UNPLUGGING PLUGINS

We’ve become familiar with the slowdowns and crashes associated with programs and services that start up automatically when a computer is turned on. Now I’m running into problems caused by the links between programs – the “add-ins” or “add-ons” or “plugins” designed to make programs work together.

  • Skype is a quirky but useful program for online phone calls. It installs a couple of add-ins into Internet Explorer – one, for example, identifies phone numbers on a web page and highlights them so a Skype call can be started with a single click. It took me a while to identify it as the reason that Internet Explorer suddenly started opening slowly and occasionally freezing; IE went back to normal when I disabled the Skype add-ins.
  • Timeslips installs an Outlook add-in, regardless of whether you intend to exchange information between the two programs. It has caused odd behavior on a number of systems until it was disabled.
  • Google finally announced its plan for online file storage; one of its features will be an add-in for Windows to make the Google storage appear in Windows Explorer as an integrated hard drive.
  • Microsoft promotes dozens of Internet Explorer add-ons and there are many more powering the current wave of web services. Similarly, there’s a huge market for software that enhances Outlook, mostly by installing add-ins to present integrated toolbars and menus.

Many of these are valuable additions to your computing experience, when considered singly. But I’ll guarantee that we’ll all be wrestling with odd problems as we accumulate more and more of these add-ins and they begin to fight with each other in unexpected ways. YouSendIt’s plug-in for Outlook looks great but the chances for problems increase if five other programs are also checking outgoing Outlook messages for various things.

I’m adding these locations to my housekeeping stops, in addition to the various places to look for startup programs.

  • Internet Explorer: click on Tools / Manage Add-Ons / Enable Or Disable Add-Ons.
  • Outlook 2003: click on Tools / Options / Other / Advanced Options / COM Add-Ins.
  • Outlook 2007: click on Tools / Trust Center / Add-Ins.

As with startup programs, don’t be too quick to disable items – some of them will be unfamiliar and potentially important. But if you see something clearly unnecessary – references to programs that are uninstalled or wholly unused, for example – turn off the add-ins. You’ll have fewer problems in the long run.