What Are Internet Explorer Add-ons And What Do They Do?

If there's one thing that is likely to confuse you about Internet Explorer, it is add-ons and the different types available. This is the only browser that currently has four types of add-ons, some even with sub-types. Therefore, we decided to help clear the mystery and explain each type and sub-type of add-ons in detail so that you can understand what they do and how you can use them.

What Are Add-ons And What Do You Need To Know About Them?

Add-ons are browser extensions that modify and enhance Internet Explorer. These little programs help you customize Microsoft's browser with features that make your online experience easier and more connected to the things that are important to you.

They can do a number of things depending on your personal needs. They can integrate with other services you use outside of web pages. For example, an add-on that notifies you about emails will reside in the toolbar and constantly check for new messages in your preferred email account. That was just one example but be sure that if you want additional features or integration of a service, there is a great possibility an add-on that suits your needs already exists.

In terms of security Internet Explorer has a limited support for add-ons, so usually they can't access the entire browser. If any of them is compromised, the damage this security breach can cause is limited. Still, be careful what you install, as some of them can snoop on your browsing sessions, and stick to add-ons that have good reviews or trustworthy developers.

As for performance concerns, if you sensibly limit the number of add-ons you use, they won't slow down your computer. The important thing to remember is that you should only install the ones that are actually useful for your browsing experience. Unused add-ons should be uninstalled because it will help you reduce clutter and might also speed up Internet Explorer.

The final point is that add-ons can make your online browsing more pleasurable and make it easier for you to perform multiple tasks.

How To Find & View Installed Add-ons For Internet Explorer

After that short introduction into the world of add-ons let us see how you can oversee their operation. First of all, you need to know that in Windows 8.1 it is possible to install and use add-ons only in Internet Explorer for the desktop. So, if you are in the touch version of Internet Explorer and you need to view a page that needs add-ons, open it on the Desktop: click on the bottom of the screen to bring up the Address Bar and app commands, click the Page Tools button and in the newly opened menu click on View in the Desktop.

Unfortunately there is no keyboard shortcut for opening the Manage Add-ons window directly, where all your installed add-ons are listed. So you have to click on the Tools button (or press Alt + X) and then click on Manage add-ons.

All your installed add-ons are listed here, split by type: Toolbars and Extensions, Search Providers, Accelerators, and Tracking Protection. Clicking on each of the categories will open a list with that type of extensions that are installed on your computer. You can further filter the list of add-ons by clicking on any of the columns shown in the right panel.

Another way of sorting the add-ons is to use the Show drop-down menu, which can filter from all add-ons to only the ones currently loaded, those that run without permission or downloaded controls.

The Main Types Of Add-ons In Internet Explorer

There are four main types of add-ons available. Let's take them one by one and discuss in detail what they are and how they can help you.

Toolbars and Extensions are the first type of add-ons. As the name entails, they come in the form of toolbars such as the Google Toolbar or simply extensions which add more options to Internet Explorer, such as showing the weather forecast.

When you browse through the list of Toolbars and Extensions, you will notice that there actually are four sub-types available:

  • Toolbar, this is easy, no need to explain it further. But be careful with any of the toolbars you install as they can either track you online habits or come bundled with stuff you do not need.
  • Browser Extension, normal extensions which add new options - just like in Firefox or Chrome.
  • ActiveX Controls, the Adobe Flash Player is a good example. ActiveX is not a programing language; it is rather a set of rules for how applications should share information.
  • Browser Helper Objects, which are generally plug-ins that allow Internet Explorer to render additional types of data - e.g. Avast Online Security is a Browser Helper Object allowing Internet Explorer users to protect themselves from phishing sites and also helps them have an improved browsing experience with crowd-sourced web-reputation ratings. Be very careful with this sub-type that is sometimes allowed to access the whole browser and it has always been targeted by malicious coders to help conceal their actions. Always double check what you are installing.

Search Providers are the second main type of add-ons that are available to you. As you might have already guessed, you can use a search provider to find content on the web.

If you type some keywords in the Address bar of Internet Explorer, the browser will automatically make a search using the default search provider.

Normally, Bing is the default search provider used by Internet Explorer. Obviously, you can install other search providers, including Google Search or Yahoo Search.

Accelerators can be very powerful helpers in shortening the time it takes you to do certain tasks; for example selecting an address with the mouse and then searching for its location with Bing Maps.

To use an accelerator, you always need to first select a piece of text/web address/phone number from a web page, then right click and, from the newly opened menu, select the action you want to perform.

Default actions done by the standard set of accelerators include: searching the selected address on Bing Maps, searching the selected text on Bing, translating the selected text into another language with Bing Translator. You can install many other accelerators that will help you instantly, for example Define with Wikipedia that will direct you to an article that relates to the piece of text you selected.

NOTE:Internet Explorer offers a bunch of accelerators that will help you email, translate, search, map or blog. So go find one that fits your needs.

Last but not least, the fourth category of add-ons is the so called Tracking Protection. This is improperly named an add-on. It is more a feature of Internet Explorer which allows you to subscribe to so called protection lists.

These are lists with content that will be blocked by Internet Explorer, when it encounters them on the web. Microsoft stated that this feature enforces the Do Not Track request made by your browser to keep you safe and protected online.

The TPL or Tracking Protection List can be curated by any number of groups or individuals, for example Easy Privacy that is based on the Easy List subscription for Adblock Plus. Also, it is possible for you to have a list that is built dynamically, based upon the sites you are usually visiting (see Your Personalized List).

The usefulness of these protection lists is based upon their ability to block ads or content that can be used to gather information about your browsing habits, such as third-party cookies.

NOTE: Always be very careful what you install and watch out for cluttering because if you add a lot of add-ons that you do not use, it is possible that they will slow down your computer by using too much memory.

Conclusion

Now that we have arrived at the end of this tutorial, we hope we've managed to clarify what's up with the different types of add-ons. If you still have questions or issues on the topic, don't be shy and use the content form below to start a conversation. Otherwise, simply check out the articles recommended below. You will find out other interesting things about Internet Explorer.