Browser plugins (a.k.a. extensions or add-ons) go all the way back to the Netscape Navigator 2.0 days from 1996, if you can believe it. I even found an ancient web page that lists some of the more popular plugins of the time for that browser, which just goes to prove that QuickTime and Acrobat Reader have been annoying us for well over a decade.

What I’m specifically referring to here however are browser plugins that you voluntarily install of your own accord. Such examples are ad blockers, flash blockers, toolbars and things of that ilk. Some of you may have been using certain types of plugins for so long that you can’t even remember what a plugin-less browsing experience actually feels like.

Is running a browser with no plugins a good browsing experience, or even tolerable?

I have a confession to make: I can’t do it.

In my collection of operating systems that I have installed via VMWare, I have several editions of Windows going all the way from 3.1 to XP. My virtual XP environment has basically nothing but the bare operating system, and is purposely set up that way for sandbox testing purposes. The only updates installed are the latest service pack (SP3), but it has no anti-virus or any security suite to speak of and no "helper" applications for the browser. Just XP and the latest-for-that-OS IE8.

Just for kicks I ran that XP and used IE8 the way it is, browsed a few sites, and quickly came to the conclusion that it’s a horrible browsing experience.

My first thought was, "I wish IE9 ran on XP", because that would have made the browsing experience at least tolerable. But this was XP, so IE8 is the best you can do before installing a 3rd-party browser like Firefox or Chrome.

I installed the latest Fx 11 and Chrome 17, resisted the natural urge to immediately install my preferred add-ons and ran both browsers stock. The web browsing experience at this point got slightly better, but not by much because so many web sites are so stuffed full of scripting and Flash these days. Both Fx 11 and Chrome 17 have engines that are able to pile through all this scripting and Flash crap with ease, but it’s still a rough ride when you have no plugins to help you out.

Due to the fact Chrome 17 separates tabs into separate processes (as does IE8, but IE8 is a sloth compared to Chrome), this made managing multiple tabs a whole lot better than with Fx 11. But even so, there were slowdowns and pausing on the "heavy" sites like YouTube and webmail like Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail that contain gobs of scripting all over the place.

The best way to describe the browsing experience with a stock Chrome 17 on Windows XP is that I could "make do", so to speak. I certainly wasn’t enjoying myself, but I was able to actually get stuff done. Compose a few emails, write a few blogs, watch a few videos, etc. But what I noticed again and again is the browser getting constantly slammed with scripting and Flash just about everywhere I went.

In the end, I’ll say this: Run your NoScript. Run your FlashBlock (Fx, Chrome). Run your Ghostery. Run whatever is needed to keep your browsing experience quick and mostly-effortless. While I did recommend before that browsing "bare" might be advantageous concerning a speed boost, that’s simply not the case anymore.