Friday, June 09, 2006

Internet Explorer 6 Still A Good Web Browser

More than once, I’ve come across an article advising Internet users to stop using Internet Explorer (IE) and switch to an alternative web browser, such as Firefox, Safari, Opera or Maxthon. Oftentimes, they refer to the lack of features and security issues as reasons to switch over to an alternative browser. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I am a huge Firefox fan but I think IE still has a lot to offer. With the help of some tweaks to IE settings and installation of some Browser Help Objects (BHO’s), IE can be a solid web browser.

Let’s look at how we can address the lack of features problem. Oftentimes, critics of IE 6 complain that there is lack of: tab browsing, a RSS aggregator and a built in search bar. To address these concerns, I highly recommend the Windows Live toolbar, currently in public beta testing. The toolbar allows users to pick and choose which components to add. The available components include: tab browsing, rss detector, form filler, anti-phishing and the Onfolio plugin. The tab feature is rudimentary but functional. Users can create new tabs, close a tab or close all tabs, open a link in a new tab and open the homepage in a new tab. However, it doesn’t allow you to rearrange open tabs like you can in Firefox and Opera. In addition, you can’t undo closed tabs like Opera.

The toolbar’s RSS component detects if the current webpage offers a RSS feed. When ever there is a feed available, the detector’s icon lights up. With a simple single click, you can add the feed to your personalized Live homepage. But, if your browser homepage is not Live.com then this won’t work. However, you can still use the Onfolio plugin. Microsoft recently acquired Onfolio. Onfolio is an incredible research tool for gathering information from the Internet. Onfolio can capture portions of a webpage or the entire webpage and save it on to your hard drive (HD) for offline viewing. You can create folders and subfolders to organize your data. Onfolio is also a powerful RSS aggregator. In my opinion, Onfolio’s RSS component rivals that of Firefox’s live bookmarks and Opera’s RSS feed feature. Onfolio can search for available RSS feeds. Onfolio is a true RSS aggregator; it takes multiple feeds and combines them into a single feed. It allows you to add items into a “reading list,” so you can read articles at a later time

Users can also install the form filler component of the Live toolbar. The form filler can store multiple addresses, website user’s ID and passwords, and/or credit card information. It is a nice extra to have for convenience. You can also set a master password to secure all the other passwords. This is a nice touch for those who use a shared computer.

Windows Live toolbar comes with an anti-phishing feature. Unfortunately, these days most malware are crimeware, where the goal is to trick people in to divulging their private data. There is a long list of frauds and scams which use malicious websites disguised as genuine websites. The anti-phishing feature works in the background and alerts users to phishing sites. The tool is updated frequently.

There are many ways to optimize Internet Explorer security settings. To access IE’s security settings go to Tools > Internet Options > Security. Below are settings for Internet Explorer which will improve IE’s security.


  • Internet Security Zone set:

    • Download signed ActiveX controls: Prompt

    • Run ActiveX controls and plug-ins: Enable

    • Script ActiveX controls marked safe for scripting: Enable

    • Script ActiveX controls marked unsafe for scripting: Disable

    • Active scripting: Prompt

    • Allow paste operations via script: Disable

    • Scripting of Java applets: Disable


  • Trust Sites Security Zone set:

    • Download signed ActiveX controls: Enable

    • Run ActiveX Controls marked safe for scripting: Enable

    • Script ActiveX controls marked safe for scripting: Enable

    • Script ActiveX controls marked unsafe for scripting: Disable

    • Active scripting: Enable

    • Allow paste operations via script: Disable

    • Scripting of Java applets: Enable


Another free tool is Javacoolsoftware’s Spyware Blaster. This is a BHO for IE which works in the background to secure the browser. SpywareBlaster is not your typical antispyware program. Unlike antispyware scanners, SpywareBlaster does not remove spyware and adware; instead, it prevents the installation of spyware in the first place. SpywareBlaster (SB) supports Internet Explorer (IE), Netscape, Mozilla and Firefox. SB changes settings on these web browsers to prevent installation of known malware. For instance, SB adds thousands of websites to IE’s Restricted Sites; remember ActiveX controls are turned off for all restricted sites.

There are more features in this relatively small but powerful antispyware program. SB gives users the option of blocking tracking cookies, Flash ads, prevents changing of the homepage, backup and restores the Hosts file. There is an option of taking a snapshot of your computer when it is healthy so, when your computer is infected, you can restore settings from the snapshot. Javacool doesn’t mention what settings are stored in the snapshot.

There are two versions of SB a free version and a for pay version. The only difference between these two versions is that the pay version allows the user to automatic update SB’s definitions, while, in the free version, users must manually update.


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