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Supercharge your browser

5 great add-ons for Internet Explorer

By Sandi Hardmeier

I love customizing my stuff. After I bought my new car, I immediately replaced the sound system and seat covers. When I bought my house, I quickly painted new colors on the walls and replaced the curtains and carpets.

Not surprisingly, I've customized my web browser to do exactly what I want it to. How? By searching out and installing add-ons that turn Internet Explorer 7 into my own personal super-browser.

What are Internet Explorer add-ons?

Add-ons are programs that add features to a web browser or change the way it works. If you've ever wished Internet Explorer could do something new or differently, chances are there’s an add-on out there that will fulfill your wish.

I must have tried out hundreds of add-ons over the years. In this column, I'll talk about five add-ons that I use every day. They have all earned a place in my add-on stable because they really have made my online life easier, and I miss their presence when using somebody else’s computer.

Power users love IE7Pro

IE7Pro is a free add-on for Internet Explorer 7 that is indispensable to me in my day-to-day work. It adds a raft of new abilities to the web browser, including advanced management of tabbed browsing settings, a simple download manager, spelling checks of text you enter in web forms, autoscrolling of webpages, quick searching of page text, ad and Flash blocking, custom keyboard shortcuts, and much more.

One of my favorite features of this add-on is its ability to automatically refresh a tab at a specified interval. In my job as an IT coordinator, I use Internet Explorer to monitor several spam filters in my office. Unfortunately, none of the filters automatically refresh the browser to display the latest captured e-mail, so I was forced to manually refresh the webpages every so often. With IE7Pro, all I need to do is right-click the IE7Pro icon Picture of IE7Pro icon in the status bar, click Refresh Current Tab, and then pick my preferred refresh interval. This feature is also quite useful for seeing the latest messages coming into your web-based e-mail inbox and for keeping track of online auctions and message boards.

Picture of IE7Pro menu
IE7Pro adds many new abilities, including automatic refresh of webpages

Do you want to search the Internet for something you're reading about on a particular webpage? Instead of copying and pasting the text into a search box, simply select the word or phrase, right-click it, then click Search With to search for the term using Google, Yahoo!, Live Search, or another search engine of your choice. The results appear in a new tab.

Have you ever closed a tab by mistake? No worries—click Tab History in the IE7Pro menu, and then click Reopen Last Closed Tab. Did Internet Explorer crash? IE7Pro will offer to restore the tabs that were open when the crash occurred.

Road warriors who frequently switch Internet connections will love IE7Pro's proxy switcher. Instead of manually changing the proxy configuration each time you switch connections, you can quickly select previously used proxy servers from a menu.

I really haven't done IE7Pro justice in this column. It offers far more than I have described above. To download it, go to the IE7Pro website.

Simple but effective: Find As You Type

To search for text on a webpage in Internet Explorer, normally you must press CTRL+F, type the search term into the Find window and then click Next. Find As You Type is an add-on that allows you to see all matches to your search term as it is typed. Matches are instantly highlighted on the page. If you type a combination of letters that does not appear on the page, an audio cue sounds and the Find box turns red.

For example, when I type "phish" into the toolbar, as in the screen capture below, all instances of "phish" on the page are immediately highlighted—there is no need to click a button. You can step through each instance of matched text sequentially using the Next and Previous buttons on the toolbar. You can even set up Find As You Type to start searching as soon as you start typing on a webpage—no CTRL+F required.

Picture of Find As You Type search with "phish" highlighted
Seek, and you shall find…

To download Find As You Type, go to the ookii.org website. Note that IE7Pro offers a very similar “instant find” feature. Therefore, if you choose to install IE7Pro, you don't need to install Find As You Type. That being said, if you like the idea of enhanced searching and have no need for everything else IE7Pro offers, then Find As You Type is an excellent choice.

Organize your downloads with LeechGet

An Internet connection can be unreliable, and far too often I have felt the frustration that comes from having a large download interrupted. Restarting the download in Internet Explorer is hit-or-miss; sometimes I lose the partial download, and sometimes I don’t. I wanted a download manager that could take over from Internet Explorer and give me more control over what happens when things go wrong. My personal favorite is a product called LeechGet. It operates as a standalone program that integrates with Internet Explorer by managing downloads you click in the browser.

LeechGet allows you to manage multiple downloads, pause and resume, schedule downloads to occur at a particular time, and split your downloads into smaller "tasks." You can also impose a "speed limit" on downloads that restricts how much bandwidth they can use, thus leaving you some bandwidth to browse the web. The program includes a download history and speed monitor.

LeechGet has two versions: a free version that limits you to one download at a time and does not include updates, and a paid version that removes those restrictions and includes technical support. To download it, go to the LeechGet website.

Picture of LeechGet showing download in progress
LeechGet is a powerful tool that offers precise control over your downloads

Make RSS shine with RikReader

Since the release of Internet Explorer 7 and its integrated RSS feed reader, I've become a very heavy user of RSS, and have subscribed to hundreds of different feeds (For more information about RSS feeds, see The wonderful world of RSS feeds).

As much as I enjoy the convenience of being able to detect, subscribe to, and read RSS feeds from within Internet Explorer, its feed reader has a couple of glaring deficiencies. First, there is no way to mark all feeds as read, which I like to do when I am very busy or behind on my reading. Second, there is no way to view all of my feeds at the same time. So I decided to find a feed reader that would take full advantage of the Windows RSS Platform. RikReader is my feed reader of choice. (Technically, RikReader is a program, rather than an add-on, but it integrates with the feed-subscription capabilities of Internet Explorer.)

RikReader displays the feeds you have subscribed to in Internet Explorer. It offers both a conventional two-pane view, with headlines on one side and article text on the other, and an impressive "newspaper" view that displays the full text of each article or blog post in a multicolumn layout. In either view, the text size can be easily reduced or enlarged via a slider. By typing a term in the search box, you can instantly filter a feed so that only articles containing that term are displayed.

Picture of RikReader
RikReader is powerful, and pretty

If you have many feeds (in the hundreds), RikReader can be a bit slow to start up while it loads all of them. Things may also slow down when loading the newspaper view or when loading a feed with many hundreds of articles. In such circumstances, you can improve RikReader's performance by setting it to display only unread articles.

RikReader is free and can be downloaded at the RikReader website. In lieu of charging a fee, the author promotes his Amazon.com wishlist, which makes for interesting reading.

Me.dium: An interaction revolution

Humans are inherently social creatures, and we love to interact with others online—hence the popularity of instant messaging, social networking sites, and online forums. In the end, though, web surfing has basically remained a solitary experience. We've always known that lots of other people are likely to be looking at the same page as we are, at the same time, but we couldn't see or interact with them—until now.

Me.dium is an add-on that allows you to peek behind the curtain of the web. After you install it, a Me.dium "map" appears in the left pane of the browser. The map displays an icon representing you and the website you are viewing, along with icons of other Me.dium users who are visiting the same site. Users you've added to your Me.dium friends list show up as yellow, and others show up as blue. Surrounding your icon are icons representing related sites that you or other Me.dium users have visited. For example, if you’re at a news site, Me.dium will show you other news sites; if you are at a bank’s website it will suggest other banking and financial sites. You can click an icon to go directly to that site.

Picture of Me.dium map in Internet Explorer
Here I am (in orange) at the Microsoft website, next to other Me.dium users at the site (in blue). The icons around me show related and recently visited sites, along with any Me.dium users at those sites.

It’s great fun to watch all of the activity revealed by Me.dium. Not only can you watch other Me.dium users as you and they move from site to site, you can also start a chat that every Me.dium user at the site can view and participate in. If a Me.dium user is on your friends list, you can begin instant messaging privately. Every message that you send includes a link to the site that you are currently viewing.

Be warned, though: Me.dium can be a real productivity sapper. As you interact with people and websites you might not have encountered otherwise, many hours may pass unnoticed. Also, while logged in to Me.dium, you may want to avoid visiting a site that may cause you embarrassment if revealed to your contacts. You may adore crocheting fluorescent-pink-and-yellow pillowcases, but some of your contacts might find your hobbies highly amusing. Fortunately, it only takes one click to turn off Me.dium, and sharing information with Me.dium is automatically disabled when you enter a secure site or a local intranet site.

To download this add-on, visit the Me.dium website.

Where do we go from here?

And there you have it; I’ve shown you how to add some very useful abilities to Internet Explorer. But the add-ons I've described here are only the tip of the iceberg. To browse hundreds more add-ons that can enhance your browser, visit the official Add-ons for Internet Explorer site.

About the author

Picture of columnist Sandi Hardmeier

Sandi Hardmeier is a Microsoft MVP specializing in Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and Windows Mail. She is the IT coordinator for a mid-sized law firm, as well as the creator of www.ie-vista.com, the first dedicated Internet Explorer 7 support site to go live on the Internet.

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