Browser Toolbars - The Good, the Bad and the Unnecessary
Aaron — Wed, 02/24/2010 - 19:33
No matter what browser you use (excepting Chrome), there are a multitude of add-on toolbars available to you. Some provide nifty functions and handy links, while others can be quite malicious. Regardless of their intent or use, all toolbars take some additional resources to run and can adversely affect performance.
A toolbar is an add-on to an internet browser. In most cases it adds another bar at the top of your browser window, typically below the URL window. A toolbar may contain a search box, links, menus or other features. There are thousands of different toolbars out there, the most common come from Google, Bing (MSN) and Yahoo.
How do toolbars show up in your browser? Of course you can download and manually install most toolbars yourself, but a lot of times toolbars come packaged with other software. So, you'll be installing an app like AVG and unless you check the option to not install the Yahoo toolbar, upon completion your browser will now have the Yahoo toolbar installed without you specifically requesting it. This is a very common practice, and most people won't bother to (or don't know how to) remove the toolbar.
Why do companies give us toolbars we may not want? They want your eyeballs. If you're using their toolbar, chances are you'll use their search engine, which means you'll see their ads, and make them money. And having that toolbar in front of you whenever you use the internet is excellent exposure that is basically free to them.
Are toolbars dangerous? They can be! There are probably as many malicious toolbars around as there are legitimate ones. Any toolbar can track your every action online. This information can then be used (and sold) for marketing purposes. Besides basic privacy, some toolbars are merely portals for malicious software. If a seedy toolbar is installed, that can give it a level of access that can allow it to do some nasty things to your browser and the rest of your computer.
Toolbars can also negatively affect performance. If your browser loads slowly, removing toolbars will help, especially on older machines. It's not a huge performance loss, but if you're computer is a few years old or has less than a gigabyte of RAM it will be noticeable. And running multiple toolbars multiplies the problem. Unless you have a specific need for more than one toolbar, stick to just one.
Does this mean you shouldn't use a toolbar? No...er, maybe. First, I would recommend against using any toolbar if you're not sure how it got there. If you did not consciously install it you should remove it. Also, if privacy is a big concern be very careful what toolbars you use. That said, some toolbars provide nice features, and if you desire those features go ahead and use it, but only if it's from a trusted source. Toolbars from Google, MSN and Yahoo can generally be trusted, if there's another toolbar you like, but are unsure if it's trustworthy, google it and see what others have said.
Do you have some toolbars to remove? Here are a few how-to's for toolbar removal (you'll note procedures may differ depending on your browser):
Microsoft Internet Explorer
Google Chrome does not allow toolbar use (another reason to use Chrome IMHO). Well, not yet at least. Chrome is just now opening up to extension developers, and perhaps toolbars will come someday. But for now you don't have to worry about unwanted toolbars with Chrome.
Questions? Comments? Please leave them below!