From the Actrix Online Informer June 2008

18 great Internet Explorer tips

In past articles we've looked at the way modern browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera) have begun a fierce competition for market share. The result has been that each has copied the best of the others' features to the extent that there is now 'much of a muchness' between them.

A secondary result of the competition is that more and more functions have been added to browsers, or existing features have become more sophisticated and easier to use. Below you'll find 18 tips, or quick ways to do things with Internet Explorer that you may not have realised you could do so easily. Most can also be done in Firefox or in Opera, and usually the methods are very much the same. I have stuck with Internet Explorer for this article, though, because it still retains the greatest number of users around the world.

I am also concentrating on Internet Explorer version 7, which is the latest, and a vast improvement on Internet Explorer 6. I will be referring to two main menus or toolbars. The first is what we'll call the Menu Bar. It is to the top left of Internet Explorer. The other is called the Command Bar and sits to the top right of Internet Explorer. Some features appear on either or both toolbars, and some don't and there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why that is.

Microsoft says it is aware that having two separate toolbars like this is potentially confusing and is working on a possible solution for the next version of Internet Explorer. In the scheme of things, we're probably still very much in 'browser infancy' stages, and I can't wait to see what browsers can do in 10 years time!

Some of the features covered below can be achieved by keyboard strokes or via your mouse and don't use or need either toolbar. Isn't this fun?

1. Adding a favourite site: If you visit a page and you think you might like to come back to it in future, click Favorites/Add to Favorites in the Menu Bar while you're at the page. Click 'Add' to add it to a list at the bottom of the dropdown menu whenever you click Favorites in the future. You can use the 'New folder' button to create new folders if you want. This can help organise your links into subjects when you start to get too many, and you can choose to save links in new folders as you go.

2. Add a toolbar of favourite links: If you have pages you visit often, it can be handy to have links to those pages all sitting on a toolbar along the top of your browser so you can access them in one click. You may first need to turn the Links toolbar on. To turn the Links toolbar on, click View in the Menu Bar, and then Toolbars. Make sure there's a tick next to 'Links'.

To add a site to the Links toolbar, visit the page and click Favorites/Add to Favorites in the Menu Bar. You may need to shorten the name a little in the 'Name' field to stop it taking up too much room on the Links bar, and then select 'Links' in the 'Create in' field before you click the 'Add' button. This will ensure it goes in the Links bar rather than in the list of bookmarks appearing under Favorites.

3. Delete your browsing history: If you don't want your significant other to see what sites you visited while searching for their birthday present, click Tools in the Menu Bar, and then 'Delete browsing history'. This will bring up a box with a number of buttons to click to delete things. The important ones are Temporary Internet Files, Cookies and History. You could also click Delete All, but that will also delete passwords saved in form fields.

4. Find your way back using 'History': You can turn your 'History' panel on and off by typing Ctrl, Shift and H all at the same time. Your History panel shows all the pages you've been on since you last deleted your browsing history. You can go back days, weeks and months! If you want, you can right-click to delete individual entires.

5. New pages in new tabs: Sometimes when you've become interested in something and followed a few links it can be hard to find your way back to the original site you were on. One thing you can do is right-click on a link and left-click on 'Open in new tab'. This will open the link in a new tab, leaving you on your current page. Click the new tab which opened up to the right to see the linked page. You can open as many of these as you like and then go visit them all when you're done with the page you're on. Also, for most mice with wheels the wheel can be pressed like a button and doing this while pointing at a link will open that link in a new tab.

6. Find on this page: This is handy when you're looking for a certain subject on a long web page. Typing Ctrl and F at the same time will open a Find box you can use to locate a certain word on the page. Click the 'Next' button on the 'Find' box if you don't get to the right place the first time.

7. Change text size: You can change the size of text on many of the web pages you visit.  This is helpful if your eyesight isn't what it used to be. Click View on the Menu Bar and then 'Text Size'. Click to put the dot next to any of the options from "smallest" to "largest". If the text size doesn't change for you, it may be that it has been hard coded into the website.

8. Zoom: Another way to make things bigger on your screen, even if text size has been hard-coded is to use the Zoom feature. On the Command Bar, click 'Page', then Zoom. Choose from the variety of zoom settings presented. If you need to change things back to normal, click '100%'. You could also change your view to full screen which gets rid of all the peripheral stuff and just displays the main browser window. You can switch back and firth between full screen and normal using either toolbar but the easiest way is just to use F11 on your keyboard.

9. Print without losing the edges: It's most annoying when you go to print a web page and a portion of the text is missing because it spills over off the page to the right.  Internet Explorer has a handy new feature that allows you to scale the web page so that fits nicely on an A4 page. It also gives you a preview so you can see how it will look before you print (in case the text becomes too small to read as a result of scaling). On the Command Bar, click the down arrow next to the small icon that looks like a printer, and select 'Print Preview'. By default Internet Explorer will shrink the page to fit, but you can experiment with other options using the drop down arrows along the top of the Print Preview Pane. You'll also see two little buttons up there which allow you to switch back and forth between portrait and landscape orientation, which may also help get the perfect printing result.

10. Set your homepage: Your homepage is the website your browser automatically goes to whenever you start your browser. On the Command Bar, you can click the little icon that looks like a house to return to your home page at any time. You can click the down arrow next to the icon to set your home page to something new or add another homepage tab. Internet Explorer now allows you to add as many home page tabs as you like. In future, when you open Internet Explorer it will open all your homepages in separate tabs. You can use Down Arrow/Remove, to remove any homepage tabs you no longer want.

11. Open a new tab: Multiple tabs are great because you can be at lots of pages at once all within the same browser window. To open a new tab, click the little blank tab that appears to the right in the image above. Type in a new address or click a Favorite to go to a new page. In the pictured example three tabs are open: Actrix, Google and Stuff. Switch back and forth easily just by clicking different tabs. If you want to change the order of your tabs simply drag them into the order you want using your mouse.

12. Tab thumbnails: When you have more than one tab open in Internet Explorer, a new feature appears - the small tab with the four squares to the left in the image above. Click that to invoke a set of thumbnails showing all your open tabs, and click any one to go to it. This is handy for when you have lots of tabs open and need an overview of them all at the same time.

13. Saving an image: If you come across an image on the Internet that you want to keep, simply right-click on it and left-click on 'Save image as'. While you're right-clicking images, you'll notice a number of other things you can do with a couple more mouse-clicks: sending it to someone by email (Email Picture), printing it (Print Picture) or even setting it as your desktop wallpaper (Set as background).

14. Recent pages: Most Internet users are probably quite familiar with the Back and Forward buttons to the top left of Internet Explorer. You can use the Back button to get to the last page you were on, and the Forward button to go forward again once you've used the Back button. Not many of us browse in a straight line, however, so clicking the down arrow next to the Back and Forward buttons will display some recent pages you've been to that may no longer be accessible using the Back and Forward buttons. Another way to see recent pages is to click the down arrow next to the address bar at the top of Internet Explorer (the field displaying web addresses).

15. Refresh and Stop: I find it bizarre that the Refresh and Stop buttons are now sitting on their own up to the right of the Address Bar, especially when they could so easily be included on the new Command Bar, but that just seems to be the Microsoft way! Refresh is the icon that has the two arrows arranged a bit like yin and yang. Click Refresh to reload a page if you think it may have changed or if, for some reason, it has stopped loading. Click Stop to tell your browser to stop loading a page if it seems to be getting itself tied up into knots attempting to do so. If you find it hard to locate the Refresh button, clicking F5 is a keyboard shortcut.

16. Ignore cache: Browsers keep a copy of every page they've recently been to in a big pot called a 'cache'. When you go to a page, the browser will quickly check whether the page at the website is newer than the copy it made and kept last time you were at that page. If its own copy is the same, it will save time for you by loading the page out of its cache rather than downloading in anew. However, sometimes browsers get this wrong and serve you up an older page from your cache instead of a newer version of the page from the site. You can force your browser to ignore the cache and re-download a page by holding down the Ctrl key while you click the Refresh button. This is also known as 'pragma no-cache' for those interested in technical terminology.

17. Block pop-ups: Pop-ups are those annoying extra pages that jump out at you uninvited. They often contain advertisements and those awful smiley emoticons. You can set Internet Explorer to disallow pop-ups by clicking Tools on the Menu Bar and then Pop-up blocker. It's important to be able to turn this feature on and off easily because sometimes pop-ups are good, such as when you're doing your online banking and you get better security from things opening in new windows.

18. Search: Internet Explorer 7 comes with a built in Internet search feature that you can set to use any engine you like. It is located at the very top right of the browser and is set to use Live search by default. If you click the down arrow to the right of the search field, you can change the default setting to Google, and we recommend that you do. This will allow you to search Google without having to go to the Google page first. If you're not a Google fan, you can use the down arrow to select other search providers to add.

Internet Explorer 7 is only available for WinXP Service Pack 2 and newer systems (e.g. Vista). For most it should be installed by now as it will have been downloaded using Windows automatic updates system. If none of the above makes sense to you, then the automatic downloads to you are not yet complete (they can take several months over dialup) or you're on an older operating system. You can check your version of Internet Explorer by clicking Help in the Menu Bar, and then 'About Internet Explorer'. 


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