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PC World

50 killer browser tips

We've collected 50 of our best tips to help you take your browser to the next level.

February 1, 1999
Web posted at: 12:23 p.m. EST (1723 GMT)

by the TipWorld staff

(IDG) -- Here at PC World Online, we live in our browsers, so we know from experience that neither Netscape Navigator nor Microsoft Internet Explorer is perfect. Luckily, we know several tricks, hidden options, and renegade tactics that boost our browsing power. We've collected 50 of our best tips to help you take your browser to the next level. Click any of the following seven categories to get on the road to better browsing.

Take control

Who's in control, you or your browser? Feeling outgunned? These tips help you make your browser of choice act exactly how you want it to.

Locked out of Internet Explorer?

You activated the Content Advisor in IE 4 and promptly forgot the password. There's no way around it: You need to edit the Registry, or certain sites will remain out of bounds for as long as the Content Advisor stands guard.

Before you start, back up these Registry files: system.dat, system.da0, user.dat, and user.da0. You'll find them in your Windows folder.

Select Start, Run, type regedit, and click OK. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\ CurrentVersion\Policies\Ratings. Next, click the Key entry in the right pane, and press Delete. Exit the Registry and restart your PC.

When you're back at your desktop, right-click the Internet Explorer icon; then select Properties, click the Content tab, and click Disable Ratings. Don't enter anything when prompted for a password; click OK. Note that you've effectively eliminated all your Content Advisor settings, so you'll need to reenter them (and this time, make a note of your password).

Get back to where you once belonged (Nav)

Do you ever find yourself stuck on a page? That is, no matter how many times (or how fast) you click Back, it just reloads the same page for its own perverse amusement? Well, the fancy code that's keeping you there may be pretty quick on the draw, but you can beat it. Just head on up to the Go menu and select the entry next to the number 1 (the entry beside 0 ought to be the page you're stuck on, so 1 would be the page before it). You'll go immediately to that page and from there you should be able to navigate back and forth as normal.

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Dispatching wild browser windows

Are you tired of Web sites that keep opening new browser windows? Try a $10 shareware program called PopAway from Triceris Systems. This tool prevents sites from opening multiple copies of your browser. It works with IE 3.x and higher and with Navigator 4.x.

Get automatic Web site updates (IE)

Some sites can e-mail you news alerts or updates. Like this idea? You can get a similar service from any Web site if you use Internet Explorer 4.x. You can instruct the browser to regularly log on to Web sites that you frequent, and either download updates for reading offline or notify you when there's something new on the site. To perform automatic updates, Internet Explorer must be running.

Go to the Web site and select Favorites, Add to Favorites. In the Add Favorite dialog box, select either "Yes, but only tell me when this page is updated" (in which case Internet Explorer will notify you by adding a red gleam to the site's icon or by e-mailing you) or "Yes, notify me of updates and download the page for offline viewing."

Click the Customize button to designate whether you want to download just the current page, or the current page and all pages linked to it, and to schedule when Internet Explorer searches the site; then click OK. Click the "Create in" button to tell IE where to download pages. IE will send you a note via e-mail when your favorite pages are updated. To read them offline, select Favorites, Manage Subscriptions, then click a site's icon to read it.

Alternatively, you can manually update your subscribed-to sites by selecting Favorites, Update All Subscriptions.

The long good-bye (IE)

Many people tell us that they used to get a prompt to disconnect from their Internet service provider when they closed Internet Explorer 4, but they no longer do. In most cases, it's because the automatic disconnect feature has been disabled.

To restore this function, choose Start, Settings, Control Panel. In the Control Panel, double-click the Internet icon. In the Internet Properties dialog box, click the Connection tab. Click Settings and select the check box labeled "Disconnect If Idle for [X] Minutes." Click OK and, when you get back to the Internet Properties dialog box, click OK again to close the dialog box and record your change.

This option controls the number of minutes of inactivity required to disconnect automatically, and it tells IE to prompt you to disconnect when you exit the program.

Downsize the toolbar (IE)

When IE 4.x is crammed with icons and you're tired of resizing windows just to see them all, you can shrink the buttons. Choose View, Internet Options, and click the Advanced tab. Scroll down to Toolbar and select the Small Icons button. If you don't use the Font button very often (it's off by default) you may save some space by deselecting the Show Font Button check box. Then click OK. You can still modify the font size by choosing View, Fonts and making your selection.

"Ding" when it starts and "bang" when it stops (IE)

IE 4.x adds two entries to the Sounds settings in Control Panel: You now can tell the system which sound to use when the browser begins navigating to a new site and when it gets to the new site.

Click Start and choose Settings, Control Panel. When Control Panel opens, double-click the Sounds icon. Look through the Events list for Start Navigation. Select it and then click Browse. Locate and select a suitable sound. Now select Complete Navigation in the Events list. Click Browse and then assign another sound. When you're finished with your selections, click OK.

Purge URLs from Navigator's location box

If you don't want snooping colleagues to know what you've been up to, cover your tracks. To clear visited sites out of Navigator's Location box, follow these steps.

FOR NAVIGATOR 3.X: You'll have to edit Windows' Registry, but before you do, back up these files: system.dat, system.da0, user.dat, and user.da0. To open the Registry Editor, select Start, Run, type regedit, and click OK. To find a URL you'd like to hide, press Ctrl-F, type the URL into the Find What box, and click Find Next. You'll eventually arrive at a list of URLs at HKEY_CURRENT_USR\Software\Netscape\Netscape Navigator\URL History. Pick through the list on the right side of your screen (stay away from the left side!), and delete the revealing URLs.

FOR NAVIGATOR 4.X: In Notepad, open the file prefs.js (look in Program Files\Netscape\Users\YourName or Netscape\Users\YourName). The URL lines look something like this:

user_pref("browser.url_history.URL_1", "")

Delete the ones you want to keep private and then save prefs.js as a text-only file.

To prevent Navigator from writing any more URLs to that file, make it read-only: Find prefs.js in Windows Explorer, right-click it, select Properties, and check Read-only. Click Apply and then OK. Be warned that making this file read-only means that your other preferences won't be recorded.

Let cookies go stale

In most cases, cookies help a Web site remember useful things about your computer from session to session, such as a particular color configuration. A cookie can send the Web site information, such as which operating system and browser you use. It can also record the number of times that you visit the site and the amount of time you spend there. But don't fret too much about security or loss of privacy. Cookies cannot tell the Web site your name or e-mail address unless you specifically register at the site.

Here's a simple way to keep your cookie file from being scrutinized: Delete its contents and save it as a read-only file. If you use Navigator, head to the cookies.txt file in the Netscape directory. Within the Navigator folder, right-click the cookies.txt file and select Properties. Change it to read-only and click Apply. If you're running Microsoft's Internet Explorer, you'll find a cookies folder in the Windows folder. Right-click it, select Properties from the menu, and check Read-only in the Cookies Properties dialog box.

Stay up to date

Both Navigator and IE get updated from time to time -- usually to address bugs or security issues. Luckily, both browsers can point you directly to Web pages that help you determine whether you need an update (and if you do, these pages will help you get a download started). In Navigator, select Help, Software Updates to go to Netscape's SmartUpdate pages; in IE, choose Help, Product Updates to arrive at Windows Update.

Windows, meet the browser

Your browser interacts with the operating system -- superficially if you use Navigator, and quite extensively if you're an IE fan. We can help you set your system's default browser and make Windows and your browser coexist peacefully.

Make Internet Explorer the default

Whenever you install a Web browser, it begs you to let it become your default browser, and it repeats this plea until you make a decision. What if, after using one browser for a while, you want to switch? You can change your mind, but it's much easier to do so in Internet Explorer than in any version of Navigator. In IE 3.x and 4.x, select View, Internet Options, click the Program tab, check the box labeled "Internet Explorer should check to see whether it is the default browser," and then click OK.

Let Navigator take the helm

Changing the default in Navigator 3.x and 4.x is a bit more complicated. Follow the steps from the previous tip but uncheck "Internet Explorer should check to see whether it is the default browser." If you're lucky, restarting Navigator will summon the default browser query -- but don't count on it. If Navigator balks, you'll need a text editor such as Notepad to edit the prefs.js file. Exit Navigator, and select Start, Programs, Accessories, Notepad. When it opens, select File, Open. Click the drop-down arrow next to "Files of type" and select All Files (*.*). The prefs.js file is in C:\Program Files\Netscape\Users\yourname, where yourname is your Windows user name. Open it and look for the line user_pref("browser.wfe.ignore_def_check", true);. Carefully change the word true to false. Save, exit, and then restart Navigator. The default query should appear, at which point you can give Navigator the top bunk.

A more stable relationship

Any browser crash can make Windows unstable. The severity ranges from an app going belly-up to Microsoft's dreaded Blue Screen of Death. If the culprit is Navigator, you can bring up the Close Program dialog box by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Delete, selecting Netscape, and clicking End Task. But doing this can cause other open programs to fall like dominoes, so you might want to bite the bullet, close all running apps, and restart.

IE 4 offers another option. Do it before you hit your next crash, and you'll save yourself serious headaches. Click View, Internet Options, click the Advanced tab and check "Browse in a new process." This makes IE handle Web browsing as a task separate from other system functions, so the next time IE 4 hits an iceberg, it shouldn't take Windows down with it.

Fire up Navigator from the Internet icon

You can edit the Windows Registry so that Navigator launches instead of Internet Explorer when you click The Internet on your desktop. But before you tweak the Registry, back up the following files: user.dat, user.da0, system.dat, and system.da0. (They're in your Windows folder.)

  1. Select Start, Run and type regedit.
  2. Expand HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\ {FBF23B42-E3F0-101B-8488-00AA003E56F8} \Shell\Open.
  3. Click Command on the left, and double-click (Default) on the right.
  4. Change the path in the Value data line so it points to Navigator. For example, type C:\Progra~1\Netscape\Commun~1\ Program\netscape.exe. (If a directory name exceeds eight characters, count six characters and replace the rest with ~1.)
  5. Press F5 to refresh the Registry.
  6. Double-click The Internet icon on your desktop to launch Navigator.

Add programs to Internet icon's pop-up menu

You can also add items to the context menu (the one that pops up when you right-click an icon) for your desktop's Internet icon. Open the Registry Editor by selecting Start, Run and typing regedit.

  1. Expand \HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\ {FBF23B42-E3F0-101B-8488-00AA003E56F8}.
  2. Right-click the Shell folder and select New, Key from the pop-up menu.
  3. Right-click the folder of the newly created key and again select New, Key. Rename it Command.
  4. Finally, simply edit the path in the Default value so that it points to the appropriate program.

Easy access

You can add your Favorites folder to your Start menu even if you're not using IE 4.x's Active Desktop feature (which "Web-enables" your desktop). Open Windows Explorer and locate C:\Windows\Favorites. Click the Favorites folder and drag it to the Start button. When the cursor is over the Start button, release the mouse button. This will put the Favorites folder into the Start menu.

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