwave/Flash plug-in. While other plug-ins offer features beyond their capabilities, it doesn't make sense to design features into your site that almost no one will be able to access.
If you find it essential to include a feature that requires a plug-in other than these two, you should let your visitors know immediately that they need it and provide a link for downloading it. Keep in mind, though, that downloading and installing even a small plug-in takes time and some degree of computer expertise, so you can't count on visitors automatically following your instructions.
Fortunately, the process is becoming easier. Macromedia, for example, requires only a quick and small download, with the rest of the process being handled automatically by Java.
For the moment, this is one area in which less really is more: Less use of nonstandard plug-ins equals more visitors who can use your site.