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How I ditched the security risks and lived without Java, Reader, and Flash

Brad Chacos | March 11, 2013
Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and Oracle's Java. All three are virtually ubiquitous on modern-day PCs, and all three provide handy-dandy functionality--functionality that, in the case of Flash and Java, can't be directly reproduced by a third-party solution. If we lived in a vacuum, it would be hard to argue that the trio doesn't deserve its spot on computers around the globe.

Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and Oracle's Java. All three are virtually ubiquitous on modern-day PCs, and all three provide handy-dandy functionality--functionality that, in the case of Flash and Java, can't be directly reproduced by a third-party solution. If we lived in a vacuum, it would be hard to argue that the trio doesn't deserve its spot on computers around the globe.

We don't live in a vacuum, though.

Here in the real world, widespread adoption of the software makes all three irresistible targets for hackers and malware peddlers. The attacks reached a fever pitch in the early months of 2013, with a flood of reports about Flash, Reader, and Java exploits. Three different articles about Java exploits hit PCWorld's homepage this past Monday and Tuesday alone, and Adobe issued three critical Flash updates in February.

But don't yank out that ethernet cable or wrap your desk in a Faraday cage just yet. You don't have to use Java, Flash, and Reader just because everyone else does. I spent more than a week without Reader, Java, Flash, and their respective browser plug-ins to see if it's possible to live without the software and not suffer massive migraines.

My results were mixed, but incredibly illuminating.

Living without Adobe Reader

Let's get the low-hanging fruit out of the way first. Ditching Adobe Reader is almost shockingly easy. While the software may be synonymous with PDFs, it's far from being the only PDF reader on the block. In fact, just last month I outlined three safer, speedier Reader alternatives after Adobe's software suffered from yet another zero-day exploit that hackers were actively using.

The alternatives PDF readers outlined in that article--Sumatra PDFFoxit Reader, and Nitro PDF Reader--not only receive much less malicious attention than Adobe's program, they also perform like greased lightning in comparison.

I've personally settled on Sumatra PDF for my digital document needs. It may not have many bells or whistles, but geez it's fast, and my PDF reading needs are fairly simple. Nitro PDF is great if you need more features, while Foxit Reader's blend of speed and extras falls somewhere between the other two. All three work like a charm.

Living without Java

Java's a bit trickier to abandon. Granted, very few websites use Oracle's software platform on the client side--just 0.2 percent of all sites online, according to W3Techs. Desktop programs that require Java are similarly scarce. As a result, there's a strong chance you don't even need Java on your computer. In fact, when I started this headache-free experiment, I was surprised to discover that it wasn't even installed on my primary work PC, which I built in November.

 

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