Work wonders with the web

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Browser add-ons can make your web surfing easier, faster and more fun – we list the very best for Internet Explorer and Firefox

Your internet browser probably works beautifully: both Firefox and Internet Explorer, the two most popular browsers, are fast, stable and simple ways of accessing the internet. You could, if you wanted, install them and add only the update files that are made available periodically to ensure you always had the most up-to-date version of your browser of choice. If you did, though, you’d be missing out. Both Internet Explorer and Firefox allow you to download and install tools, called add-ons that can make surfing the web easier, quicker and more enjoyable. In this issue we’ll list the must-have browser add-ons for both Firefox and Internet Explorer, and explain how to install them.


Useful functions
The concept of a browser add-on is simple. It’s a tiny program that doesn’t run on its own but instead adds a new function to an existing web browser – normally a function that would otherwise require you to install yet another program on your computer and run that when required. As they connect to a web browser, add-ons are sometimes known as ‘plug-ins’. Although some add-ons are created by companies, most are created by other users to add a feature that they themselves want. The Firefox web browser has a particularly strong community of add-on authors, thanks partly to the fact that the program is open source, so anyone can examine the code that makes it tick.

Although there are many add-ons for Internet Explorer, and we’ll list some in this article, we’d recommend using Firefox if you want the best choice. Sowhat can you do with these small extras for your browser? The sky is nearly the limit. You can download videos from Youtube, keep tabs on your email account without needing to login, or block distracting, time-wasting adverts from view. Alternatively, you can download add-ons that enable you to keep up to date with social-networking sites while browsing elsewhere. Installing add-ons is generally simple. Both Firefox and Internet Explorer have special websites that gather all the add-ons together, allowing you to search by keyword or category, and then sort your results by the number of downloads they’ve had or recommendations they’ve received from other users. For Firefox, go to https://addons.mozilla.org, or visitwww.ieaddons.com for Internet Explorer.


Easy does it
Once you’ve found the add-on youwant, installing it is generally easy. In Firefox, select your chosen add-on and click the green Add to Firefox button. You’ll be given a moment to reflect on your choice, and, once the add-on is installed, you may be asked to restart the browser. This can be postponed until later if you’re in the middle of doing something important. Internet Explorer is slightly more complex, as it divides its add-ons into groups such as toolbars, Accelerators (we’ll explain what this means shortly) and search providers, with a fourth, unmentioned category for everything that works like a Firefox add-on. Installation is a bit more intimidating as well –when you click on most links you’ll be prompted to download an installer that runs as if you were installing a separate application. It’s also not unusual for Windows to display some stark warnings about your PC’s security, even though you’re downloading from an official Microsoft site. But there is a strong range of add-ons available for the world’s most popular browser, particularly when you consider the role of Internet Explorer’s Accelerators. An Accelerator is an add-on for Internet Explorer 8 that allows you to highlight text and perform a task based on its content. For instance, if you download the Bing Maps accelerator you can highlight a postcode then click the small blue icon that appears and find the postcode on a map without needing to enter it manually.


Make surfing faster
Adobe’s Flash technology is one of the most important aspects of the internet today. Without it we wouldn’t be able to watch videos on sites such as Youtube or our very own Computeractive TV. Sadly, though, Flash can also be used to create particularly annoying adverts on websites. These often take time to load, get in the way and generally frustrate you, while some even include sound effects to make the experience even more infuriating.
Luckily though, both Firefox and Internet Explorer offer add-ons that prevent Flash adverts from running. Firefox’s is the simplest – visitwww.snipca.com/x522 and click the green button to install Adblock Plus. Firefox needs to restart once the add-on is installed, but from there you should find visiting heavily advertised websites a much more restful experience.

Each time you see a distracting advert, click on the small ‘Block’ button above it, in the future it – or others coming from the same company’s server –won’t appear. For those using Internet Explorer, the best tool for blocking adverts is IE7 Pro (www.ie7pro.com). Despite the name, which suggests compatibility only with an older version of Internet Explorer, IE7 Pro also works well with Internet Explorer 8. It blocks all manner of adverts, including pop-ups and Flash adverts, and also adds a number of extra features to Internet Explorer. These include mouse gestures, which allow you to instruct Internet Explorer to perform certain tasks, such as going back a pagewhen you drawa shape with the mouse, and the ability to download videos from websites such as Youtube.


Browsing engines
The name might sound daunting, but these add-ons can be very handy. There are many different web browsers available, and sadly not every website works properly with every browser. So if you use Firefox, for example, you may occasionally come across sites that simply refuse to work as you are not using Internet Explorer. An add-on called IE Tab by PCMan, however, can fix this. It adds an option to the menu that appears when you right click on aweb page. If you find a page that doesn’t display, simply right-click the page and choose ‘ViewPage in IE Tab’. A new tab will open in Firefox, but this will use the technology from inside Internet Explorer to display the page properly. It’s faster and simpler than opening another browser just for that one page. IE Tab can be found atwww.snipca.com/x525. Internet Explorer doesn’t have the same problem when it comes to compatibility; as long as Internet Explorer remains the most popular web browser, just about every website will be designed towork with it. It can, however, feel slow to load pages in comparison with other browsers. In particular, Google’s slimmed down Chrome often reveals pages far more quickly. Google Chrome Frame does much the same thing for Internet Explorer as IE Tab does for Firefox, except it brings Chrome’s speed advantages to Microsoft’s browser. Microsoft is unsurprisingly rather sniffy about the prospect of people using someone else’s technology in its browser, so you have to go to Google’swebsite at www.snipca.com/x529 to get it. It’s easy to download and install, however, and runs verywell.


Multimedia opportunities
The number ofways to share your digital photos on the internet is mind-boggling. Sites such aswww.flickr.com cater for keen amateurs,while social-networking sites such as Facebook are perfect for sharing family snaps with friends and family. But while getting your photos on the internet is easy, actually viewing them can be harder, and laboriously clicking through an online album of dozens of pictures is dull. Again, however, free add-ons can help. Available for both Firefox and Internet Explorer, Cooliris is both a standard program you can run from the Start menu and a browser add-on. It can be downloaded fromwww.snipca.com/x530 for Firefox and www.snipca.com/x532 for Internet Explorer. Once you’ve installed it and restarted your browser, load a web page with lots of images on it, and then hover the mouse over one of them. A small icon appears which, when clicked on, loads a spectacular 3Dwall of images from the page. You can drag the wall around and zoom in on image you want to see more closely, or start an automatic slide show, regardless of whether the site the pictures come from offers one itself.


Social networking
The great thing about sites such as Facebook (www.facebook.com) and Twitter (www.twitter.com) is that they let you see what your friends are doing, but constantly going back to the sites to check them, if you’r ewaiting for a message, for instance, is tedious. There are various standalone programs that allow you to keep tabs on things, but a simpler solution is to install an add-on that allows you to check your favourite sites from within your browser. A highly automated solution is Yoono, which claims to “socialise your browser”. It’s available for both Internet Explorer (www.snipca.com/x534) and Firefox (www.snipca.com/x533), and if you have accounts at more than one social networking site it can be a timesaver. It connects to Twitter and Facebook, plus Myspace, Flickr and Friendfeed, aswell as instant-messaging services such as LiveMessenger, AOL Instant Messenger and Google Talk. As long as your browser is running it keeps you up to date with what your contacts are doing, which is entertaining, if highly distracting. You can also share things you’ve found online on social networking sites without needing to open the site in question.


Bookmark synchronisation
Bookmarks, known as Favorites in Internet Explorer, are a handy way of keeping track of websites that you use regularly or may want to visit again. Although both Firefox and Internet Explorer keep track of recently visited sites in a History tool, it’s far easier to bookmark a page of handy information than to fish around for it a few weeks later when you can only remember half the title. On the other hand, bookmarks can be rather limited if you use more than one computer, as neither browser gives you a simple way of synchronising a list of bookmarks between two or more computers. Fortunately, there’s a great add-on that can help. Xmarks is a simple way to keep bookmarks synchronised between several computers. First you install the add-on, then create a free account and Xmarks sends details of your bookmarks to its own storage space on the internet.You can then install the add-on on another computer, log into your account and the bookmarks will be downloaded. The service can even keep bookmarks synchronized if you’re using Internet Explorer on one computer and Firefox on the other. It’s free to download from www.xmarks.com.


Breath of life
Add-ons for your browser can transform your experience of using the internet. They can make it faster, or less stressful and distracting by getting rid of adverts. Some add-ons are so useful you’ll wonder how you ever got by without them. Firefox has a definite edge – its add-ons website is better organised than Internet Explorer’s, and the huge number of users means the popularity and ratings of each add-on are genuinely useful. Installing them is also slightly easier than it is with Internet Explorer. However, IE8 has some deniably neat touches, such as accelerators: our advice is to try both and see which works best for you.

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