Make your Web experience sing and dance

Multimedia plug-ins let you see and hear the future of the Internet

Today’s Internet is a far cry from the less-than-engaging bulletin boards of yore. Internet radio, video and 3D animation has made the Net a much more interesting place to be. Unfortunately, your standard browser won’t get you there. To ride the cutting edge of Web development, you’ll need to take advantage of the latest Web browser plug-ins and players.

A plug-in is a multimedia program that works with your Web browser to put more zip into your surfing. It allows you to get continuous audio or video-a process called streaming-while connected to a site and without waiting until the entire file downloads. In other instances, multimedia players, which are browser-independent, allow direct access to audio and video files. Here’s what you need to hang 10 on the Net.

By now you’ve probably heard of MP3, the audio compression format that makes it easy to transfer music via the Net. Without an MP3 player you won’t get to hear what all the fuss is about. Liquid Audio (www.liquidaudio.com) makes the Liquid Player, a leading music player that allows you to listen to audio files. The Liquid Player also makes it easy to keep track of your digital music files, view liner notes and cover artwork and make your own CDs if you have a CD-R drive that lets you create your own CDs. Other players include Winamp (www.winamp.com), MusicMatch (www.musicmatch.com) and Sonique (www.sonique.com).

Although it’s currently the most popular, MP3 isn’t the only format for digital audio. AT&T Labs makes the a2b Music Player 2.0 (www.a2bmu sic.com). A2b has its own music compression format to compete with MP3, which the company claims has faster downloads and smaller files.

If you want to preview a movie, watch a sports event or a live Webcast concert, you need to have plug-ins and players that allow you to get streaming video. Macromedia (www.macromedia.com) makes the popular Flash and Shockwave programs. Flash is a plug-in that enables viewing of high-quality graphics and animation. Shockwave is a multimedia player that decodes streaming audio and video. Shockwave has become the standard for many sites because it handles memory-intensive video files well.

QuickTime 4 (www.apple.com/ quicktime), developed by Apple Computers Inc., is also popular for accessing streaming audio and video. QuickTime 4 is actually a group of plug-ins that lets you access streaming audio. For Website developers, Apple has developed a companion software package that lets you transfer and edit your photo albums and home movies into QuickTime files that you can post on your site or e-mail to others.

Another player to watch for is the RealPlayer from RealNetworks (www.realnetworks.com). The company combined its RealAudio and RealVideo standards to make RealPlayer G2, a player that handles streaming audio, video and MP3 files. Most plug-ins and players are free, can be downloaded within minutes and work with several different operating systems. Note that many of the popular plug-ins and players from software developers are available in at least two versions: a basic program that is free, and an enhanced version for sale. Unless

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