Your computer is a powerful tool and can do a lot by itself. Sometimes it needs a little help and you’re offered something called a plug-in. This article tells you what they are and whether you need them.
You’re reading a web page – sorry, “surfing” a web page (to use the jargon) – and it’s all going well. You move to another page, or switch to another application, and suddenly it won’t do anything because it hasn’t got XX plug-in. You’re confused – is this a virus, or a scam?
It’s probably neither of those things, although scammers are quite capable of making their false software look like a plug-in.
What is a plug-in?
A plug-in is a (sometimes essential) piece of software code that enables an application or program to do something it couldn’t by itself. One of the more common plug-ins is Adobe Flash Player. Without Flash Player you won’t, for example, be able to view BBC News bulletins embedded into web pages.
Other plug-ins are available for different things. There are plug-ins for social media networking, foreign language alphabets and many other things. One plug-in allows for the display of Microsoft Office 2007 documents within the browser.
Numerous other plug-ins exist. Email programs will use the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) plug-ins for security. Media players might need a plug-in to play a specific type of media. Microsoft Office has plug-ins available for certain specific specialist applications.
Do you really need it?
So if your computer offers you a plug-in, or ‘add-on’ as they’re often called, it can be a very good idea to install it (by following the instructions on the screen) if it’s something you’re going to use. It’s not always necessary, though. Every individual plug-in takes up a little space, so consider whether it’s going to help.
And as mentioned above, some scammers will try to make their malware look like a legitimate plug-in. Make sure your security software is up to date at all times and your computer will alert you if there’s anything suspicious in what you’re about to install.