NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, September 2005

Internet Explorer Tips and Tricks

by Richard O. Johnson

Internet Explorer, despite inroads made by Firefox and other browsers, overwhelmingly remains users' browser of choice (perhaps because it comes bundled with all new Windows computers). The following pointers are designed to help you get the most out of your use of Internet Explorer. They're written with IE6 in mind, although most will apply to earlier versions, and some may apply to other browsers as well.

Use keyboard shortcuts

My regular readers will know that to increase efficiency I strongly encourage the use of keyboard shortcuts in preference to the use of the mouse. Here are my favorite IE keyboard shortcuts:

Use Alt-Home to bring up your home page.

Use Ctrl-H to open or close your history pane.

Use Ctrl-I to open or close the Favorites pane.

Use Ctrl-B to organize your Favorites

Use Ctrl-N to duplicate the active page in a new window.

Use Ctrl-F to find a word, partial word, or phrase on the current webpage.

Use Backspace (or Alt-Left) instead of the IE Back button, to navigate back.

Use Alt-Right to navigate forward.

Use F11 to toggle full-screen mode.

Use Alt-D to move to the address bar. (Or use Ctrl-O, and you won't need the address bar! See "Other" tip 4, below, for details.)

Use Alt-T to open the IE Tools menu. (See "Other" tip 3, below.)

Once in the address bar, use Enter to bring up the specified webpage or Ctrl-Enter to first surround what you've typed with "www." before and ".com" after, and then bring it up.

Use F5 or Ctrl-F5 to refresh a page. It's a good idea when refreshing to routinely hold down Ctrl (whether you're using the keyboard or the mouse), to bypass the IE cache and give you a more effective refresh.

Optimize the toolbar

Unless you maintain only a dozen or so Favorites, you'll want to take full advantage of the Links option for the IE toolbar, which you activate with the right-click toolbar menu. Drag the Favorites you'll want to have most prominent into the Links section of the toolbar. Using the right-click Properties menu of each "Link," you'll probably want to assign it a unique icon and, to save space, rename it to a shorter form.

Tip: You can save additional space by shortening the "Links" title on the toolbar. Unfortunately, simply renaming the "Links" folder won't work. You'll need to open the Registry Editor, by choosing Run from the Start menu and typing regedit. After pressing Enter, drill down to HKEY_CURRENT_USER > Software > Microsoft > Internet Explorer > Toolbar. On the right-hand side you'll see LinksFolderName="Links." Change the word within the quotation marks to a one-character name you'd like to use instead, perhaps "." or "+," and close the Editor. (Use extreme caution, as making a wrong entry in the Registry Editor can have dire consequences!)

You should unclutter the toolbar by instructing it to "Remove" nearly all the toolbar buttons. These not only occupy valuable space but can actually interfere with efficient browsing (by discouraging use of the keyboard shortcuts described above). You get to the Remove command via "Customize," on the right-click menu. Of the built-in IE toolbar buttons, the only ones I recommend displaying are those for Size and Back. All the other button functions can better be facilitated via the keyboard or by other means. (For a complete list of IE keyboard shortcuts, go to http://snipurl.com/bskn. The reason for keeping the Back button is its associated pull-down menu.)

Keep IE secure

It goes without saying that you need to keep IE fully patched, perhaps with the use of Windows Update or Microsoft Update. But what of the Internet Explorer security settings (accessible via Tools > Internet Options > Security)?

In the "Internet Zone"--the default zone for a webpage--it's prudent to be more rather than less restrictive. (Better safe than sorry!) The easiest way to go is simply to move the "Default Level" slider to High. Or you could use the "Custom Level" to make a determination for each setting. In that case you may want to consult a guide such as the one at www.techspot.com/tweaks/ie6/ie-5.shtml.

Remember that if your security restriction interferes with the proper viewing of a page, Windows will let you know--although most often you'll be able to view the page just fine notwithstanding what Windows says. To remove the restriction for a given page, you can add that page to your "Trusted" sites, against which the restriction won't ordinarily apply. (You may have to refresh the page after adding it.) To simplify moving webpages to your trusted list, a free program is available at www.geeksuperhero.com/zones.shtml.

An alternative method does not require you to move all such sites to the Trusted zone. For this you'll need the laudable Push the Freakin' Button software, available at modest cost at www.tlhouse.co.uk/PTFB.shtml. With PTFB in place, use IE's Custom Level to choose "Prompt" instead of "Disable" for every feature except any that you're absolutely sure you'll never want to use. Then instruct PTFB to push the "No" (disallow) button when the prompt appears. Should you decide to permit the feature in question, you can with a double click disable PTFB, and just as easily re-enable it when done.

A good (free) test to assess your IE vulnerability may be found at http://snipurl.com/ietest.

Other tips

1.      To execute a link in a new window, hold down Shift.

2.      Is IE acting strangely? You can often fix it by using the IE Repair utility accessible via Add/Remove Programs (in the Windows Control Panel), upon selecting "Microsoft Internet Explorer" and then "Add/Remove."

3.      Take full advantage of the IE Tools menu. A great use of this of this facility is to send a webpage to a friend. The menu will prompt you to press M for Mail and P for Page, after which an outgoing email reproducing the active page will pop up on your screen. You can remove material you don't want to include, and can insert your own message on top.

Use the same procedure to
save pages on your hard drive. Creating a Favorite may do you no good if the publisher of the page removes it, or removes the content of interest. To save the page on your hard drive, just send it to yourself! Then in your email program you can set up a folder for such saved pages.

4.      You can dispense with the address bar, by using Ctrl-O to open a webpage or other location. You can then completely hide the address bar (using the IE toolbar's right-click Customize function) or shrink it down to its title only (having first "unlocked" the toolbar, also with the right-click menu). Losing the address bar will eliminate the temptation to go there with the (less efficient) mouse, and can free up space that may be better put to other use. On the downside, you'll also lose the functionality of the Ctrl-Enter address bar shortcut (see the list of keyboard shortcuts, above).

5.      You might be able to save considerable time if you bypass your home page (start page) when you don't need to see it. Here's how: Enter "about:blank" [without the quotes] in the IE address bar, to create a blank quasi-webpage. Then use Right Click + F to turn that page into a Favorite, and drag the new Favorite's icon into the Quick Launch section of your Windows task bar, before deleting the Favorite. You may want to assign a different icon to your new IE shortcut with the use of its right-click Properties menu. (You can use this same technique to set up a "secondary home page" instead of a blank page.)


Useful IE add-ons, free except as noted, include:

Google Toolbar, at toolbar.google.com, which enables too many useful features to even hint at here. Highly recommended.

Favorites Search, at www.dzsoft.com, which lets you speedily locate a Favorite, no matter how many you've stored.

Y!Q DemoBar, at yq.search.yahoo.com/splash/demobar.html, which enables context-based searching. This can easily be squeezed onto the same line as the IE address bar.

ieSpell, at www.iespell.com, which will quickly spellcheck all the text you've entered in any Web form.

AddaButton, at www.harmonyhollow.net/aab.shtml, which will let you fit more buttons onto the IE toolbar. These buttons can open documents and applications (not just websites) and don't require space-consuming displayed names. Shareware, $11.95


Richard Johnson is a writer and editor and Internet consultant, and founder/administrator of FREE FOR ALL The Skills Pool [http://theskillspool.org], a 29-year-old membership organization.