Windows 7 : Understanding Internet Explorer Advanced Options

10/17/2010 4:39:30 PM

Internet Explorer has a huge list of customization features found in the Advanced tab of the Internet Options dialog box (see Figure 1). Many of these settings are obscure, but many others are extremely useful for surfers of all stripes. This section runs through all of these settings.

Figure 1. In the Internet Options dialog box, the Advanced tab contains a long list of Internet Explorer customization settings.


The advanced options can be set for users via the Group Policy Editor. Run the program and open the User Configuration, Windows Settings, Internet Explorer Maintenance branch. Right-click Internet Explorer Maintenance and then click Preference Mode; click the Advanced branch that is added to the Internet Explorer Maintenance section. Double-click the Internet Settings item to work with the advanced options.

The Accessibility group has six options:

  • Always Expand Alt Text for Images— Most webmasters define a text description for each image they include on a page. If you tell Internet Explorer not to show images (see the later discussion of the Show Pictures check box), all you see are boxes where the images should be, and each box contains the text description (known as alt text, where alt is short for alternate). Activating this check box tells Internet Explorer to expand the image box horizontally so that the alt text appears on a single line.

  • Enable Caret Browsing for New Windows and Tabs— Activate this check box to switch Internet Explorer 8 into caret browsing mode. You normally navigate a web page using the mouse to click links and scroll the screen. The keyboard comes into play occasionally for scrolling (with Page Down and Page Up keys) and rarely for selecting links (with the Tab key). However, many people find the mouse difficult to use and would prefer to navigate a web page the same way they navigate a word processing document: using the left- and right-arrow keys to navigate characters, the up and down arrow keys to navigate lines, and Ctrl+arrow key to navigate words (with the left and right keys) or paragraphs (with the up and down keys), and so on. This is called caret browsing (where caret is a fancy term for a vertical cursor), and it’s a new feature in Internet Explorer 8.


    To activate a link when caret browsing, navigate the cursor inside the link text (Internet Explorer 8 adds a box around the link text), and then press Enter.

  • Move System Caret with Focus/Selection Changes— Activating this check box tells Internet Explorer to move the system caret whenever you change the focus. (The system caret is a visual indication of what part of the screen currently has the focus. If a text box has the focus, the system caret is a blinking, vertical bar; if a check box or option button has the focus, the system caret is a dotted outline of the control name.) This is useful if you have a screen reader or screen magnifier that uses the position of the system caret to determine what part of the screen to read or magnify.

  • Reset Text Size to Medium for New Windows and Tabs— Activating this check box tells Internet Explorer to return the Text Size value to Medium when you open a new window or tab. This is useful if you find that you only have to enlarge the text size for a few sites.

  • Reset Text Size to Medium While Zooming— Activating this check box tells Internet Explorer to return the Text Size value to Medium when you use the Zoom feature (select Page, Zoom). This is helpful because it gives you a more consistent zooming experience—you’re always starting the zoom from the same text size.

  • Reset Zoom Level for New Windows and Tabs— Activating this check box tells Internet Explorer to return the Zoom value to 100% when you open a new window or tab. This is useful if you find that you have to zoom in on only a few sites.

Here are the options in the Browsing group:

  • Automatically Recover from Page Layout Errors with Compatibility View— If you leave this check box activated, Internet Explorer automatically fixes any page layout problems that occur by switching to Compatibility mode.

  • Close Unused Folders in History and Favorites— When you activate this check box, Internet Explorer keeps unused folders closed when you display the History list and the Favorites list. That is, if you open a folder and then open a second folder, Internet Explorer automatically closes the first folder. This makes the History and Favorites lists easier to navigate, so it’s usually best to leave this option activated. You need to restart Internet Explorer if you change this setting.

  • Disable Script Debugging (Internet Explorer)— This check box toggles the script debugger (if one is installed) on and off within Internet Explorer only. You should have to activate this option only if you’re a page designer and you have scripts in your pages that you need to debug before uploading them to the Web.

  • Disable Script Debugging (Other)— This is similar to the Disable Script Debugging (Internet Explorer) option, except that it toggles the script debugger (again, if one is installed) on and off within any application other than Internet Explorer that can display web content (such as Windows Mail).

  • Display a Notification About Every Script Error— If you activate this check box, Internet Explorer displays a dialog box to alert you to JavaScript or VBScript errors on a page. If you leave this option deactivated, Internet Explorer displays an error message in the status bar. To see the full error message, double-click the status bar message. Only script programmers will need to enable this option and, even then, only when they’re debugging scripts. Many websites are poorly programmed and contain script errors. Therefore, enabling this option means that you’ll have to deal with lots of annoying dialog boxes as you surf.

  • Display Accelerator Button on Selection— With this check box is activated, when you select text in a web page, Internet Explorer 8 displays an Accelerator button above the selected text. Click that button to see the installed accelerators (such as Blog with Windows Live and Define with Encarta).

  • Enable Automatic Crash Recovery— When this check box is activated, Internet Explorer 8 attempts to reopen the current tab set if the program crashes. This is welcome behavior, particularly if you regularly have a large bunch of tabs on the go.

  • Enable FTP Folder View (Outside of Internet Explorer)— When you activate this option and you access an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) site, Internet Explorer displays the contents of the site using the familiar Windows folder view. This makes it easy to drag and drop files from the FTP site to your hard disk, and possibly to perform other file maintenance chores, depending on what permissions you have at the site.

  • Enable Page Transitions— This check box toggles Internet Explorer’s support for page transitions on and off—websites that use a server that supports FrontPage extensions can define various page transitions (such as wipes and fades). However, these transitions often slow down your browsing, so I recommend turning them off.

  • Enable Suggested Sites— When you enable this check box, you can click Internet Explorer 8’s Suggested Sites button to see a list of what Internet Explorer 8 thinks are sites that are similar to the current site (and so might interest you).

  • Enable Third-Party Browser Extensions— With this check box activated, Internet Explorer supports third-party extensions to its interface. For example, the Google toolbar is a third-party extension that integrates the Google search engine into Internet Explorer as a toolbar. If you deactivate this check box, third-party extensions don’t appear and can’t display. Deactivating this check box is a good way to turn off some (but, unfortunately, not all) of those annoying third-party toolbars that install themselves without permission. You need to restart Internet Explorer if you change this setting.

  • Enable Visual Styles on Buttons and Controls in Webpages— With this check box activated, Internet Explorer applies the current Windows Vista visual style to all web pages for objects such as form buttons. If you deactivate this check box, Internet Explorer applies its default visual style to all page elements.

  • Enable Websites to Use the Search Pane— When you enable this check box, you allow websites to display content using the old Search pane, which has been disabled since Internet Explorer 7. I have no idea why anyone would want to do this.

  • Force Offscreen Compositing Even Under Terminal Server— If you activate this check box, Internet Explorer performs all compositing—the combining of two or more images—in memory before displaying the result onscreen. This avoids the image flashing that can occur when running Internet Explorer under Terminal Services, but it can reduce performance significantly. I recommend leaving this option unchecked. You have to restart Internet Explorer if you change this setting.

  • Notify When Downloads Complete— If you leave this check box activated, Internet Explorer leaves its download progress dialog box onscreen after the download finishes (see Figure 2). This enables you to click either Open to launch the downloaded file or Open Folder to display the file’s destination folder. If you deactivate this check box, Internet Explorer closes this dialog box as soon as the download is complete.

    Figure 2. When Internet Explorer completes a file download, it leaves this dialog box onscreen to help you deal with the file.


    You can also force Internet Explorer to close the Download Complete dialog box automatically by activating the Close This Dialog Box When Download Completes check box.

  • Reuse Windows for Launching Shortcuts— With this check box enabled and tabbed browsing turned off, Windows looks for an already-open Internet Explorer window when you click a web page shortcut (such as a web address in a Windows Mail email message). If a window is open, the web page loads there. This is a good idea because it prevents Internet Explorer windows from multiplying unnecessarily. If you deactivate this option, Windows always loads the page into a new Internet Explorer window.

  • Show Friendly HTTP Error Messages— With this check box enabled, Internet Explorer intercepts the error messages (for, say, pages not found) generated by web servers and replaces them with its own messages that offer more information as well as possible solutions to the problem. If you deactivate this option, Internet Explorer displays the error message generated by the web server. However, I recommend deactivating this option because webmasters often customize the web server error messages to be more helpful than the generic messages reported by Internet Explorer.

  • Underline Links— Use these options to specify when Internet Explorer should format web page links with an underline. The Hover option means that the underline appears only when you position the mouse pointer over the link. Many websites use colored text, so it’s often difficult to recognize a link without the underlining. Therefore, I recommend that you activate the Always option.

  • Use Inline AutoComplete— This check box toggles the address bar’s inline AutoComplete feature on and off. When Inline AutoComplete is on, Internet Explorer monitors the text that you type in the address bar. If your text matches a previously typed URL, Internet Explorer automatically completes the address by displaying the matching URL in the address bar. It also displays a drop-down list of other matching URLs. When Inline AutoComplete is off, Internet Explorer displays only the drop-down list of matching URLs.


    If you want to prevent Internet Explorer from displaying the drop-down list of matching URLs, display the Content tab and click the Settings button in the AutoComplete group to display the AutoComplete Settings dialog box. Deactivate the Web Addresses check box. Note that Internet Explorer’s AutoComplete feature also applies to web forms. That is, AutoComplete can remember data that you type into a form—including usernames and passwords—and automatically enter that data when you use the form again. You can control the web form portion of AutoComplete by using the other check boxes in the Use AutoComplete For section of the AutoComplete Settings dialog box.

  • Use Most Recent Order When Switching Tags with Ctrl+Tab— If you activate this check box, press Ctrl+Tab (and Ctrl+Shift+Tab) switches between tabs in the order you most recently viewed them.

  • Use Passive FTP (for Firewall and DSL Modem Compatibility)— In a normal FTP session, Internet Explorer opens a connection to the FTP server (for commands), and then the FTP server opens a second connection back to the browser (for data). If you’re on a network with a firewall, however, it will not allow incoming connections from a server. With passive FTP, the browser establishes the second (data) connection itself. Therefore, if you’re on a firewalled network or are using a DSL modem and you can’t establish an FTP connection, activate this check box.

  • Use Smooth Scrolling— This check box toggles a feature called smooth scrolling on and off. When you activate this check box to enable smooth scrolling, pressing the Page Down or Page Up key causes the page to scroll down or up at a preset speed. If you deactivate this check box, pressing the Page Down or Page Up key causes the page to jump instantly down or up.


    When reading a web page, you can scroll down one screen by pressing the spacebar. To scroll up one screen, press Shift+spacebar.

The check boxes in the HTTP 1.1 Settings branch determine whether Internet Explorer uses the HTTP 1.1 protocol:

  • Use HTTP 1.1— This check box toggles Internet Explorer’s use of HTTP 1.1 to communicate with web servers. (HTTP 1.1 is the standard protocol used on the Web today.) You should deactivate this check box only if you’re having trouble connecting to a website. This tells Internet Explorer to use HTTP 1.0, which might solve the problem.

  • Use HTTP 1.1 Through Proxy Connections— This check box toggles on and off the use of HTTP 1.1 only when connecting through a proxy server.

The options in the International group relate to security.

The options in the Multimedia branch toggle various multimedia effects on and off:

  • Always Use ClearType for HTML— When this check box is activated, Internet Explorer displays HTML text using ClearType, which gives text a sharper look on LCD monitors. If you don’t have an LCD monitor, you might not like how ClearType renders text, so you should deactivate this check box. You need to restart Internet Explorer if you change this setting.

  • Enable Automatic Image Resizing— If you activate this check box, Internet Explorer automatically shrinks large images so that they fit inside the browser window. This is useful if you’re running Windows Vista with a small monitor or at a relatively low resolution and you’re finding that many website images don’t fit entirely into the browser window.

  • Play Animations in Webpages— This check box toggles animated GIF images on and off. Most animated GIFs are unwelcome annoyances, so you’ll probably greatly improve your surfing experience by clearing this check box. If you turn this option off and you want to view an animation, right-click the box and then click Show Picture.

  • Play Sounds in Webpages— This check box toggles web page sound effects on and off. Because the vast majority of web page sounds are extremely bad MIDI renditions of popular tunes, turning off sounds will save your ears.

  • Show Image Download Placeholders— If you activate this check box, Internet Explorer displays a box that is the same size and shape as the image it is downloading.

  • Show Pictures— This check box toggles web page images on and off. If you’re using a slow connection, turn off this option and Internet Explorer will show only a box where the image would normally appear. (If the designer has included alt text, that text will appear inside the box.) If you want to view a picture when you’ve toggled images off, right-click the box and select the Show Picture option.

  • Smart Image Dithering— This check box toggles image dithering on and off. Dithering is a technique that slightly alters an image to make jagged edges appear smooth.

In the Printing group, the Print Background Colors and Images check box determines whether Internet Explorer includes the page’s background when you print the page. Many web pages use solid colors or fancy images as backgrounds, so you’ll print these pages faster if you leave this setting deactivated.

The options in the Search from the Address Bar group control Internet Explorer’s Address bar searching:

  • Do Not Submit Unknown Addresses to Your Auto-Search Provider— Activate this option to disable address bar searching for terms that are not known to Internet Explorer.

  • Just Display the Results in the Main Window— Activate this option to display, in the main browser window, a list of the sites that the search engine found.

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