Better Browsing With Service Pack 2

Better Browsing With Service Pack 2


Before Service Pack 2, Internet Explorer posed one of the biggest security risks in Windows XP. Critical update patches were frequently being released to fix it, but internet Explorer simply had too many security holes. Now Service Pack 2 (SP2) brings a new level of security to internet Explorer, as well as dealing with those irritating pop-up windows and advertisments. In this step-by-step guide you'll learn about Internet Explorer’s new security features, the Pop-up blocker, the all-important Add-on Manager and updated file-download feature.

Pop-up windows are undeniably annoying. SP2 improves Internet Explorer (IE) to such an extent that the chance of you becoming frustrated by the appearance of unwanted windows is all but eliminated. In this example I’ve directed my web browser to a special web site designed to test the effectiveness of pop-up-blocking applications. You can try it out for yourself at Pop-up Tester

It may not be immediately obvious, but the yellow banner at the top of IE’s window is a new feature provided by SP2. Called the Information Bar, it alerts you to warnings regarding the likes of pop-ups, activex controls and file downloads. As you’ll see from visiting popuptest.com, the Information Bar has appeared stating that a pop-up was blocked. Note also that the information about a particular notification "Pop-up blocked. To see this pop-up or additional options click here…"

activexbar.gif

If you click on the Information Bar, you’ll be presented with a list of options relating to the action that IE has taken. The first option is to temporarily allow the pop-up, and is rather useful, as some sites, such as the BBC, which uses pop-up windows to present extra information. By selecting this, all pop-ups will be permitted on this page, but when you try to reload it again they will be blocked. If you suspect that previously blocked pop-ups may contain something of interest, this option allows you to confirm quickly.

The second option, as you might have already guessed, allows you to tell IE to always allow a particular website to display pop-ups. This means that the site’s address will be added to a “safe list” and IE’s pop-up blocker will be deactivated every time you visit that site. I’ll talk about how to manage your ‘safe list’ in a moment.

To alter the pop-up settings, click on the Tools menu in IE and select Internet Options. Now click on the Privacy tab and look at the bottom of the dialogue box, where you’ll notice the Pop-up Blocker section. You can completely disable the blocker here by clicking once to remove the tick from the Block pop-ups checkbox.

privacy.gif

With the Internet Options dialogue box still displayed, click on the Settings button. This launches the Pop-up Blocker Settings window, which you’ll see is split into two sections. The first section is titled Exceptions and allows you to create a list of sites that are permitted to display pop-ups. To add a site, type the web address into the appropriate entry box and click on the Add button. As you do, the website’s address will appear in the allowed sites area below.

popup.gif

The second section lets you alter what happens when a pop-up is blocked and what filter level to select. There are three filter levels to choose from, ‘High’ will block all pop-ups, ‘Medium’ will block most, while the ‘Low’ setting will allow pop-ups from all secure internet sites, such as banking or shopping pages. If you hold down the Crtl button on your computer’s keyboard while loading a website, IE will temporarily suspend its pop-up-blocking facility.

The Add-On Manager is another major feature that SP2 brings to IE. It gives you greater control over add-ons and allows you to disable them if you suspect some are causing problems with the running of IE. To open the Add-on Manager, open the Tools menu and select Manage Add-ons option.

addons.gif

The Add-on Manager has a basic-looking interface. When you first open it you’ll see a list of add-ons that are currently being used by IE. If you’re experiencing problems in IE, it’s worth checking out whether any of the currently loaded ad-ons are to blame. Click on the drop-down list next to the Show label and you’ll see that you can view add-ons that are not only currently being used, but those that have been used in the past. This gives you a complete overview of all add-ons that are available to IE.

It’s a simple task to disable any individual add-on. All you have to do is highlight the add-on in question and, from the Settings section in the bottom-left corner of the window, click on the Disable option. However, as a warning message that appears explains, you will need to restart IE for the changes to take effect, so click on OK and do just that. If you are having problems in IE, try disabling add-ons on a trial and error basis.

Some of the add-ons listed might be ActiveX controls. These provide extra features that are not available as standard in the HTML code that is the common language of the web. Many AxtiveX controls are frequently updated. If you want to check for updates, select an ActiveX control in the list and hit the Update ActiveX button. You may have to wait while your PC downloads the updated control.

Internet Explorer’s File-Downloading system has also been given a revamp with the release of SP2. Whenever a website attempts to download a file to your computer, the Information Bar will appear to inform you that a download is about to take place. If you’re tiring of the regular interruptions by the Information Bar’s pop-up box, place a tick in the “Do not show this message again” checkbox and click OK.

Click on the Information Bar and you’ll be presented with three options. Rather obviously, choosing "Download File…" will indicate your acceptance of the download. The second option, "What’s the Risk?" will present an explanation of the potential harm posed by any given file type, while the final option provides help on the Information Bar itself.

If you accept the download, you’ll be presented with a new-style download dialogue box. The usual options of being able to run the file directly after download or save it to the hard drive are still available, but a new warning level, based on the nature of the download, will also appear. IE warns that files with an .EXE extension can harm a PC, and so advises caution.

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