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So, you've got your new PC. You've signed up for Internet service. You've launched your favorite Web browser. Ready to surf some tasty Web sites?

Chill, dude. To really experience the wonders on the World Wide Web, you need to pick among a host of add-ons for your Web browser. With them, you'll hear audio, view video clips, and explore cyberspace more easily. Happily, most are free for the download, at least for test versions.

Most ''plug-ins'' were designed for Netscape Communications' Navigator browser, but almost all of them will run on Microsoft's Internet Explorer, too. The latest Explorer accepts ActiveX controls, add-on programs that come across the Internet to do such things as display a moving stock ticker on your PC.

VIRUS WATCH. When you hit a Web site where a plug-in is required, you'll be prompted to click over to a download site. But beware: Plug-ins may be full of bugs, can be tricky to install, and may be usable only on certain PC configurations. Also, since they're coming over the Net, it's wise to run them through antivirus software.

The hottest plug-ins deal with multimedia. Progressive Networks' RealAudio Player lets you listen to music clips or even live broadcasts. The sound is O.K. with a 14.4-kilobit-per-second modem but clearer at 28.8. Others handle animations, movie clips, and even live video. Apple Computer's QuickTime player, available for both Macintosh and Windows, is the standard for movie clips. Film images are reasonably viewable, but live video isn't as smooth. For video, the best bets are Xing Technology's StreamWorks and VDOnet's VDOLive. Macromedia's Shockwave doesn't handle live video, but it's the standard for animations.

A number of plug-ins speed the Internet experience by locating information for you. PointCast, for instance, offers a boffo PC screensaver plug-in that sends news, stock quotes, and other data to your screen whenever you want. Take a break for lunch and when you return to your desk, the latest news is scrolling on your screen.

FRESH INFO. PointCast has its own news sources. But other programs--such as ForeFront Group's WebWhacker ($70), Traveling Software's WebEx ($30), and Individual's FreeLoader--let you specify certain Web sites from which they will then retrieve fresh information at regular intervals and store it on your hard disk.

Watch for new programs built around Marimba's Castanet Tuner. It uses Sun Microsystems' Java software to create custom content and software ''channels'' that are updated automatically.

There are hundreds more plug-ins to try. Find them at browserwatch. Or buy bundles of add-ons with Netscape's PowerPack ($40) or with Microsoft's Internet Explorer Starter Kit ($25). You'll soon be browsing with the best.

By Robert D. Hof

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Updated June 18, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
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