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Copyright 1998, Southern California OS/2 User Group

Netscape Plug-ins, harmonicas, and other stuff

Presented by Dave Watson

So, what's the deal with plug-ins? Well, plug-ins are kind of like playing the harmonica. You could just hum, but some folks find that unsatisfactory. You could go out and buy a fancy stereo, and when you want music you could play an expensive recording. Somewhere in the middle is a simple harmonica solo. Plug-ins bring added features to your Netscape browser. Not like going to the movies, but better than plain old text and graphics. Kind of like a web harmonica.

Most web sites send your browser a text file which includes special instructions called tags. Tags give formatting instructions telling browsers how to display the web page. These pages usually contain some pictures, probably in one of the standard formats - GIF or JPEG - and maybe sounds or videos. Some pages include animations or interactive programs coded in Java or Javascript programming languages, which can be read and played by Netscape Navigator. Kind of like my lame humming analogy, you do it yourself. A few sites, however, include specialized formats that Netscape can't read. These files can enrich your browsing experience, so you'd like to be able to see them. Netscape can be trained to send those files off to disk, or to start another program, called a helper, to deal with it. This is sort of like the stereo analogy. You put your CD (the file) into your stereo (the helper application) and play it.

The folks who made Netscape browser anticipated the diverse files people would send over the internet by including programming hooks with which other programmers could "plug in" additional code to enhance your visit to their site. Yeah - kind of like "plugging in" a harmonica.

Okay - no more lame analogies.

If you look at your Netscape Preferences under the Helpers tab (Navigator, Applications in Communicator Preferences), you will see a list of file extensions which the browser can read internally, and a few that will automatically open another program such as vb.exe and ib.exe. Most will just say "Ask User" which produces the "where do you want to save this strange file" dialog box. How handy to have them just open! Now, go to your Help, About Plug-ins menu and you'll get a list of installed plug-ins on your system. What -- none yet? Time to fire up the old internet connection and download some.

Let's start at IBM. The Netscape Navigator for OS/2 Warp page has links to the latest Navigator and plug-in packages. The 5 meg plug pack (2.6 meg for Communicator) includes several programs for files such as MPEG, Quicktime and AVI videos; and MIDI, Wav and Au sound files. Install this and go back and look at About Plugins and you'll see a longer list.

One additional thing this Plug Pack gives you is compatibility with dozens of 16-bit Windows plug-ins. There aren't very many for OS/2, but you can find lots of Windows plug-ins at Netscape's Navigator Components page. This page has info on plugins and links to several varieties available for downloading. YUou can browse to find plug-ins and sites that use them. Try the Shockwave plug-in from Macromedia and the Acrobat plug-in from Adobe. These are more widely used than most of the others and produce some interesting and useful functions.

There is an additional OS/2 plugin called Bamba, from IBM, at IBM's Alphaworks site. This has some specialized translation for streaming multimedia used on a few web pages. This allows you to see high-bandwidth audio and video as it comes in over a modem, optimized for the available bandwidth, instead of waiting for the whole file to download first.

Watch for a big variety of plugins in the future as the web continues to become richer in format and content.

Here are some additional plug-ins resources:

COPYRIGHT 1997, 1998. You may use this in whole or in part in any way you wish in return for your promise to tell an acquaintance how excellent an operating system OS/2 is.