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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.

Here's the rub, though: The websites and programs that do use Java tend to be very high-profile ones, and they're often mission-critical.

As it turns out, many banking and governmental websites rely on Java. If a website you frequent needs Java, then you have to have Java on your PC--it's as simple as that. Likewise, some pretty popular desktop applications are built atop Oracle's software platform, including the OpenOffice productivity suite, Adobe's Creative Suite 6, and the time-suck that is Minecraft.

So most people don't need Java. But if you do, then you really need it. My recommendation? Uninstall it from your computer. No, seriously, go do it now. If you need Java for a particular website or program, that application will bark at you next time you try to use it--at which point you can quickly reinstall Java.

For many people, that bark will never come. And if it comes months down the line when you're visiting a rarely used site, you'll know you can uninstall Java once again when you're done with that particular task. The headache of reinstalling and uninstalling Java once per year is nothing compared to the headache of installing those constant critical patches--or, worse, leaving your computer vulnerable to attack.

Alternatively, if a site you visit on a regular basis requires Java, consider downloading another Web browser (such as Firefox or Chrome), installing the Java plugin for that browser, and then using it only when visiting your beloved destination. That way your primary browser will be Java-free, eliminating the possibility of stumbling across a malicious Java exploit during your day-to-day browsing.

Living without Flash

Even if you can live without Java, trying to banish Flash from your PC may be next to impossible. The headaches begin when you realize that both Google Chrome and Microsoft's Internet Explorer 10 ship with Flash weaved into their very fabric. You simply can't excise Adobe's multimedia player from either of those browsers.

But let's assume you decide to roll with Firefox, or another alternative browser that isn't shackled to Adobe. Is it possible to live a Flash-free existence? It's hard.

Flash has been around so long, it's become a de facto Web standard in function, if not in definition. A ton of websites break without Flash. Hulu won't work without Flash. Neither will Amazon Instant Video. (Netflix runs on Microsoft's Silverlight, so it will.) Farmville  or other Flash games? Fuggedaboutit, if their name didn't clue you in already. Rdio's browser interface? All Flash, all the time. Even once you expand your vision beyond traditional media interests, you'll find that many websites implement Flash in one way or another.

Flash, baby, I just can't quit you. But you, dear reader, might be able to if you aren't as heavily invested in online media as I am--just be prepared for some websites to look wonky or break entirely.


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