A staple of nearly every web browser even up until a few years ago was the toolbar. It seemed like every company had their own toolbar. Microsoft had one, Google had one, Comcast had one and so on and so on. They were everywhere but in just a few short years it seems like they have gone the way of the dodo bird. So what happened?

What a toolbar does

Toolbars were designed to make a user’s experience on the Internet more enjoyable. A search of the web could be quickly performed through them. No need to go all the way to Google or Bing, you could just type what you wanted to search for in the box and off you went. Some could offer a quick portal to your email. Others could display news to keep a user up to date or the weather. All of this (and more) could be done in one central location making them oh so convenient.

So what happened?

Users became very accepting of toolbars, even to the point of their browser window being overcome by them. Each of these used processing power which began to bog down not only the browser window but also the system itself meaning that at some point it became inevitable that some would have to be removed. With easy acceptance some people with malicious intent began to exploit that as an easy way of gaining entry to someone’s system. After all the toolbar was given the appropriate permissions to run when it was installed, whether it came from the Internet or bundled as a part of another program like a web browser. Some malicious programs even installed toolbars without a user’s consent or knowledge.

Many toolbars essentially became malware or adware and some were even viruses cleverly disguised. At best they provided the user with a steady stream of advertisements and at worst stole the users data since the toolbar had access to it or the user readily entered it through the interface. They were used to track a user’s online behavior which could then be sold to a 3rd party or used to try to gain access to the user’s accounts.

As security software evolved it began to identify toolbars as adware or malware threats and blocked or removed them. In some cases even if a user removed them it did not remove the malicious software running in the background which lead to much frustration among users as they tried, sometimes in vain, to remove it. Even today there are specialty programs to remove toolbars still available.

Not all toolbars were bad

Certainly not all toolbars were bad. The best way to identify a reputable toolbar is that it will be able to be uninstalled easily. It seems though that the number of these are dwindling both as users are moving away from them and are being replaced by other web services that offer many of the same functions with much less risk.

Most toolbars were also developed for either Internet Explorer or Chrome with a few developed for Firefox, Opera or other browsers. When Microsoft moved on from Internet Explorer and created Edge support for the toolbars did not follow and most are now at best unsupported and at worst uninstallable now. The death of the toolbar may have been hastened by the number of users migrating away from IE to Chrome or Firefox.

Is this a case of a piece of technology that outlived its usefulness or was it something that was spoiled by a whole case of rotten apples? Either way the toolbar will probably never make a comeback. Searching Google for a list of reputable toolbars returns only a list from 2008 so it seems like they have all but become the dodo bird of the Internet.

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