If you read my piece a couple of weeks ago, Does Your Browser Serve You Well?, you may have walked away thinking that I’m not terribly fond of Internet Explorer. If so, you are right, actually. My opinion is that IE is the most popular browser simply because it is shipped with Windows and has indeed been integrated with Windows, and most people never dig any deeper than that. To them, Internet Explorer IS the Internet.
Evidently Microsoft also came to the conclusion that IE’s popularity was resting on failing momentum, because they have been putting on a full-court press to improve their browser. It’s still has nowhere near the configurability of a Firefox, a Chrome or an Opera, but it is improving.
Take the area of startup time. In IE9, you will get a popup telling you how much time has been spent loading addons. This is a nice feature. You can click the balloon and go directly to addon management, and there you can disable away unneeded extensions. VERY few of them actually are necessary, so most people will be able to get opening time down to a second or two with a few mouse clicks. (Don’t worry about breaking anything. You can always go back and reenable, or in a worst-case scenario, go to Control Panel / Internet Options / Advanced tab and click on Reset to bring IE back to the way it was shipped.)
Ironically, the Addon information popup itself quickly becomes a nuisance, so after you have disabled the addons you don’t need, you can set IE to warn you only when addon load time gets to a certain point. I set mine to 1.5 seconds, and haven’t seen the popup since.
The next thing you can do to make IE load faster is change your home page. For some very strange reason, IE stopped remembering tab sessions a few versions ago. I find this lack of continuity noisome. If I’m researching something late at night, when I come back the next day I would like the ability to pick up where I left off. Whom, exactly, is that hurting? But MS thinks it has a better idea.
MS’s version of session preservation is to provide the ability to set multiple home pages. You can set, say, your top five favorite pages, and they will open automatically each time IE opens. But this increases starting time significantly and is a poor substitute for real session management.
And so, without the ability to preserve tab sessions in IE, I went the opposite way: I set my home page to about:blank. This loads a single blank page quickly, and from there I go where I wish. But while that works pretty well, recently I came across a better solution.
IE9 gives you the ability to set about:tabs as your home page. This will bring up its version of Opera’s Speed Dial or Chrome’s New Tab page every time you start. Here you will find icons of several of your most-visited sites. Sorry, it’s strictly statistical and is not configurable, but it’s still useful. What’s more, hidden at the bottom of the page are two functions that will come in very handy: Reopen Last Session, and Reopen Closed Tabs. Yes, these are essentially the very functions that have been glaringly missing in IE for a couple of years, and now they’re quietly being slipped back in.
So if you want to reopen a session you were working on the day before, you can simply open an about:tabs page, then click on Reopen Last Session, and your multiple tabs will open. The next step for MS is to come full circle and catch up with the rest of the world by actually making this function automatic. What a concept!
My use of IE is pretty much relegated to opening secondary email accounts without having to log-out and then log back in in my main browsers. And sometimes I hit a site that doesn’t load well in the browsers I keep open so I resort to IE. Even with this minor use, it’s nice to rein the browser in and make it useful. If IE still is your main browser, you have all the more reason to tune it up to serve your needs better.