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Getting to Know Technology: Plug-In

The Internet is an amazing tool in and of itself, but like many tools, it can sometimes work better if other tools are used alongside it. These additional tools are called plug-ins. Here, we’ll discuss what a plug-in is, and how they all help us use the Internet a little better.

What is a Plug-In?
Putting it very simply, a plug-in is a supplemental application that enables a browser to perform additional functions. These applications are extremely useful, as they automatically run in the browser’s code instead of opening another window. Furthermore, they enable you to view content on a website that you may not have been able to otherwise, because your browser may lack the capabilities on its own.

There are hundreds of plug-ins now available to augment these capabilities, including some familiar faces. Adobe Acrobat and Flash Player are both examples of plug-ins, as are Microsoft Silverlight, Java, and QuickTime Player.

Where Do Plug-Ins Come From?
Plug-ins date back to the very beginning of the World Wide Web, where the original HTML code wasn’t prepared to handle more advanced tasks – like video or online game content. In order to get this problematic content to work properly, a plug-in assists the browser in processing it.

This approach is widely used to this day, but some of the inherent weaknesses that plug-ins can have are spurring the advancement and development of improved methods. For example, for the longest time, plug-ins have been technically separate from the browsers that they interact with, but now there is a concerted effort to integrate the plug-in more closely with the other content on the page.

Isn’t This the Same as a Browser Extension?
In a word, no. The key difference is the amount of information that either can access. While a plug-in works the same way, regardless of the browser being used, they are specifically added to an individual page. This means that they can only be used on that given page. An extension, on the other hand, is incorporated into the browser itself, and therefore can technically be utilized on any page the browser navigates to.

What else would you like to know more about? Leave a comment and tell us, and make sure you check back to see if we’ve covered it!

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