The latest versions of Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge only support the Flash plugin. You’ll need to find an alternative browser if you want to use Java, Silverlight, or any other ActiveX or NPAPI-based plugin.
Most web users can get by without these plugins. That’s why browser developers no longer support them. But some websites, especially old business and government applications, still require these old technologies. So if you need them, what should you use?
Use Internet Explorer (Even on Windows 10)
Internet Explorer is Microsoft’s legacy browser, and Microsoft still supports it with security updates. Even on Windows 10, where Microsoft Edge is the default web browser, Microsoft still includes the old version of Internet Explorer 11 for compatibility purposes. This is important because Microsoft Edge, Microsoft’s modern browser, doesn’t support any ActiveX-based plugins. It only supports its own built-in version of Adobe Flash.
Whether you’re using Windows 7, 8, or 10, you’ll find Internet Explorer in your Start menu. On Windows 10, you’ll find it hidden under Start > Windows Accessories > Internet Explorer. If you use Microsoft Edge, you can click menu > Open With Internet Explorer on any web page to quickly open that web page in Internet Explorer.
You probably won’t want to use Internet Explorer as your browser all the time, but you can launch it whenever you need to use a website that requires a plugin. To install these plugins, just launch IE and visit the appropriate website—Oracle’s Java site or Microsoft’s Silverlight site, for example.
If Java doesn’t run properly, make sure the browser plugin is enabled in its control panel. You’ll find the Java control panel at Control Panel > Programs > Java. On the “Security” tab, ensure “Enable Java content in the browser” is enabled. You may need to restart your browser after changing this setting.
If you have to access an old web page that doesn’t work with Internet Explorer 11 and requires an older version of Internet Explorer, you can use Internet Explorer 11’s Enterprise Mode. This requires the Professional version of Windows 10, though, and isn’t available on the Home version.
Install Mozilla Firefox ESR on Windows, macOS, or Linux
Mozilla ended support for traditional NPAPI browser plugins, aside from Flash, with Firefox 52 on March 7, 2017.
However, Mozilla offers an “Extended Support Release”, or ESR, branch of the Firefox browser. This browser is intended for organizations to have a stable, long-term platform that only receives security updates, not the frequent feature updates and changes that the main version of Firefox receives.
Firefox 52 ESR was released on March 7, 2017 and includes support for non-Flash browser plugins. Mozilla will continue supporting Firefox 52 ESR with security updates until sometime in the second quarter of 2018. At that point, the next ESR version of Firefox will drop support for NPAPI plugins.
Visit the Download Firefox Extended Support Release page to download the ESR version of Firefox. If you’re not sure which version to download, choose the 32-bit version of Firefox for maximum compatibility with older plugins. Older plugins may not have 64-bit versions available.
You can verify you’re using the ESR version of Firefox by clicking menu > Help > About Firefox. You’ll see “Firefox ESR” here if you’re on the ESR update channel.
Enable Plugins in Safari on macOS
Apple has disabled plugins by default in Safari on macOS. Even Flash won’t play by default, and you’ll have to enable it whenever you visit a web page you want to use Flash on.
Despite these aggressive moves, Apple hasn’t removed NPAPI plugin support from Safari—at least as of macOS Sierra 10.12. Safari continues to support Java, Silverlight, Unity, and other NPAPI-based plugins. In fact, it’s the last modern browser to continue supporting these plugins. Even if you normally use Chrome or Firefox on your Mac, you’ll need to use Safari when you want to access a web page that requires a plugin.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple completely drop support for plugins in a future version of macOS. But Apple hasn’t publicly announced a timeline for this.
You can use these plugins normally in Safari. You’ll just have to enable them first. To do so, install the plugin normally. For example, you can download Java from Oracle’s website.
Head to Safari > Preferences > Security > Plug-in Settings. Enable the installed plugin you want to use.
You can enable the plugin for all websites or only for specific websites. For example, to make Safari ask you if you want to use a plugin whenever a web page you’re visiting wants it, select the plugin and then set the “When visiting other websites” option at the bottom of the window to “Ask”.
Of course, the real solution is moving on from web content that requires plugins. Applications created with Java, SIlverlight, and Unity still function properly outside of the web browser. Desktop applications written in Java or Silverlight are safe and will work normally.
For delivering video to web browsers, Microsoft now recommends HTML5 video instead of its own Silverlight plugin. Netflix was the most famous user of Silverlight, and has dropped Silverlight for cross-platform HTML5 video.
Flash is still widespread, which is why it’s been spared the axe. It’s also integrated by default into Chrome and Edge, which helps keep it sandboxed and updated. But even Flash will likely be left behind one day.