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8 top tips for IE 7

Must-try tips, tricks and hacks for getting the most out of Microsoft's latest browser

Don't like the way Internet Explorer 7 looks or works? Then change it. There are plenty of ways you can hack it, tweak it or just make it simpler to use. In this article, you'll find out how to speed up IE's display of Web sites, build your own Search Bar engine, get control over how IE prints Web pages, navigate with several essential keyboard shortcuts and more. These tips work in both Windows XP and Windows Vista. Some of the tips are quite simple to perform, while others are more advanced. Some even require Registry hacks.

1. Add your own search engine to IE

IE 7 comes with a variety of built-in search providers you can choose from the Search Bar in the browser's upper right-hand corner. It's easy to add more by clicking the down arrow on the far right of the bar, choosing Find More Providers and then adding them from the page that appears. But you're not stuck with the list of search providers (also called engines) that Microsoft supplies. You can build your own search engine and use it in IE's Search Bar to search through any site, no matter where you are on the Internet.

Note that this site doesn't have to be a search engine per se; any Web site that has search functionality will do. If you frequently look up items on sports, shopping or travel sites, for instance, you can create a search engine for that site and add it to the options in IE 7's Search Bar.

First, click the down arrow on the far right of the Search Bar, and choose Find More Providers. On the right-hand side of the page that appears, you'll see a Create Your Own section, as shown below.

In another tab, open up the site for which you want to create a search engine to use inside IE. In our example, we'll use www.computerworld.com.

In the site's search box, type in the word TEST, making sure to use all capital letters. After you do the search, copy the resulting URL from the Address Bar and paste it into the first field in the Create Your Own box on the page you've opened in your first tab.

In our example, the URL is:

http://www.computerworld.com/action/google
Search.do?cx=01483944045641886 424%3A-khvkt1
lc-e&q=TEST&cof=FORID%3A9#1150

Then, in the next field in the Create Your Own section, type in a name for your search engine. In our example, we'll call it Computerworld.

Click the Install button to install the new search provider into IE. You'll get a prompt asking you to confirm that you want to add it. Click Add Provider.

Note that the prompt gives the correct name of the site you're going to add, but next to From: it says www.microsoft.com instead of the site you chose. However, www.microsoft.com won't appear in the search engine you add.

Your new provider will now be available for you. Click the down arrow to the right of the Search Bar, and it will appear in the list of options, as you can see to the right. Use it as you would any other search engine.

2. Speed up IE's Web page loading

By default, IE allows only two simultaneous download sessions from a single Web server. This can affect the speed of your Web browsing, because you're not able to simultaneously download all the objects that make up a Web page, so the page displays more slowly. If you could force IE to download more objects at once, Web pages would display more quickly.

A tweak to the Windows Registry does the trick. With this tweak, you can force IE to use more than two simultaneous sessions. A good number is 10.

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Here's how to do it:

  1. Run the Registry Editor by typing regedit at a command line or in the Windows Vista Start Search box.
  2. Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft
    \Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings.
  3. Choose Edit --> New --> DWORD Value.
  4. Create a new DWORD value called MaxConnectionsPer1_0Server, and give it a value of 10.
  5. Choose Edit --> New --> DWORD Value, create another DWORD value called MaxConnectionsPerServer, and give it a value of 10. (Note: If you want to experiment with fewer or more than 10 simultaneous connections, change the value in both DWORD values accordingly.)
  6. Exit the Registry and close IE. When you restart IE, the new value will be in effect and your Web browsing should speed up.

3. Get multiple tabs under control

Anyone who's tried tabbed browsing knows it's vastly superior to the old way of browsing, with a separate window for each Web site you're looking at. But once you get going, it's easy to get lost in a sea of tabs. IE 7 includes a couple of shortcuts to help you find the right tab easily. To see a grid of thumbnails of all your open tabs, click the Quick Tabs button that appears to the left of the tabs. Or to see a drop-down list of all the open tabs, click the Tab List button (it looks like a down arrow) immediately to the right of the Quick Tabs button.

Want to close all the tabs you have open except the one you're currently on? It's simple. Just right-click the tab you want to keep open and choose Close Other Tabs from the pop-up menu.

Finally, what about that annoying "Do you want to close all tabs?" warning that pops up whenever you try to shut down IE with multiple tabs open? It's easy to make that warning vanish forever. Next time you see it pop up, click Show Options, check the box marked Do not show me this dialog again and click the Close Tabs button. Or to take care of this now without waiting until the next time you exit IE with multiple tabs open, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Tools button and select Internet Options.
  2. From the dialog box that appears, click the General tab and then click Settings in the Tabs section.
  3. From the screen that appears (shown to the right), uncheck the box next to Warn me when closing multiple tabs.
  4. Click OK and OK again. The warning will no longer appear.

4. Tweak your way to better printing with IE

IE 7 gives you a great deal of control over how your Web pages print, including whether to print a header or footer, what to put in the header and footer, whether to print thumbnails of Web pages and more.

Changing printing options is simple. Click the down arrow next to the printer icon at the top of IE and choose Print Preview. A screen like the one shown in the illustrations appears.Icons across the top of the page control how the page will print. They're straightforward and self-explanatory, and include options such as printing in landscape or portrait mode, shrinking the printout so it fits nicely on the sheet of paper, and controlling whether headers and footers appear on the printout.

For example, to turn headers and footers on and off, click the fifth icon from the left, or press Alt-E. The preview display will change to reflect whether the headers and footers will print. Click the printer icon on the page when you've got the page set up however you want.

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If you'd like, you can tweak what actually appears on the headers and footers when they print. On the Print Preview screen, click the Page Setup icon (it looks like a gear). The Page Setup dialog box appears.

The Header and Footer input boxes tell IE what to print in the header and footer. By default, this is what is in the Header box:

&w&bPage &p of &P

This tells IE to print the window title (&w); print the word "Page" and align it and the rest of the text to the right (&bPage); leave a space and print the page number (&p); and leave another space and print the total number of pages (&P).

This is what's in the Footer box:

&u&b&d

This tells IE to print the URL (&u), and print the date in short-date format (&b&d).

For example, if you were visiting the New England Patriots home page (www.patriots.com) on Nov. 20, 2007, the window title was "Official Web site of the New England Patriots," and the Web page was two printed pages long, the header would print out like this:

Official Web site of the New England Patriots Page 1 of 2

The footer would print out like this:

http://www.patriots.com 11/20/2007

By changing the text and code in the Header and Footer input boxes on the Page Setup dialog box, you can change what prints out in the header and footer.

The codes you can use, and what they'll print, are shown below.

You can combine these codes with any text that you enter. So let's say you entered this into the Header box on the Page Setup dialog box:

I visited the &w on &D

If you went to the Patriots' home page on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007, and printed it out, this would be the header:

I visited the Official Web site of the New England Patriots on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007

Let's say you entered this into the Footer box:

I printed Page &p at &T

It would print this:

I printed Page 1 at 17:26:43 PM

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Header and Footer printer codes

Variable: &w What it prints: Window title
Variable: &u What it prints: URL of the current page
Variable: &d What it prints: Date in short format (4/16/2007)
Variable: &D What it prints: Date in long format, including the day of the week (Monday, April 16, 2007)
Variable: &t What it prints: Time in 12-hour clock format (5:26:43 PM)
Variable: &T What it prints: Time in 24-hour clock format (17:26:43 PM)
Variable: &p What it prints: Current page number
Variable: &P What it prints: Total number of pages
Variable: &b What it prints: Right aligns the following text
Variable: &b &b What it prints: Centers the text between &b and &b
Variable: && What it prints: An ampersand (&)

5. Change the IE window title

Take a look in the upper left-hand corner of the IE title bar. What do you see? Most likely the name of the site you're visiting, followed by "Windows Internet Explorer," or possibly "Internet Explorer brought to you by" followed by the name of your hardware manufacturer. Maybe you don't want to see that hardware manufacturer name there, or perhaps you want to put your own branding on the title -- your own name or the name of your company.

It's easy to do, using the Registry Editor. Here's how:

  1. Run the Registry Editor by typing regedit at a command line or the Windows Vista Start Search box.
  2. Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main.
  3. Look for the String value named Window Title. If one doesn't exist, create it by choosing Edit --> New --> String Value and naming it Window Title.
  4. Double-click the Window Title value, and in the Value Data field, type in the text that you want to appear in IE's title bar. Click OK.
  5. Exit the Registry and close IE. When you restart IE, the new title will appear.

6. Get around IE fast with keyboard shortcuts

Mousing and clicking in IE can slow you down. A much better bet is to use keyboard shortcuts. The following lists some of the most useful ones.

General and navigation shortcuts

Keyboard shortcut: F11 What it does: Toggle full-screen mode
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-F What it does: Find a word or phrase
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-N What it does: Open the current Web page in a new window
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-P What it does: Print the current page
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-+ (Ctrl and the plus sign) What it does: Zoom In
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-- (Ctrl and a hyphen) What it does: Zoom Out
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-0 What it does: Return to 100% view
Keyboard shortcut: Alt-Home What it does: Go to your home page
Keyboard shortcut: Alt-Left Arrow What it does: Go backward one page
Keyboard shortcut: Alt-Right Arrow What it does: Go forward one page
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-R or F5 What it does: Refresh the current page
Keyboard shortcut: Esc What it does: Stop downloading the current page

Tab shortcuts

Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-T What it does: Open a new tab
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-click What it does: Open a link in a new tab in the background
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-Shift-click What it does: Open a link in a new tab in the foreground
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-W or Ctrl-F4 What it does: Close a tab (it will close IE if only one tab is open)
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-Q What it does: Open Quick Tab view
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-Shift-Q What it does: Display a drop-down list of all open tabs
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-Tab What it does: Switch to the next tab
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-Shift-Tab What it does: Switch to the previous tab

Address Bar shortcuts

Keyboard shortcut: Alt-D What it does: Jump to the Address Bar and select the URL
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-Enter What it does: Add http://www. to the beginning and .com to the end of text you enter in the Address Bar
Keyboard shortcut: Alt-Enter What it does: Open the selected URL in a new tab
Keyboard shortcut: F4 What it does: Display a drop-down list of addresses you've previously visited

Search Bar shortcuts

Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-E What it does: Go to the Search Bar
Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-Down Arrow (with your cursor already in the Search Bar) What it does: Display a list of all of your search providers
Keyboard shortcut: Type search term, hit Alt-Enter What it does: Open search results in a new tab

For more keyboard shortcuts, head to the IE 7 Quick Reference Sheet from Microsoft.

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7. Put the Menu Bar where it belongs

To many people's chagrin, the Menu Bar apparently vanished in IE 7. To turn it on temporarily, press the Alt key. To turn it on permanently, choose Tools --> Menu Bar. Even when you do that, though, something looks odd. Unlike in earlier versions of IE, the Menu Bar appears underneath the Address Bar, rather than on top of it. With a Registry tweak, though, you can fix that:

  1. Run the Registry Editor by typing regedit at a command line or the Windows Vista Start Search box.
  2. Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Toolbar\WebBrowser.
  3. Choose Edit --> New --> DWORD Value.
  4. Create a new DWORD value called ITBar7Position and give it a value of 1 Exit the Registry, close IE, then restart it. The Menu Bar will now be at the top.

8. Manage your IE add-ons

There are plenty of add-ons (also called browser extensions) that can give IE new features, such as the Google Toolbar or ieSpell spell checker. But they can also cause problems, such as system conflicts, crashes or slowdown.

You can easily manage and troubleshoot them by turning them on or off:

  1. select Tools --> Manage Add-Ons --> Enable or Disable Add-Ons.
  2. You'll come to a screen like the one shown below. Highlight any add-on and select the Disable radio button near the bottom of the screen, and you'll disable it.

If you're running into frequent IE crashes, this is a great way to track down the source of your problem. Selectively turn on and off add-ons until you find the one that's causing your problems.

If you want to run IE with all add-ons disabled temporarily, go to a command line or the Run box (in Windows XP) or the Start Search box (in Windows Vista), and type iexplore.exe -extoff, then press Enter. This disables all your add-ons for the current browsing session only; the next time you run IE they'll be back.

If you prefer to use Mozilla, read: 15 must-have Firefox tricks