Eight quick tips for getting the most from IE8

Among those who still haven't upgraded from IE6 or 7? See what you're missing.

Internet Explorer 8, the latest update to Microsoft's venerable Web browser, introduces several features intended to provide greater security and ease of use. New security settings in IE8 allow for more privacy, new add-ons allow quick access to Web-based information and services, and a new browsing mode changes the way you interact with your browser.

Some old features return in new form, too, such as toolbar customization, the ability to view pages the way earlier versions of Internet Explorer saw them, and a set of mysterious boxes that have colonized the bottom of the browser window.

These tips will help you take advantage of the new and enhanced features. And if you're among those who still haven't upgraded from IE6 or 7, take a peek to see what you're missing.

1. Use Accelerators to speed up your work

Accelerators are add-ons for IE8 that let you quickly do a variety of tasks based on text you select on a Web page: get a stock quote, look up the definition of a word or phrase, map a location, convert currencies, share selected text on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, create a shortened URL, search for a product at an online shopping site and much more.

Select any piece of text on a Web page, and the Accelerator button, shown at right, will pop up; click that button to see the Accelerator menu. (You can also access Accelerators on the right-click contextual menu.)

Some Accelerators show their results in a pop-up window, as shown in the image below, while others appear in a new tab.

IE8 comes with several built-in Accelerators, but third-party developers are already starting to produce a wide range of new ones that you can install yourself. Go to Microsoft's Accelerator Gallery to see the available options.

2. Bookmark only the info you need with Web Slices

Another add-on that's new in IE8 is the Web Slice. Web Slices allow you to subscribe to a frequently updated part of a Web page, such as sports scores, headlines or current weather -- if the site's developers have designated that part of the page as a Web Slice. (Most Web sites are not Web Slice-enabled at this time.)

When a page you're viewing contains a Web Slice, a green icon appears on the toolbar next to the Home icon, as shown to the right. The same icon appears next to the Slice-ready content on a Web page when you mouse over it. Click the icon in either location to see a dialog box asking if you want to add the content to your Favorites bar.

Adding a Web Slice places a button on your Favorites bar that opens a small drop-down box with the updated information from the original page, so you can check the weather, traffic or anything else without interfering with whatever else you're doing in your browser.

A selection of Web Slices can be found in Microsoft's Add-On Gallery, but Web Slices are easy to create -- watch for the green Web Slice icon to start popping up all over the Web.

3. Cover your tracks with InPrivate Browsing

In addition to the usual cookies and Web history, IE8 saves form data and passwords, search terms in the search box, and URLs in the address bar -- all in the name of making things easier for you. But easier for you means easier for everyone else, too -- a nosy boss, a prying parent or spouse, or anyone else you might not want to see what you do on the Web.

With InPrivate Browsing, you can browse without leaving a trace. Activate it by selecting InPrivate Browsing from the Safety menu. A new IE8 window will open with a blue InPrivate indicator to the left of the address bar. Nothing you view in that window will be accessible after you close it: no Web history, no saved cookies, no cached Internet files, no saved searches or URLs, no saved form data or passwords -- nothing.

4. Navigate pages without a mouse using Caret Browsing

With IE8's Caret Browsing feature, you can browse pages, select text and even use Accelerators and other contextual menu functions without removing your fingers from the keyboard. Enable Caret Browsing by pressing F7.

In Caret Browsing, you use the arrow keys to navigate through the page, letter by letter (right and left arrows) or line by line (up and down arrows). To select text, hold down the Shift key while using the arrows.

With text selected, you can use standard keyboard shortcuts, like Ctrl+C to copy. Press Shift+F10 or hit the Application key (the little-used key to the right of your space bar with a picture of a menu on it, shown at right) to bring up the right-click context menu. Use the arrow keys to navigate the menu and Enter to make a selection.

If Accelerators aren't appearing as options in the context menu, you might have a third-party add-on installed that's interfering. The IE7Pro add-on, for instance, displays a customized context menu that doesn't include Accelerators. Tweaking the add-on's preferences settings -- or, if all else fails, disabling it -- should do the trick.

When you're done with Caret Browsing, hit F7 to toggle it off.

5. Protect your privacy and even block ads with InPrivate Filtering

As you surf the Web, you encounter a fair amount of third-party content (primarily advertising) that doesn't originate from the sites you're visiting -- and often that content is served up by the same sources over and over. As you encounter such content on site after site, a fairly thorough profile of your browsing habits, interests and even purchases can be assembled by advertisers using cookies to track your behavior.

Ad services such as DoubleClick put a cookie on your PC every time they serve an ad, and each subsequent ad (on the same site or on a new one) checks for that cookie. So if you visit 10 sites that all have ads from a single source, the ad service can tell that you visited those 10 sites, how long you stayed there, which ads you ignored, which ones you clicked and so on.

InPrivate Filtering is a new IE8 feature that selectively blocks content such as ads, statistics apps like Google Analytics, and other (mostly ad-related) content that does not originate from the site you're visiting. It doesn't block all such content. Instead, it tracks the sources of third-party content and blocks a source when it crosses a certain threshold (10 viewings by default). The idea is not to block ads, but to block the ability to track individuals across multiple Web sites.

To turn it on, select InPrivate Filtering under the Safety menu. Selecting InPrivate Filtering Settings under the Safety menu shows you how many sites you've visited that show content from a particular ad server. Here, you can set the filter's threshold to anywhere from three to 30 sites, or exclude certain sources (or particular content from a source) from filtering.

Bonus tip: InPrivate Filtering can be hacked to block most ads, not just ones you've seen a certain number of times. As described on Neowin.net, you can download an XML file that lists the Web advertisers blocked by the Adblock Plus add-on for Firefox, then feed that file to InPrivate Filtering to block all those advertisers from IE8.

Once you have the XML file, open the InPrivate Filtering settings and click the "Advanced settings" link at the bottom. In the Manage Add-ons dialog box that pops up, click the Import button, browse to select your new XML file, and click OK. From now on, InPrivate Filtering will block any content from advertisers on the list.

6. View incompatible pages with the Compatibility Viewer

Although Microsoft touts IE8 as its most standards-compliant browser ever, the Web is littered with millions of sites that were written with IE's earlier, sloppier handling of Web standards in mind. If you come across a page that seems a little wonky, try the Compatibility Viewer, Microsoft's concession to its own less-than-wholesome past.

Just click the button to the right of the Address Bar that looks like a torn sheet of paper (shown at right), and your broken page should put itself back together.

7. Decode the Status Bar

The Status Bar -- the strip at the very bottom of your browser window -- contains a wealth of information that is not labeled in any way. There are six tiny blank boxes in the middle-right portion of the Status Bar (just to the left of the larger box with the Internet icon).

Five of these, it turns out, have functions that are accessed sometimes by clicking, sometimes by double-clicking. Here's what each does:

* Box 1: Nothing.

* Box 2: Single-click to turn the Pop-up Blocker on and off, or to modify the Pop-up Blocker's settings.

* Box 3: Double-click to open the Manage Add-ons screen.

* Box 4: This one might have an icon in it. If it does, double-click it to see a Privacy Report that will list cookies that have been blocked. If it's blank, double-clicking does nothing useful.

* Box 5: If you don't have the Privacy Report icon in Box 4, you might have it here. For some users, double-clicking the blank box makes IE look for a security certificate.

* Box 6: Single-click to see a menu, where you can run a safety check on the site you're visiting via Microsoft's SmartScreen Filter service, turn the SmartScreen Filter on or off, or report a site as malicious.

8. Customize the interface

In IE6 and earlier versions of the browser, you could easily tweak the toolbars at the top of the browser window, adding and removing toolbar buttons, increasing/decreasing text size, moving whole toolbars around and so on. Much to the annoyance of power users, most of that customizability was removed in IE7 -- a few small tweaks aside, you were stuck with the default appearance. Happily, Microsoft saw the error of its ways, and in IE8 the toolbars are once again highly customizable.

Right-click any toolbar and in the context menu that pops up, uncheck "Lock the Toolbars" to unlock them, which enables the full customization options. You can make more room for Web content by hiding some of the toolbars -- in the same right-click context menu, uncheck whichever toolbars you want to. Another option is to rearrange the toolbars -- just grab the vertical line to the left of a toolbar, then drag and drop the toolbar wherever you like.

If you select Customize from the right-click menu, a new menu will pop up with options for the way command buttons appear in the toolbars.

The Use Large Icons option toggles the size of the icons, from standard to large and back. Show All Text Labels means that text appears on all the command buttons in the toolbars (some also have graphical icons); Show Selective Text means you'll see icons without text for the more obvious commands, such as Home; and Show Only Icons removes the text labels altogether.

You can also shift the Stop and Refresh buttons to the left of the Address Bar, where they're likely to feel a bit more at home. Select Add or Remove Commands, and you can add or remove functions from the Command Bar (the run of icons that appears to the right of the tabs).

IE8 has been out only a few months, but as the default browser in the forthcoming Windows 7 and a recommended update in other versions of Windows, you can expect to start seeing it more and more. Master the eight features described above, and you'll find yourself ahead of the pack in this new browsing world.

Don't forget these keyboard shortcuts

Getting tired of moving your hands from the keyboard to the mouse and back again for every little task? Learn these keyboard shortcuts to transform your browsing into an exercise in ninja-like efficiency.

Keyboard shortcuts for IE8

Key combination Action

Ctrl+f Open the "Find in page" dialog

Ctrl++ (plus sign) Zoom in

Ctrl+- (minus sign) Zoom out

Ctrl+0 (zero) Return view to 100%

Ctrl+p Print page (check "Selection" to print only selected text)

Alt+Home Go to the home page

Alt+left arrow Back

Alt+right arrow Forward

Alt+d Select the Address Bar

Ctrl+e Select the Search Box

Alt+Enter Open Search Box results in new tab

Ctrl+click Open link in new background tab

Ctrl+Shift+click Open link in new foreground tab

Ctrl+w Close current tab

Ctrl+t Open new tab

Ctrl+n Open current tab in new window

Ctrl+Tab Switch to next tab

Ctrl+Shift+Tab Switch to previous tab

F4 Open list of previously typed URLs in Address Bar

F5 Refresh current tab

F7 Enable/disable Caret Browsing (toggle)

F11 Turn full-screen mode on and off (no toolbars)

Logan Kugler is a frequent Computerworld contributor. His most recent article was 6 timesaving tips for Word 2007.

This story, "Eight quick tips for getting the most from IE8" was originally published by Computerworld.

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