By Jay Garmon
Contrary to popular belief, Internet Explorer can do lots of the same cool tricks as Firefox or Google Chrome — so long as you’ve got the right IE Add-ons. We break down the top ten Internet Explorer add-ons to make the world’s least fashionable browser more effective.
If you have a specific capability or function you’d like to add to Internet Explorer, the place to start is the Internet Explorer Add-ons gallery from Microsoft. Most of the Add-ons found there are compatible with Internet Explorer versions 6, 7 and 8, but for the absolute best functionality, IE8 is where you must start. If you haven’t done so yet, you can upgrade to Internet Explorer 8 here.
There are three basic types of Internet Explorer 8 Add-ons: Accelerators, Web Slices, and Search Providers. Accelerators react to highlighted text on a web page, using that text as the basis for an action. For example, the Share on Facebook accelerator posts any highlighted text (or a link to the entire web page) to your Facebook newsfeed. Web Slices track certain websites or social networks and return new or updated content in specific categories. For example, the Digg Top 10 Web Slice displays the top ten most popular stories from Digg’s main page, and alerts you when that list changes. Search Providers add specific site or topic searches to the IE8 search box, allowing you, for example, to search just eBay, Amazon, or the New York Times.
Now, before you go wild installing add-ons to your current version of IE, know that there is a limit to the number of add-ons any given Internet Explorer installation can handle. The more you add — especially if you exceed five add-ons — the more unstable and crash-prone IE becomes. The Internet Explorer Add-ons listed below are the ten IE plug-ins that offer the most bang for your buck. If you’re planning on using Internet Explorer Add-ons, these are the ones to start with.
1. IE7Pro – Don’t let the name fool you, IE7Pro works with Internet Explorer 7, or 8, and it packs more features into a single Add-on than any three other plug-ins combined. IE7Pro is like Greasemonkey for Internet Explorer but with AdBlock, Spellcheck, and FastestFox for IE thrown in. You can disable almost any kind of webpage advertising, block flash, spellcheck any highlighted text, search against highlighted text and run custom scripts from Userscripts.org. And that’s not even a third of the laundry list of functions the IE7 Pro Add-on offers. If you only install one Internet Explorer Add-on, IE7Pro should be it.
2. Web of Trust – Similar to the McAfee Site Advisor recommended in our Internet Safety Guide, the Web of Trust (WOT) Add-on integrates with search results pages and rates each link for safety. Green means safe, yellow means caution, and red means don’t go there. For those of you that do tech support on family and friends’ PCs, the WOT IE Add-on is the easiest way to cut down on those unpaid help desk requests that result from clicking on shady links.
3. LastPass – While any modern browser can remember your website passwords, the LastPass Add-on makes that process a whole lot safer by encrypting your saved passwords in its servers, rather than in IE’s (relatively insecure) password file. Just keep track of your LastPass master password, and it will automatically log you in to any other site or service on the web. Oh, and if you stink at coming up with secure, unique passwords when signing up for new websites, LastPass will generate them for you.
4. Open Last Closed Tab – Says what it does, does what it says. This add-on can resurrect any tab you’ve opened and closed during your current browsing session — including those tabs you shut down accidentally. A serious time (and sanity) saver.
5. Yoono - Tired of checking Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Skype and Google Talk for all the myriad possible incoming messages you could receive at any moment? Yoono integrates all these services into a single browser-based client, letting you see (and send) Twitter replies, Facebook updates, and Skype chats in a single, simultaneous stream. The Yoono viewer takes up a fair amount of screen real estate, but for those of us on multiple social networks and messaging services, Yoono is a net gain in screen and memory space.
6. Shareaholic – Submit stories to Digg, add links to Delicious, or share an item on Facebook all with a single Add-on. The Shareaholic IE Add-on ties into 40 web services, so whichever community needs to receive that link to today’sxkcdcomic can get it as soon as you’re done chuckling.
7. Login Using BugMeNot – The perfect Add-on for all those services youdon’twant to join, Login with BugMeNot will use anonymous, public credentials to sign you into any major site on the web. Is there aWall Street Journalarticle or Dailymotion red band trailer you want to view without joining either site? The BugMeNot IE Add-on will get you in sans a registration account of your own.
8. Define with Wikipedia – Another straightforward tool, the Define with Wikipedia IE Add-on searches Wikipedia for a definition or article that explains any text you highlight on a webpage.
9. Chrome Frame for IE – The most controversial add-on on our list, Chrome Frame for IE converts your Internet Explorer Browser into a virtual instance of Google Chrome. While not all of Chrome’s vaunted security protections or tab-sandboxing is available in your simulated Chrome browser, you do get the benefit of the native Google tie-ins to Chrome. Drag-and-drop images into Gmail, or display YouTube videos inline on multiple Google services with this add-on. If you’re a devoted Google web app user trapped in an Internet Explorer universe, Chrome Tab for IE is your new best friend.
10. Weather from Bing – Simple, but for those of us that check the web before leaving the house, the Weather from Bing Web Slice keeps your current, local forecast present in your browser at all times. This is especially helpful when severe weather alerts pop up. Geeks may hate going outside, but at least this IE Add-on will prepare you for the treachery of the outdoors.
There are dozens of additional Internet Explorer Add-ons, many suited to specific tasks or hobbies. Moreover, there are whole customized versions of Internet Explorer 8. AOL and MySpace hangers-on, some of these are tweaked just for you. While Internet Explorer is (rightfully) criticized for its failure to keep pace with Firefox and Chrome, it’s not as antiquated as conventional wisdom would have you believe — especially if you tune IE8 with an add-on or two. Think we’ve missed a vital Internet Explorer Add-on? Let us know in the comments section.