There was a time not long past when toolbars ran rampant across the browser landscape, showing up uninvited and urging you to search from any of a dozen different search engines or enticing you to head off into surfland with snippets of juicy headlines, not to mention offering endless links to everything from shopping coupons to airline travel to alerts of upcoming weather. Those were the days when people were either totally infuriated by the seemingly endless browser encroachment, or worse yet, didn’t even seem to notice the accumulation of toolbar and searchbar clutter across the top of their web browsers. And when helping our customers, it was typical for us geeks to point out the various toolbars and ask “do you use this?” or “did you install this?” and the customer would say “oh no. that just showed up one day.” Or, especially in multiuser environments like shared family computers, we’d find that each user thought one of the other users installed it. The bottom line though, is that toolbar accumulation was a nuisance that ate up valuable screen space that left users with a shrunken area for viewing websites which generally equated to more scrolling and less enjoyment.
Enter the latest editions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (version 9) and Mozilla Firefox (version 7). Both web browsers offer users the usual unassuming “time to do the upgrades” kind of messages that then launches the installation of the latest version, but what users don’t expect is that after the installation, they are left looking at a practically barren screen.
By default, both browsers now hide all toolbars and menu bars leaving the user to wonder where they went. The only obvious options besides the address bar and tabs (now crammed into a single bar across the top) are forward and backward navigation buttons, a home button, a favorites button (bookmarks in FF) which, in case you’re scratching your head trying to find that little star icon, has been moved from the left side of the screen to the far right side of the screen, and in the case of IE, a gear-shaped icon called Tools. The biggest change for most users, especially advanced users who may have been comfortable configuring tools and options themselves is that they now find missing the familiar “File Edit View Favorites Tools Help” menu bar that was previously used to access any configurable part of their web browser or browser options.
The good news for most users, particularly those who were being smothered and didn’t know what to do about uninvited and unwanted toolbars, is that those annoying screen real-estate hogs just plain go away (at least from view, they’re not actually uninstalled, that’s a completely different subject), and as a result those users are suddenly seeing entire web pages without having to scroll around to get at off-screen content.
And the good news for users who want more, and yearn for access to the old menus and options, pressing the ALT key while in either IE or FF will magically open the old familiar menu bar temporararily so any configuration changes you wish to make, including making the menu bar permanently display, are available for the taking.
In summary, while some may bemoan the forced changing of the browser layouts with laments like “why do they have to decide what I should see or not see?”, Most will find that within a matter of days, the new skinnier layout will become comfortable, and you’ll barely notice that you no longer have a search bar begging you to click for the latest gossip about Charlie Sheen or Lady Gaga. But if you do miss all that clutter, never fear, with your trusty ALT key by your side, all those menus, toolbars, and other junk are just a keystroke or two away.
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This article was written by Andy Trask, Head Geek at Geek Housecalls, the New England area’s original traveling computer geeks, on the web at www.geekhousecalls.com. Geek Housecalls specializes in “anything computer” and, since 2001, has become the trusted in-home computer and technology support provider for over 15,000 families and small business computer users in eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and southern New Hampshire. For help with your computers, gadgets, or network at home or at the office, click here to contact Geek Housecalls via the web, or call toll free: