Customising Internet Explorer Part 2

from the August 2003 Newsletter
by Rob Zorn

Last month we looked briefly at ways in which Internet Explorer (IE) can be individually customised by tweaking some of the options found under the File menu. This month we'll continue looking at getting the most out of Internet Explorer by examining some of the possibilities under the General tab of your Internet Options feature.

0308custie1.jpg (6122 bytes)You can access your Internet Options by opening Internet Explorer and clicking Tools on the File menu, and then Internet Options. You'll notice this will invoke a large box called Internet Options which contains a series of tabs: General, Security, Privacy, Content, Connections, Programs and Advanced. You can click on each of these tabs to access various functions and features that may be tweaked. For this article, we'll limit ourselves to the General tab. This is because this is the one you'd be most likely to use in order to tweak Internet Explorer a bit, and most of what is here is pretty harmless. We'll leave the other tabs for now because they contain some options that probably shouldn't be played with unless you;re pretty sure of yourself.

Home page

0308custie2.jpg (10803 bytes)The Home page section under the General tab allows you to set what page IE will open to automatically when you start it up.  You can type any Internet address you like in here, but there are easier ways. If you click the Use Current button, the Address field will change to the address for whatever page is currently open. So, if you're on a page that you like and want IE to go to that page each time you open it afresh, just get you Internet Options box up and click this button.

If you click the Use Default button, the Address field will change to Microsoft's default home page for New Zealand. which is actually Xtra's home page (who?) so we don't recommend that as an option. If you click the Use Blank button, the Address field will change to contain the words about:blank. The next time you open IE, no page will be loaded automatically. Instead a fresh, blank page will come up waiting for you to type in an address.

If you make changes to the Home page Address field, remember to click the Apply button at the bottom of the Internet Options box. This will save your changes. Click OK to close the box. If you want to back out of your changes, click the Cancel button.

Temporary Internet files

0308custie3.jpg (9713 bytes)The next section under the General tab will allow you to alter what IE has saved in terms of History. IE has its own cache, which is a directory full of the content you have recently visited on the Internet. IE also saves all the cookies you have gathered as you have surfed. (If you'd like to find out more about cookies, click here for a plain English article from the May 2000 Actrix Newsletter. Use the Delete Cookies button to delete all the cookies that IE has saved recently. There is no harm in doing this. Some people, especially those who feel that cookies are an intrusion upon their privacy like to do it just before they shut down each time they use IE. If you're not sure, have a read of the article mentioned and decide for yourself.

Clicking the Delete Files button will delete all the Internet files IE has saved from your recent browsing. Remember, it's not really accurate to state that you visit web sites. In reality, the sites are downloaded to your computer, so technically, they visit you! IE saves the images and text in your Temporary Internet files folder and keeps them there for some time. Again, there is no real harm is deleting them. It's a good thing to do if you want to free up some space on your hard drive, but with the size of most modern hard drives these days, freeing up space is not really an issue. Another reason why you might want to delete these files is to protect your privacy. If you don't want other users of your computer to see where you have been, you should delete your Temporary Internet files. By the same token, if you want to check where IE has been lately (e.g. you want to see where your kids have been surfing recently) then you will be interested in the Settings button.

The Settings Button

Clicking the Settings button will take you through to three different options:
Move Folder: This allows you to move the location of the folder in which your temporary Internet files are stored. There is no need make any changes to this at all and this option is of little use to the average surfer.
View Files: This is a very useful and powerful feature. It allows you to see the names of various files and images that your computer has visited/downloaded recently. You will notice that the information under this section is displayed in columns that tell you the name and type of file, as well as the Internet address of the file. This makes it pretty easy to tell what sites your version of IE has been visiting lately. You can doubleclick the name of the file in order to have it open up for viewing.
View Objects: This button allows you to see what are generally called "classes." It's a bit beyond the scope of this article, but this is where IE stores information about other programs it may use to display web page content. Shockwave would be one example. Have a loo here by all means, but you are probably best advised to leave the content here alone.
Amount of disk space to use: The last feature under Settings that I'd like to elaborate on is the slider bar you can use to set how much space you'd like IE to use for storing historical content. One Megabyte is usually the minimum you can set this at. The smaller you set this limit, the quicker IE will start to overwrite previous information stored. Of course, if you're concerned about others viewing your IE history, you should set this as low as possible. If you are wanting to check on someone else's history, you should set this a little higher. Keep in mind, though, that the higher you set this, the more of your hard drive space you are using up.


0308custie4.jpg (9753 bytes)As indicated, IE keeps a record of all the pages you have visited for the period of time you specify. This section allows you to specify how many days you want that history kept for. Again, if you want to protect your privacy, set the limit low. If you want to checkup more extensively, set it higher. You can clear your history by clicking the Clear History button. This will permanently delete IE's record of sites you have visited.

You can easily view your IE's history by clicking the little picture that looks like a sundial near the top of your IE display. This will provide you with a list of sites visited recently, organised by day. Simply click the links provided in order to revisit those pages.

Colours and Fonts

0308custie5.jpg (2282 bytes)There are a few more buttons or functions available under the General tab of the Internet Options box, but we're probably best off limiting ourselves to Colors and Fonts at this point. Clicking the Colors... or Fonts... buttons will allow you to set how IE displays colours for hyperlinks or fonts for the text on web pages where they haven't been specifically set a certain way in the original code. I can explain this a little more as follows.

When someone is creating a web page, they can choose to specify the font (e.g. Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana etc), the colour and size of the font, and/or the colour that links to other pages are displayed in. Most web designers do this because they have a certain "look" in mind that they want you to see when you visit. Sometimes, though, the designer is not interested in "fixing" these things and makes no specifications in his or her original code. By default, IE will usually display unspecified fonts in Times New Roman. Links will be underlined in blue, and visited links are displayed in a sort of purple. You can also set the hover colour for links. This refers to the color the links will change to when you hover your mouse over them. These buttons will allow you to override those default settings to whatever you want them to be. Remember, though, that this will only affect the display of pages that don't have font attributes assigned by the original designer.

Lastly, under the Colors... section, you'll see a tickbox allowing you to choose or unchoose "Use Windows colors." Ticking this box means that your IE will use the Windows colour scheme for background and text when those attributes haven't been specified in the original code. Usually this means that backgrounds will be rendered in white and text in black. If you untick this box, unspecified backgrounds will be rendered in grey.