Change in Toolbar Management

Internet Explorer 8 now allows users to more easily manage their toolbars and add-ons. Feedback from Internet Explorer 7 users clearly indicated that there is a need for easier management of toolbar and add-ons.

Our IE7 user feedback showed that less experienced users had problems with hiding toolbars to free up browser screen real estate, or to get rid of a toolbar that they no longer wanted. More experienced users understood that any toolbar and add-on that runs in a browser will have an impact on browser startup time, new tab creation time, and navigation speed and they wanted an easier way to manage the set of add-ons that actually run.

In Internet Explorer 7 most users used the Tools - Toolbars menu to hide a toolbar; or they used the browser frame context (right-click) menu. Although this hides the toolbar user interface, the toolbar add-on's code actually continues to run and Internet Explorer 7 still loaded the toolbar add-on every time the user opened the browser or a new tab, thus still affecting performance.

To hide and disable a toolbar add-on in Internet Explorer 7, a user had to click Manage Add-ons on the Tools menu, then click Enable or Disable Add-ons, and then, in the Manage Add-ons dialog box, click on the toolbar's name and select Disable. In addition, because a lot of toolbars consist of two or more related add-ons that plug into Internet Explorer, the Manage Add-ons dialog box might display several entries for a toolbar, and the user might have to disable them as well. Thus, few Internet Explorer 7 users completely hid and disabled a toolbar, neutralizing its effect on performance.

Improvements in Internet Explorer 8

Internet Explorer 8 makes it easy for users to be in full control of their IE add-ons. Clicking the new Close button next to a toolbar opens the Disable Add-on dialog box:

Picture of the IE chrome.  There is a toolbar with a red x displaying.

dialog box asking if you want to disable an add-on.  The dialog box also asks about related add-ons

This dialog box shows that the toolbar consists of three add-ons: the visible toolbar, and any toolbar helper add-ons. The user has a choice to clear the option under ‘Related add-ons that will also be disabled’. In addition, clicking the Disable button will cause Internet Explorer to disable both types of add-ons and to free its resources for faster browsing.

We also (with the instruction at the bottom of the dialog) tell users how to get their toolbar back. (Sometimes users want to only temporarily hide a toolbar, to maximize the browser screen real estate on a certain site.)

The same dialog box may appear as follows:

Dialog box asking if you want to disable an add-on.  The dialog box also asks about related add-ons 

In this case, Internet Explorer has also found two other add-ons by the same publisher that the user may want to disable. Some installations of toolbars do not group all related components, so users are given the option to disable all browser add-ons from the same publisher.


Enabling toolbars is just as important as disabling them. Our research showed that users don’t have any issues with figuring out how to show the toolbar again – Just like in IE7, an IE8  user can enable a toolbar again by clicking the Tools button, and then clicking the desired toolbar from the Toolbar menu. Or, they can use the browser frame context (right-click) menu. When a toolbar is enabled, all the related components can also be enabled.

All these user experience changes tested very well in our IE8 usability studies: Users were delighted to discover that they can now disable or enable exactly the right set of toolbars and add-ons – keeping them in control of their browser.

Frank Olivier
Program Manager

Comments (30)

  1. I really liked the new management console for add-ons. It took me a little bit of time to get used to, and I imagine it will be tweaked over the years, but it looks very stable and usable.

    Excellent job of figuring out which add-ons are related – that was the most confusing thing for me when trying to disable add-ons in IE7. It would be nice if this were even easier somehow.

  2. Josh says:

    While I do like IE8 and use it now as my main browser – using it with additional Toolbars results in horrible performance.

    I’m using the IE browser in build 7000 of Windows 7 so perhaps there have been improvements since then, however with no toolbars IE runs quite fast – add in a couple like Windows Live toolbar and everything slows down dramatically.

    Also the left-hand ‘close’ button looks ugly, couldnt it have been a little more discreet? grays or something

  3. Want to talk about toolbar management? Let’s talk custom GUI which IE still sorely lacks.

    If I can’t do this then it’s not customizable…

  4. I have two suggestions:

    1 Make the new toolbar close button optional (by a setting) because the button consumes screen-real estate, especially if you have more than one toolbar it gets ugly

    2 Add a maximize button for the Manage add-ons dialog

  5. Mitch 74 says:

    @ JAB3: personally, I miss IE6’s UI flexibility, which is one of the reasons why I switched to Firefox: in the latter, I can put buttons right aside the menu bar, meaning that the UI actually fits on 3 lines:

    – menu+navigation

    – tools (Google PR + all 16 Developer Tools icons) and Search

    – tabs

    Meaning that on a wide screen, space waste (as shown in your screen capture) is minimal.

    @MSIE team, I’d like to suggest a shortcut for IE 8, building upon this feature: when right-clicking a toolbar, one ever present option should be ‘Plugin Properties’, that would open that toolbar’s entry in the Extension manager.

    Associative action: do things in one single click.

  6. IE sorely needs to rethink its GUI altogether. The idea of putting the address bar at the very top, blended with the title bar, is very nice in an IE6 kind of way, where you still didn’t have tabs. Now that you do have tabs, the address bar just became completely disjointed from what it’s controlling.

    The address bar and the back-forward buttons belong inside the tab, because that’s what they refer to. Chrome really did it right with how they implemented this, and I feel bad knowing that MS won’t implement something similar out of fear of scaring the users with too much change, and just because it wasn’t their idea.

    Even though it would work so well with the new tab colour grouping. The colour outlines would look so much better over the title bar black.

  7. Jake says:

    Toolbars and IE have a horrible history and it is only worse now in IE8.

    I’m glad to see that you can disable the toolbar in an easier fashion now (IF! it is visible – keep in mind most spyware crud that gets installed tries very hard not to be seen)

    But the problem is worse due to this bug:

    Which is correct in stating that it is almost impossible to DELETE an addon in IE.  Which in today’s software world is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE.

    How should it be handled? Easy, check out how easy it is in Firefox.

    You simply view the addon list, find the one you want to uninstall, Click Uninstall, Done.

    But lets face it, the IE chrome/interface is so drastically in need of an overhaul it isn’t funny anymore.

    Internet Options > Advanced > scroll that list baby! Is 80 (Eighty!) items to hard to scroll and find something with such a small window? you bet! no problem, just stretch the dialog – oh wait, NO! you can’t do that! why would you want to make the dialog useful?

    Or how about security settings for each of FOUR different security zones?

    There’s only like 175! items in that list!

    If you seriously care about the end user experience, this has to be the #1 priority in IE9.

  8. brad says:

    Bazzlad: You can put the menu on the top.  There’s a registry setting to do it.  I agree it should be an option and you shouldn’t have to tweak the registry; but it is possible.

  9. Save this (inside but not including the stars) to a *.reg file and execute it. Restart IE and the file menu will appear at the top…

    * * * * * * *


    [HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftInternet ExplorerToolbarWebBrowser]


    * * * * * * *

    @ Mitch 74 I agree, eventually resolution stretches people will see "extra" space though as you resize and lower the window’s dimensions everything collapses in to place.

    @Ilia Jerebtsov I disagree, a tab is a subset to the GUI controls, not vice versa. You wouldn’t actually make a separate GUI control (with the exception of a close button and a context menu on a tab) individually (such as refresh or back/forward) since you’ll first switch to the tab. It’s about cascading the controls downwards. File menu holds the greatest control (over the entire program)…then GUI controls below hold control over all the tabs…then below you have the tab bar…some of my friends have ten windows open with dozens of tabs each (no clue why they don’t use bookmarks/favorites but whatever).

    Opera’s only real constraint at this moment in time is it’s inability to vertically position existing toolbars, secondly items (such as info) are stuck in secondary GUI areas where they should be freely customizable to where ever the user finds it most convenient to access.

    Safari 4 beta’s decision to mess with top bar is (at least initial) a disaster. It completely goofs up my Aero theme for XP and I can only see the close button.

    On a positive note I have not noticed any unnecessary (and thus obnoxious) GUI animations in IE. In example it’s a waste of time dealing with the full-screen GUI animation in Firefox because the GUI controls move making them inaccessible during the animation; that annoys me greatly as a power-user. The fact that the GUI controls pop-out from being *over* the page instead of pushing it downwards (forcing the render area to scroll) is also one of the agreeable GUI implementations in IE8.

    Here is a screenshot of my GUI layout in Firefox….

    Take note I had to "hack" Firefox to get the go button back permanently. Also the new tab button came under threat of removal during a very long span of nightly builds. Fixing the regression at one point was dependent on adding an optional and naturally useless GUI animation.

  10. @Mitch 74 Also I think if you copy the IE6 executable and copy it to an IE7 (haven’t tried this with IE8) you *can* use IE6’s GUI with IE7’s rendering engine however you won’t have access to the newer GUI controls to obvious things such as tab features.

  11. I have a small resolution (1024 by 768) and I have the Windows Live Toolbar enabled because I use it a lot. When I enable the Favorites bar it kinda makes things very cramped. I wish there was an option to place the ‘Favorites Bar’ beside the Favorites (Feeds, History) button. When I drag the toolbar within that area, it goes to the right of the tab.

  12. jorf says:

    What about add-on developers?  Many add-ons have a BHO, a Toolbar, a menu extension and a command bar button.  How are these developers to detect when the user has disabled some arbitrary subset of their components?

  13. Roman says:

    Hold on. Don’t you need to run the (disabled) add-on to find out what toolbars does it provide?

  14. Jeffrey Gilbert says:

    While this can only be considered LONG overdue, I can see waves of "average users" being confused by the x, disabling, not being able to re-enable them, becoming frustrated, and complaining. This is a good feature to have for the "average users" IMO. Hope their complaining doesn’t see it revoked and see cause for a plus button on what is becoming a more tidy interface. It’ll make it a lot quicker to fix spammy malware toolbars I find on seemingly every PC users computer.

  15. Dan says:

    I don’t believe it for a second but this story had me smiling from ear to ear at just the idea of IE end-of-life’ing.

    Best read I had all year!

    I couldn’t care less which engine is used as long as ActiveX and the legacy of bad standards support is over.


  16. Dan says:

    @Roman – as discussed previously on this blog, disabling IE Addons DOES NOT remove them from startup and being loaded, it just means they aren’t used (bad architectural decision).

    Hopefully MSFT comes around before IE8 ships and (a) makes them NOT load AT all, and (B) provides a REAL way to uninstall them and properly disable them in a simple manner.


  17. The-Real-Dan says:

    Dan, I don’t know where you get your info, but disabled add-ons are NOT loaded by the browser.

    As for your InfoWorld ‘article’, it’s pretty clear that the author didn’t bother doing any homework.  Even the minimal amount of fact-checking would immediately reject all of the theories that were put forth.

    Of course, if you got paid only when people visited your site, you’d make stuff up too.  Tabloid journalism.

  18. NP says:

    In IE7 I could never use the Enable and Disable Add-ons dialog box. On the one hand, many of the Activex, toolbars and what have you things in their has no meaningful names and so I could not tell what each one did and what would happen if I disabled one of them. Secondly, the UI was inconsistent: for some items in the dialog box, one could update them by clicking the Update button next to the item. For others, updating was not an option. Also, the UI was bad as it prompted each time you pressed the Disable or the Enable button, which for me was a horrible and slow design. Finally and most importantly, in IE7 I could never make head or tails of the grouppings that were provided by Microsoft in the Add-ons dialog box: Items currently loaded by IE. Ok I can understand that, though not everything in there made sense. Items that have been used by IE, made no sense as it does it mean? Items that have been installed, items that have been used once and then uninstalled, items that are not currently loaded or what? The remaining groupping also made no sense: 32-bit controls, etc. I could never tell which component (add-on) when in what group and Enabling/disabling staff was too hard.

    I hope all the above have been fixed in IE8.

  19. Catto says:

    Hey Now,

    The changes are good.

    Thx 4 the info,


  20. Dan says:

    @The-Real-Dan – Are you sure? because that isn’t what I’ve heard from MSFT.

    IF I load up IE8 without addons…

    iexplore.exe -extoff

    Then go into my Addon management… Tada! I see all kinds of addons listed, many enabled, many with load times listed.

    In IE7 is was even more obvious because there was a drop down for "currently loaded" addons, in which (again) ALL addons were listed, unless a user specifically turned one off during that session.

    Do your homework before posting.

  21. toonnyc says:

    You should put that off switch in a toolbar, so we can turn IE off more easily.  

  22. EricLaw [MSFT] says:

    @Dan: I’m not sure what you’ve heard, but you’ve misunderstood the Manage Addons UI.  That’s understandable– it’s not super-clear and there are important subtleties to it.

    When you load IE in no-addons mode, and look in the Manage Addons UI, you will see the addons which are disabled and enabled *globally*.  This should NOT be taken as an indication that the Enabled addons are *currently* loaded in the -ExtOff instance.

    Q: Why does the UI work like this?  

    A: A key scenario for the -ExtOff mode is to allow users to go disable problematic addons.  If we always showed ALL addons as "disabled" in the MAO UI while in -ExtOff mode, that task would be harder to accomplish.

    Q: What about the Load Time column?

    A: The "Load time" column reflects the *average* load time of the extension across all browser sessions where the addon was actually loaded.  

    The Load Time column is not blank/hidden in -ExtOff mode.

  23. jorf says:

    Anyone at MSFT want to answer my question about how add-on developers are supposed to handle this?  

    Has anyone even considered this change from the point of view of an add-on developer?  

    IE8 already makes add-on development incredibly difficult–on top of an already neglected and out-dated system–by separating things up into different processes and different integrity levels.  A move which seem designed mainly to stop extension developers from using the hacks they had to develop to work around an already broken extensibility model.

    I love that you guys have plenty of time to moderate my comments, but seem too busy to address any of my concerns.

    So, I re-iterate: how should extension developers handle cases where an arbitrary subset of the objects that compose an extension are disabled?  

  24. hdw says:

    I am running ie8 rc1 in xp sp2

    ie crashes when I hover my mouse over the search results for a video in live serach.

    live search attempts to play a part of the video clip,I think it’s at this point that ie crashes.

    No issue with other browsers when attempting this (firefox)


  25. Pongo says:

    This is way better, well done.

    But there’s still no one-click way to disable Flash.

    It’d be really nice if there was.

  26. Dan says:

    @EricLaw[MSFT], if the addons are trully disabled in no-ext mode, why does it take just as long to load and a long time to open new tabs?

    I would expect the load time to be dramatically better if I’m loading without these addons turned on.

    As a final question when I am looking at my addons in no-ext mode why are all the Remove/Delete addons disabled?  Surely if I am loading in no addon mode it is because an addon is acting up and I want to remove it.  I haven’t looked but I presume that the addons can all be removed when IE is loaded normally.


  27. EricLaw [MSFT] says:

    <<if the addons are trully disabled in no-ext mode, why does it take just as long to load>>

    Excellent question, but without getting your machine under a debugger, I can’t tell you what your setup’s specific issue is.

    I can say that running in no-addons mode typically resolves any slowness experience in the tab-creation scenarios.  We have taken a few performance fixes here after RC1, so it will be interesting to see if your issue exists in the final release.

    <<why are all the Remove/Delete addons disabled?>>

    I’m not sure what delete buttons you’re asking about?  In current builds, when loading MAO in no-addons mode, the Remove button is not always disabled; for instance, it’s available for Flash.  The button is only disabled for addons that do not support removal inside IE itself.

  28. Johnny says:

    I use McAfee SiteAdvisor with IE8. But the SiteAdvisor toolbar uses up a seperate row. I tried to put it in the same row as the Favorites Bar but could not do so. In IE7 I could place the toolbar in the same row as the Links Bar. Why has this been changed?

  29. Dan says:

    @EricLaw[MSFT] – ok so apparently I can remove flash but what about all the other extensions? EVERY single one of them should be an easy 1 click action.

    or is this a case of "well the addon is actually tied deep in the bowls of windows – so we really have no control whatsoever to pass on to the user"?

    If so it sounds like it is high time for some re-engineering.

  30. noname says:

    @Dan: The same thing happens with Firefox too, so I guess it’s not a browsers’ fault. By the way sometimes only administrators can remove addons.

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