Personalize Your Browser

Sandi HardmeierSandi Hardmeier

Each of us is an individual. We all have our own way of doing things. Some of us have broadband, some of us have dial-up, some of us pay for every minute that we are connected, some of us pay ‘per connection' fees, some of us pay according to how much we download. Some of us like lots of buttons, some of us use the keyboard. Some of us prefer no bells and whistles, some of us love that little dog and his friends.

Thankfully, Internet Explorer is highly customizable. The aim of this article is to explain, in detail, some of the ways that Internet Explorer can be tweaked to suit our personality, and style of Web surfing. It will also explain a couple of the more obscure, but important, changes that can be made to Internet Explorer settings.

Changing your home page

It is quite common for computer manufacturers to pre-set Internet Explorer's home page, and for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to change their customers' pre-existing home page settings via Internet access setup CDs or starter kits. While it can be very convenient to take advantage of a computer manufacturer or ISP's preferred settings, especially when it gives us instant access to important or useful information, there is no reason why we should not change Internet Explorer's home page to our favorite Internet site, or even set Internet Explorer to open to a blank screen when first started.


Tip:  Before changing anything, you may wish to add your current home page to your favorites.

Our home page settings (and virtually all other Internet Explorer settings) are controlled via "Internet Options" on the Tools menu.

Set your home page to whatever you wish
Set your home page to whatever you wish

To change your home page, simply navigate to the Web page that you wish to use as your home page and then click the Use Current button.

The Use Blank button will set your home page to about:blank. The advantage of about:blank is that Internet Explorer will open quickly, and will not try to connect to the internet, even if your current connection setting is "always dial my default connection."

The Use Default button will set the Internet Explorer home page to a pre-defined, language sensitive, URL as chosen by Microsoft. Language sensitive means that if, for example, the language of first preference as listed at "Language Preferences" (accessible via Tools, Internet Options, General Tab, Languages Button) is "English (Australia) [en-au]", the default home page will be If, on the other hand, "English (United States) [en-usa]" is at the top of the list, the default home page will be If English (United Kingdom) is number one, the default URL will be

Sometimes the Use Current, Use Default, and Use Blank buttons may be grayed out. Such a restriction may have been implemented by, for example, your computer's manufacturer or your ISP's software, but the restriction may also have been caused by a virus or malware.

Search engine shenanigans

Internet Explorer has a built-in search facility, accessible via the Search button on the Standard Buttons toolbar. Internet Explorer also has the ability to perform Web searches simply by typing words into the Address Bar (called Autosearch).

By clicking on the Customize button in the search pane we can access a Customize Search Settings window. This window allows us to choose between the different types of search facility available in Internet Explorer, set our default search engines, and control Autosearch behavior.

Autosearch controls address bar searches (the ability to trigger a search engine query simply by entering a word into the address bar and pressing the enter key). The autosearch settings are accessed via the "Autosearch settings" button. The default search engine option is generally MSN but clicking on the "Autosearch settings" button we can choose from a variety of search engines for address bar searches.

Search pane

Depending on what version of Windows we are using, the Customize button within the Search Pane will allow us to choose between a Search Assistant, a single search engine, or the Search Companion (XP only).

The easiest and most powerful search option to use is the Search Assistant, which allows you to search not only for Web pages, but also for a person's address, businesses, maps, words and pictures, all from within the same screen.

The Search Assistant pane
The Search Assistant pane

The Search Companion
The Search Companion

As you can see from the above pictures, the ‘customize' option we discussed above is not available if your preferred choice is Search Companion. To disable Search Companion, and enable the Search Assistant, you will need to click on the "Change Preferences" option and then select "Change Internet search behaviour". Click on "With Classic Internet Search". The changes will not take effect until you restart Internet Explorer.


Tip:  If some search engine options are missing from your Search Assistant pane, use the Language Preferences window to set "English (United States) [en-us]" as your first language of preference. The Language Preferences window can be accessed via Tools, Internet Options, General Tab, Languages Button.

Autosearch (also known as "Search from the Address Bar")

Autosearch settings can be adjusted in two ways; via the Customize Button in the Search Pane, or via Internet Explorer's Advanced settings pane. That being said, the Customize button in the Search Pane is the best route to choose when customizing your search engine settings because it is the only place where you are able to change your choice of search engine provider.

We have four Autosearch options to choose from:

Display results, and go to the most likely site;

Do not search from the Address Bar;

Just display the results in the main window;

Just go to the most likely site.

The safest option, in this brave new world of pop-up windows and browser hijackings, is option number three. Option number three allows you to review search results before going to any of the recommended Web sites.


Tip:  MSN Search has an optional Search Preview feature that allows you to see a thumbnail screen shot of recommended pages.

Toolbar tweaks

Internet Explorer's toolbars are very configurable. Entire toolbars can be moved and resized, toolbar buttons can be moved, removed and resized, and button descriptions can be turned on or off.

Before moving or resizing Internet Explorer toolbars, we first need to right-click a toolbar and make sure that the option Lock Toolbars is turned off (older browsers will not have a lock toolbar ability).

Internet Explorer toolbars have drag handles. Depending on what version of Windows you are using, the drag handles will either be a subtle vertical line of dots, or a raised vertical bar. Rest your cursor over a drag handle (it will change into a horizontal cursor with an arrow head at either end), then, hold down the left mouse button and simply drag each toolbar to where you want it to be. The same drag handles are used to resize a toolbar.

Ready to drag
Ready to drag

Ready to drag
Ready to drag


Tip:  The first thing I always do is move my Address Bar to the right of the menu toolbar and resize it so that it sits snugly against the Help menu to maximize available screen real estate. I also turn off the Go Button (simply press the "Enter" key on your keyboard instead).

Sandis setup
Sandi's setup

Context menu tricks

A context menu appears when we right-click on any toolbar, the Go Button or the Address Bar, in Internet Explorer. The options that appear on right-click differ depending upon which toolbar you right-click on. The options that appear when we click on the various toolbars and buttons are:

Address Bar and Go Button – Standard Buttons, Address Bar, Links, Lock Toolbars (if available) and Go Button.

Menu Bar and Links Bar – Standard Buttons, Address Bar, Links, and Lock Toolbars.

Standard Buttons Bar –Standard Buttons, Address Bar, Links, Lock Toolbars, and Customize…

The Standard Buttons bar, the Address Bar, the Links Bar, the Go Button, and the Lock Toolbars feature (where available) can be turned on, or off, by ticking or unticking the matching context menu option.

Once you have found and selected the Customize option, a new window will open. This window allows you to adjust the appearance of the Standard Buttons Bar. Buttons can be added and removed simply by using the Add and Remove buttons. The order in which buttons appear can be changed by using the Move Up and Move Down buttons. The Reset button sets the Standard Buttons toolbar to the factory default settings.

The Customize Toolbar Window
The Customize Toolbar Window

The appearance of toolbar buttons can be adjusted via Icon options and Text options. By setting icon size to small and turning off button labels we can maximize screen real estate.

We have three options to choose from for button labels; show text labels, selective text on right, and no text labels. New users will prefer to show text labels until they are familiar with all the buttons and what they do. Experienced users may prefer no text labels. Selective text on right is a nice middle-of-the-road option. This setting places labels to the right of only the Search, Favorite and Media icons.

Full screen mode

The best way to quickly maximize screen space without adjusting toolbars is to use Internet Explorer's full screen mode. Full screen is turned on and off by pressing the F11 button on your keyboard. Full screen mode turns off the Status Bar, the Title Bar, and the Windows Task Bar, and compresses all remaining toolbars into one slim row.

An example of a full screen toolbar
An example of a full screen toolbar

The context menu that we discussed earlier is different in full screen mode. The options that appear when we click on various bars are:

Menu Bar and Links Bar – Menu Bar, Address Bar, Links and Auto-Hide.

Standard Buttons Bar – Menu Bar, Address Bar, Links, Auto-Hide, and Customize…

Address Bar – Menu Bar, Address Bar, Links, Auto-Hide, and Go Button.

Auto-Hide is unique to Full Screen Mode. When turned on, the toolbar at top of screen will slide out of sight until the mouse cursor is moved to the top edge of screen, which will force the toolbar to slide into view once more. Move the mouse cursor away from the top edge and the toolbar will slide out of view again.

Further exploration

Internet Explorer includes a comprehensive Help facility, accessed via the Help Menu (Contents and Index) and a "Tip of the Day" feature. I recommend that new users turn on the "Tip of the Day" – it is an easy way to learn all the little tricks of the trade that the more experienced take for granted. Seasoned users will find Internet Explorer's built-in Help quite useful.