Customising Internet Explorer Part 1

from the July 2003 Newsletter
by Rob Zorn

While Microsoft's Internet Explorer certainly has its detractors, and even though it is just one of many browsers available, recent stats from the Actrix homepage confirm that it is the browser used by more than 95% of Internet surfers both here and around the world. If you use Internet Explorer to browse (and the stats indicate you probably do) then it might be worth my spending a little time pointing out a few of the ways in which Internet Explorer can be customised, or tweaked so that it looks and works just the way you like it.

In this article, we'll work our way through a few of the options that can be found under the file menu. I am using Internet Explorer Version 6 as the basis for this article. If you are using an earlier version (and you shouldn't be if you're concerned about your security) most of what you read here should still be relevant.

The Menu Bar

0307menubar.jpg (2426 bytes)The Menu Bar is the bit at the top of Internet Explorer (hereafter referred to as IE) that looks like this (left). It can't be tuned off so it should always be there and visible. One good thing about Microsoft products is that they just about all have a similar type of Menu Bar, and similar sorts of things can be found under each option in each program, so most of you will already be at least a little bit familiar with some of the stuff that can be found and tweaked.

The File Menu

The File Menu contains options that have mainly to do with dealing with the page itself. You'll find options for printing and saving the page under the File Menu, for example. There is also an option for opening a new window. This really just means opening another instance of IE. Providing you have sufficient memory, IE is quite happy to run multiple copies of itself at the same time. This is handy for looking at several web pages at once without having to leave one in order to access another. To open a new version of IE, click File/Open, or simply type CTRL N.

0307filemenusend.jpg (3024 bytes)One option under the File menu that is less commonly used is the Send feature. If you click File and then Send, another little menu box like the one pictured on the left will pop up. If you click Page by E-mail option, IE will attempt to turn the page into an html-based e-mail that you can send to someone else. It will automatically call up your default e-mail program and create the e-mail so all you need to do is add the e-mail address and click Send.

If you click Link by E-mail IE will generate a fresh e-mail for you that contains a clickable link to the page you're on. You would use this feature if you wanted to e-mail someone else about a page you thought they might like to see. You could add your own details to the e-mail as to why they should visit the page, but this does save you the hassle of having to type pout or copy and paste the link into a fresh e-mail all by yourself.

You would use the Shortcut to Desktop option if you had discovered a web page that you think you might like to return to often. If you click this, a shortcut will automatically be created and placed on your desktop. Next time you go online, just click that shortcut, and IE will automatically load itself and attempt to go the the selected page.

The Edit Menu

Under the Edit Menu, Find (on This Page) is probably the most useful and underused feature. It is handy for finding something specific such as a keyword on a large web page. To use it, make sure you're at the top of the page and click the Find (on This Page) option. You can click the appropriate radio button to make IE search through the words on the page in an upwards or downwards direction. CTRL F is a short cut to this function.

The View Menu

The View Menu has lots of interesting and useful options.

0307viewtoolbars.jpg (4815 bytes)Explorer comes with various toolbars, most of which should be turned on. To bring up the little menu pictured on the left, click View and then Toolbars. Unticking Standard Button will remove all the function icons usually found at the top of IE such as the Back and Forward Arrows, the Refresh icon etc. Unticking Address Bar will remove the white box into which you would normally type an address to go to on the web, so removing this rally not advised. The good thing is you can always put toolbars and buttons back (if they go missing) by replacing the ticks next to those options under View/Toolbars.

The Links Toolbar is not usually on by default in IE,but you can add it by placing a tick next to it here. The Links bar is very hand if you have several web pages that you go to often, but don't want links to them scattered all over your desktop. When turned on, it adds an extra bar oif clickable links to the top of your IE display. Back in June 2001 I wrote an article on how to use the Links bar and add your bookmarks to it. Click here if you'd like to read more.

Lock the Toolbars should probably also be ticked. If you untick this option, IE will allow you to drag your toolbars around and re-arrange them. Do this if you like to fiddle around, but be warned that it can often be difficult to get them back to the way they were. However, if you do rearrange them into places and you're happy with your changes, make sure you tick Lock the Toolbars again to keep them in place.

The Customise feature also presents a couple of interesting options. Clicking this will invoke a box with two windows and a set of Add and Remove buttons. Select function icons you want to add to your toolbar (function icons are your Back and Forward Arrows, Refresh button etc) in the left-hand window and click the Add button. You'll see them appear at the top of your IE display as you do so. Click them in the right-hand window and click the Remove button to get rid of them. You can use the Move Up or Move Down buttons to change the order in which they appear in your IE display.

The Customise Toolbar box also has two fields at the bottom. Use the Text Options variables to include or exclude written labels with the icons. Use the Icon Options variables to select between large or small icon sizes.

Back to the View Menu

0307viewmenu.jpg (9280 bytes)Status Bar: You should usually make sure this one is ticked. It's the grey bar at the bottom that words appear in further explaining options or features you are mousing over on a web page.

Explorer Bar: This feature allows you to turn on and off extra displays at the left-hand side that show your recent surfing history, favourite links etc. personally I can't stand having the big box on the left taking up so much space, but you may find it useful.

Go To: This feature will provide you with a list of all the sites you've been to in that session. Click any one of them to return.

Text Size: This is an excellent feature if you're finicky about how your browser displays text, or if your eyesight isn't what it used to be. Clicking this item will present you with a list of text sizes ranging from Smallest through to largest. Medium is the normal or default setting, but have a play with your options here if you're inclined You could use it on a one time basis if you came across a web site you really wanted to read where the text displayed was particularly small.

Full Screen: Using this feature (or just pressing F11 on your keyboard) will cause your IE display to switch between full screen and normal. This could be useful for viewing a page that contained large graphics.

The Tools Menu

0307toolsmenu.jpg (6044 bytes)The first feature under this menu, Mail and News, exists pretty much as a remnant of the days before Outlook or Outlook express when Microsoft's Internet Mail was used via Internet Explorer. Click it to get a new smaller menu of options. Read Mail will open up your default e-mail program for you. New Message will give you exactly what it says, a blank e-mail to send. The other options there probably go beyond the scope of what we want to achieve here.

Windows Update is a very important feature of IE, especially considering how often security patches need to be added in order to keep it safe from viruses and web attacks. Click here to read an article about the Importance of the Windows Update Page.

More advanced options can be found under the Internet Options feature, but for the sake of brevity we may just have to take these up next time.

The Help Menu

0307helpmenu.jpg (6493 bytes)Under the Help Menu you'll find a handy Contents and Index section. It's like a readily searchable electronic manual covering IE related topics. You can use the keyword feature to type in your topic and see what is available for you from the IE Help database.

Tip of the Day will display a handy little hint for you, a little shortcut or function feature of IE that you may not have known about already. If you turn this function on, IE will serve up one of these little tips for you each time you open it afresh.

About Internet Explorer will provide you with details of which version you are currently running. Different versions have different problems and features, so if you ever need to check what version of this program you are running, here is how. The Help Desk will often want to know. IN Microsoft programs, you can always find version information under the Help menu like this.