|Vol. 2. No. 1
|| March 1996
On the Internet
The Next Generation and
Plugs for the Web
Cañada College, UC Berkeley
Netscape 2.0 and its plug-ins are the big news on the Net these days. The
second generation of this popular Web browser brings exciting new
capabilities to Web pages via third-party software add-ons called plug-ins.
Promising more than just flash (though not to suggest there won't be a lot
more of that), there are plug-ins now available that allow for better
playback of video, audio, and animation; for the exploration of 3-D spaces;
and for greater degrees of interactivity than ever before in a Web page.
With a TCP/IP connection to the Internet and Netscape Navigator 2.0 on your drive, all
you need to do is download a plug-in or two, and then try them out for
yourself. As of February 1996, there was a total of 17 available plug-ins--
mostly beta (i.e., non-final, trial) versions, and mostly for Windows 3.1
and '95. All indications are for support of other platforms in the very
Three plug-ins with obvious relevance to students and teachers of ESL are:
- RealAudio By
RealAudio provides highly compressed, streamed audio over Internet
connections of 14.4Kbps or faster. The first generation player offered
impressive results in terms of both access rates and content (NPR, ABC, and PBS are a few
of the many noteworthy sites), though the sound quality was often compared
to that of a distant AM radio station. The good news is that 2.0 is
supposed to sound better, and there is already a large number of Websites
that offer a wide
variety of RealAudio 2.0 sound files. Best of all, they start playing
almost immediately after you click on them. (RealAudio Version 2.0 is now
available for Windows '95, 3.1, NT, Mac 7.x, and Unix.)
- ToolVox By Voxware.
Another audio technology for the Web, the ToolVox plug-in allows the
immediate playback of sound files, much like RealAudio. One big difference
is that ToolVox files don't require a special server--the advantage there
is that developers don't need to buy an expensive server to add this sound
format to their web pages. Now, anyone can do it. VoxWare offers 53:1
compression ratios, which is according to their press releases "more than
three times smaller than first-generation real-time Internet voice
products." What's more, they offer a free sound encoder too. (VoxWare is
now available for Windows '95 and 3.1. A Mac version coming soon.)
ave For Director By Macromedia.
The Shockwave plug-in lets users interact with multimedia presentations
created in Macromedia Director, one of today's top multimedia authoring
tools. Like never before, Shockwave brings rich animation and sound, and
enhanced levels of interactivity to a Web page. (Of course, since I also
program in Director, I may have a slight bias.) In any case, after you downlo
ad the plug-in, I invite you to see a few of my sample Shockwave
movies. And, when you're ready for more, Alan Levine maintains an
index of over 270 "shocked" sites--itself a Shockwave movie--at the
Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction. (Shockwave is now available
for Windows '95 and 3.1, with a Mac version imminent.)
available--are going to make the Web look and sound better, and deliver
more intelligent levels of interactivity. A next generation of web-based
language learning exercises and activities, a next generation of
multimedia Moo's, and the holodeck can't be too far behind.
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