You can watch the Web unplugged, but it's like watching Fourth of July fireworks with your eyes shut tight and your fingers in your ears. Sure, you're there; you just don't see and hear anything. The same goes for the Web-if you want to enjoy sites that are endowed with multimedia elements, you'll have to plug in to savor the full experience.
Plug-ins move browsers beyond simple text and pictures, letting you see animation, hear sounds and even receive live video. Although dozens of plug-ins are available-most are free-downloading and installing them can be time consuming. Too many plug-ins can bloat your browser so it gobbles up memory and lumbers along the Net. But some plug-ins definitely enhance the Web experience and are worth the trouble of downloading and installing them. Arm yourself with this arsenal of audio and video players, online animators and document viewers, and you're ready for all the sights and sounds of the Web.
RealPlayer 4.0 (free, http://www.real.com/products/
VDOLive Player (free, http://www.vdo.net). VDOnet and VivoActive are also key players in the Web multimedia market. After you download the VDOLive Player, take a look at the listing of VDO-enabled sites, including Fox and CBS News, PBS Online and the AutoChannel broadcasts.
VivoActive (free, http://www.vivo.com). To view the audio and video content at the CNN, HBO, TechWeb and First-TV sites, download the VivoActive plug-in. A VivoActive site guide is available at http://www.vivo.com/gallery/vasites.htm.
Shockwave The Works (free, http://www.macromedia.com). Macromedia urges Web wayfarers to "get shocked" with its Shockwave plug-in. Add the Shockwave app to your browser to take advantage of the animation, sound and interactivity of sites created using Macromedia's multimedia development tools. Visit Macromedia's Shockzone at http://www.macromedia.com/shockzone to check out a guide to "Shocked" sites.
Adobe Acrobat reader (free, http://www.adobe.com/prodindex/acrobat/
Cosmo Player (free, http://vrml.sgi.com/cosmoplayer) and WorldView 2.0 (http://www.intervista.com/products/
In Pursuit of Plug-Ins
New plug-ins pop up on the Web frequently. These sites track what's out there, and point you to the best of the bunch.
Dave Central Software Archive (http://www.davecentral.com/). This index contains links to plug-ins in several categories, including multimedia, video, VRML, bookmark managers and utilities. Most categories also include ActiveX controls.
Netscape Navigator Components (http://www.netscape.com/comprod/mirror/
TechWeb's TechTools (http://www.techweb.com/tools/tools.html). Look here for plug-in reviews, plus tips on fine-tuning your browser and PC. Also check out the guides to Web animation, audio, video, agents and Java.