A Life Without Plugins

Martin Brinkmann
Apr 16, 2012
Updated • Jan 1, 2013

Web browser plugins in the past have served a purpose that other technologies could not equally provide users of the browser with. From streaming video over gaming to other multimedia applications. Especially Adobe Flash, and to a lesser extend Sun's Java, need to be mentioned in this regard, as those two are likely the plugins with the largest reach.

Ever since Steve Jobs' thoughts on Flash, and likely long before that, it became clear that there is a shift away from proprietary plugins towards an open web.

Back in 2010 I published the a life without Flash article which looked at what Flash had to offer, and if other technologies were able to provide users with alternatives.

While most agreed that Flash was the cause for many issues that users experienced on the web (low battery life, crashes, security issues), most back then stated that there was not really a way around the plugin yet.

Since then I have been running Firefox without plugins - more or less - and switched to Chrome whenever I needed access to a plugin like Flash. More or less meaning that there is always the chance that the browser picks up a new plugin installed by a software or update on the system without me having a chance to prevent the automatic installation and enabling of said plugin.

With Microsoft's announcement to ship the Metro version of Internet Explorer 10 without plugin support, came the idea to revitalize and expand the old article.

Is it possible to run a web browser without a single plugin and not miss out on contents on the Internet?

Disabling plugins can have a beneficial effect on the browser. It can improve the browser's stability, security and performance. You may for instance notice that Flash ads are not loaded anymore which use more bandwidth and processing power than static ads.

Depending on what you use the web browser for, you may run into situations where you can't access a website at all because of a missing plugin, or fail to load part of a site or service because of it.  Even on YouTube with the HTML beta enabled, you may run into compatibility issues with some browsers. With Firefox and Opera for instance, you will notice that many newer videos won't play at all, because of missing h.264 support.

If you watch videos or play games in the browser, there is still no way around plugins right now. If you are a Firefox or Opera user and want to use YouTube, Vimeo, or any of the other big video sites, you basically have to install Flash to do so or find a workaround like downloading videos or replacing the Flash player with another player.

For me personally, it is still all about using my main browser without plugins, which works just fine most of the time, and Google Chrome with plugins whenever I need to access contents that require plugins and that I can't get around.

Closing Words

Will I still be using plugins in two years time? Or will we see a shift away from plugins in the next years? What's your take on this?


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  1. boris said on April 16, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Untill most video pages on internet can be played though HTML5, I do not see a reason to dump my plugins. My only problem with Java plugin. I have it installed, but a lot of websites do not see it. I will probably uninstall in during this year.

    1. boris said on April 18, 2012 at 2:23 am

      I removed Java and Google Earth plugins. So far no problems.

  2. Sid said on April 16, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    As the way it stands right now, I also run plugins like above ONLY to access content online. I have no other love for them. An idea of a truly open web is simply irresistible to me.
    As far as ground reality is concerned, the lay people generally do not have any affinity for them either, other than accessing content.

    But, but. The roadblock towards an open web, is all the hue & cry over the standards defining such a move, like the fuss surrounding HTML5.
    With all the parties involved playing to their own interests, constantly one-upping each other, it’ll be very difficult to achieve a truly open web. Plus, the parties involved are not individuals, but massive establisments. Even if they manage to resolve their differences, it will then be about convincing the devs to migrate their work to work on new standards.
    Of course, that openness we all may love to embrace one day will be eventually achieved, but it will take time. In the mean time, we have to be constantly updating our plugins we need!
    Personally, I have stopped using Java but I don’t think I will have stopped using Flash in another 2 years, though as an example of things to come, I already use the HTML5 version of YouTube & have no problems with it. Adobe might stop development on it though & simply give out secuirty updates as required – basically following the same model as Flash for mobile platform has been reduced to..

  3. Jim said on April 16, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    I’ve been running Google Chrome with the click to run plugins option enabled. Does pretty much what I need.

  4. Grey said on April 16, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Internet without some form of adblock is a scary place.

    1. Matt said on April 16, 2012 at 9:22 pm

      It sure is, but that’s not what this article is about. Adblock is typically a browser extension. Martin is discussing plugins, like Flash, Silverlight, Java, etc.

      1. Martin Brinkmann said on April 16, 2012 at 9:25 pm

        Thanks for clarifying this.

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