Accelerator Categories

The idea behind Accelerators has always been to reduce the distance between services and the end-user.  Ideally, we’d like people to be able to select content, very quickly find the service they want to use, and then preview or execute the output of that service easily.

Because of that, we found it really important to make sure that nothing hinders users from finding the services they’re interested in.  Of particular concern was the case of users with many installed Accelerators—trying to pick out a relevant Accelerator from a list of, say, 40 is pretty daunting, even for a seasoned Accelerator veteran.  We were afraid users might just give up and do things the old-fashioned way—copy, navigate, and paste.

The user experience is really important to us, so we decided to come up with a way of solving this problem and making Accelerators easier and more useful.  The solution we arrived at was the category system.

We haven’t previously explained Accelerator categories, so I thought I’d give a brief amount of background, explain how they work, and show how they can make browsing with Internet Explorer 8 more useful and fun.

Category System

Every Accelerator does something with a service.  Therefore, there’s a verb out there that describes what the Accelerator does.  We realized that if we could get similar Accelerators to use the same verb, we could group them together for the sake of presenting a more organized list of Accelerators to the user.  We added this verb as a field in the Accelerator XML manifest, and thereafter started referring to it as the Accelerator’s “category.”

We took the idea step further, though—within a group of services, we thought it was likely that the user would have a preference for one Accelerator over the others.  So we came up with the idea of “default” Accelerators that would be shown to the user before the others.

Once we had categories and default Accelerators, we had the necessary pieces for the category system we have today.  First, we present a top-level menu that contains the default Accelerators for every category the user has.  Since most users will want to use their default Accelerators a majority of the time, this really helps minimize any hunting they have to do to find the right Accelerator.

Then, if the user wants to see all Accelerators, we present an overflow menu that has them grouped together by category.  Hopefully this helps in scenarios where users specifically want to use an Accelerator other than the default.  For example, a user might have accounts with two email services, and occasionally want to send something with the account linked to the non-default Accelerator.  Instead of having to look for that Accelerator alphabetically, he or she can just look for it in the same section as the default email Accelerator.

Here’s what the menus look like for me:

 Accelerator context menu showing the top level defaults and second level non-defaults

As you can see, the top-level menu gives me access to all my frequently-used Accelerators, while the “All Accelerators” menu gives me access to all of them.  The horizontal separators in the second menu delineate different categories.

Common Categories

When we were designing the category feature, we realized that a lot of popular services could be grouped into a few broad categories.  Even so, we still wanted to create a system that was extensible and customizable.  So what we decided to do was ship Accelerators in four “standard” categories that we hoped would serve the majority of the market’s needs, while still leaving the door open for people to create new categories.  These standard categories were:

  • Blog
  • Map
  • Send
  • Translate

Of the four categories above, all except “send” are pretty self-explanatory.  “Send” is pretty much just a catch-all for Accelerators that transfer data from one place to another, but don’t fit into one of the other categories.

In addition to the standard categories, there are others that IE8 doesn’t ship out-of-box, but are in pretty wide usage.  Such categories include:

  • Bookmark
  • Email
  • Find
  • Share

While not every Accelerator will fit into one of these categories, we think they represent a fairly substantial number of the Accelerator scenarios out there.  As a result, we recommend that you use one of the above categories whenever possible.

In addition to helping with menu grouping, it’s our hope that categories are a convenient way for users to understand an Accelerator’s functionality before they install it.

Taking Categories into Your Own Hands

We understood early on that developers would do unanticipated and wonderful things with this feature, like embedding a media player in the preview window.  So rather than force people to use one of the standard categories, we chose to make the category system an open one. 

At the same time, we wanted to give end-users the power to re-categorize their Accelerators to their liking.

The process is actually pretty simple.  If you go to Tools –> Manage Add Ons –> Accelerators, you can select all the Accelerators you’ve installed.  In the bottom left, you’ll see a listing of the Accelerator category, and a small link that will enable you to change it:

Manage Add-ons, where users can change an Accelerator category.

If you ever find that a different category would suit your needs better, you have the power to make it happen.

You can also set any Accelerator to be the default for its category by pressing the “set as default” button near the bottom right of the screen.


It’s been a lot of fun working on Accelerators, and it’s my hope that you enjoy using Accelerator categories as much as I’ve enjoyed working on them.  If you have any feedback, please feel free to leave a comment.

Jon Seitel
Program Manager

Edit 4/30/09: Typo correction in the Common Categories section.  Four standard categories, not five.

Comments (25)

  1. Gordon says:

    Sorry to hijack your comments section, but the IE6 Compat VHDs expire April 30, 2009. Will refreshes be posted or are we out of luck going forward?

  2. boen_robot says:

    I’m not sure if the Accelerators menu delivers in making things easy for users with many Accelerators. I have a hard time navigating even on a list that is of a similar length to yours (18 Accelerators in 6 categories).

    I have an idea on how this could be improved – make each default Accelerator a sub menu. If the user clicks on it, they’ll still use the default one. If they don’t, they’ll open up a sub menu with all Accelerators from that category. Even though it may seem redundant, I suggest the default Accelerator also be in the top of that list to avoid confusion.

    That way, the list of non-default Accelerators the user needs to "review" before making a choice is reduced to the Accelerators of the selected verb, and the default Accelerators are still accessible from the top level.

    You should still preserve the "All Accelerators" sub menu for when the user isn’t sure for the category their target non-default Accelerator is, or wants to "Manage Accelerators…" or "Find More Accelerators".

    I was using the IE betas, so I should probably have said that ealier, but it’s only recently (in the RTW time frame) that I was able to get that many good Accelerators. I only had about 10 in Beta and RC1, and navigating with that many is easy enough.

  3. Sterling says:

    I really like Accelerators. It has made my browsing a lot faster not having to open a new tab and then search. I hadn’t notice that ‘Change’ option before.

    Great IE8 feature!

    One thing, the only thing, that I would change is when a new Accelerator tab is opened, I wish the focus (blue highlight) wasn’t placed on the Smart Address Bar because wheel scrolling is available unless I click on the page or use the scroll bar. I like scrolling with the mouse wheel.

  4. Will Peavy says:

    It would be cool if there was an "inspect element" accelerator, that opens up the element in the IE Developer Tools window (similar to functionality in Gecko/Firebug or Webkit/Web Inspector).

  5. odd finding says:

    I find it very odd that ALL your defaults are on Windows Live.

    On my IE8 – all the defaults are set to NON-Microsoft sources so that I get the best defaults possible.

    Search with Google

    Map with Google Maps

    Send with Gmail

    Define with Wikipedia


    I must admit it annoyed me on install that IE was smart enough to know that I chose Google as my default search engine, but tried to offer me the option to "keep" my defaults which was search with Google… and force a bunch of Windows Live services on me for the rest.

    Very sneaky maneuver… you forced me to have to pick the "I’ll set them up after" option.

    Now from a developers perspective – there are many times when on my site or application I DO NOT WANT ACCELERATORS to appear. E.g. on the text in my Menu.

    How do I turn the feature off for items that don’t need this (or better yet shouldn’t have this feature)

    e.g. I can add autocomplete="off" on form elements to remove the default autocomplete feature if I am providing a richer experience on my page.

    I’d like to be able to add something similar to elements that shouldn’t get Accelerators.


    <ul id="mainmenu" accelerators="off>







    Or in a similar fashion does IE8 support user-select CSS features?







    If not can you make a post showing how you would add an onload event that does a query for elements with the "unselectable" CSS class, then adds a hacky "ondragstart" event to each that returns false so that selecting never occurs.

    I agree it would be quite sad if this is the only way to avoid this IE bug but if you are going to implement a new feature in IE without fully thinking it through – the least you can do is provide a workaround to the new bugs you’ve created.


  6. 8675309 says:

    nice to see that ie8 came on the last day of april but now avg link scanner/search sheld dont work(avg free ver.)  & even though google canada’s page now has suggestions it wont allow me to add it?

  7. 8675309 says:

    also is it now avialbe(on windows update) for wsbs2003(aka whs)?

  8. farstrider says:

    feeds plus won uninstall on vista

  9. Jon Seitel [MSFT] says:


    Thanks for the feedback on that.  It’s something I’ll keep in mind.

    @odd finding:

    We don’t currently have a way for developers to opt out of showing the interact button.

  10. I absolutely love the accelerators.  My one gripe is that only a single accelerator from each category is available in the first menu before clicking "All Accelerators."

    The work around is to create a unique category for each one you want in the top level menu, but this is sloppy.

    For example, I primarily have "define" categories.  I have Wikipedia (normal english), Wikipedia (eimplified english), and Urban Dictionary.  I want all three as a top-level menu item, but, frankly, nothing else.  Instead of being able to organize the menu myself, I have to create two more categories: define2, and define3, for the other two defines.  Plus, I have a bunch of entries that I seldom use in my top menu that clutter it up.

    Then, in the expanded menu, the define, define2, and define3 have seperators between them, which looks bad.  

    The best solution would be to allow the first menu to be completely customizable (perhaps as an advanced setting).  Start with the default entry for each category, but allow users to exclude seldom-used accelerators altogether and more accelerators in the same category.

    Thanks, IE Team, for some great work.  I hope you consider my feedback for future versions.

  11. The most basic Accelerator seems to be missing, that is,  navigate to a non-clickable link. I know that someone could write an accelerator to do this but something as basic as this should be built in the browser and not require us to send our links to a 3rd party.

  12. EricLaw [MSFT] says:

    @Michael: You can build this type of functionality using the legacy MenuExt extensibility which adds context-menu items based on registry keys.

    I wrote a trivial one called "Linkify" which does exactly as you’ve asked; see

  13. yeah uhm no says:

    @EricLaw: "using the legacy MenuExt extensibility"

    Yeah that’s what I want to do in 2009… start using LEGACY technologies to get needed behavior.

    @Michael – it isn’t perfect but in the mean time just highlight and choose "Search on Google" then the result page will link up the URL for you.

  14. Jon Seitel [MSFT] says:


    You could also try out this Accelerator:

  15. Dan says:

    yeahum, don’t be a twit.  HTML and JavaScript are "legacy technology" too, but they get along just fine.  Microsoft doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel just because they can.  

  16. Fleet Command says:

    Accelerators are good ideas but why not custom context menu options are moved into Accelerator categories?

    For example, "Translate with Babylon", "Blog with Windows Live Writer", "Send to OneNote", "Export to Microsoft Excel" or "Download with Orbit" are excellent candidates for being Accelerators.

    This is especially important since they are not manageable now. For example, if the administrator uninstall Orbit Downloader or Babylon, these context menu items will remain, crowding the context menu.

    I wish I had sumbitted this suggestion when IE8 was still in beta stages. Too bad it didn’t come to my mind.

  17. FremyCompany says:

    @Fleet : I agree with you that context menu are not customizable enough and that Accelerators should also have the right to call com object (like normal context menu items) when they’re installed by an application locally.

    Old context menu behavior should be kept for compatibility reason, but should be decrapted in profits of a new "Accelerator" system.

    Another thing that would be good, is the recognition of the type of selected content. Some context menu are useful when we have an address selected, but not otherwhise. Same for phone number.

  18. Fleet Command says:

    @FremyCompany: Compatibility reason? Their registry entry could remain the same way, but there is no compatibility reason to avoid putting them into Accelerators submenu or to avoid making them manageable as some third-party utilities do.

    In addition, a content recognition mechanism is already in place. Only some low-quality products register their context menu items for every type of contents.

  19. Ardentra says:

    Can we get spellcheck builtin to IE.  My entire office is clamoring for Google Chrome because IE doesn’t have spell check built in.  (I know about IESpell).  That one feature would quell my entire office and make me sane again.

  20. Lesta G says:

    @Jon Seitel [MSFT]

    Thanks, this is one accelerator I could not find on ieaddons 🙂

  21. Bill says:

    Live translator accelerator has a bug, because it doesn’t remember the last used language and it always offer to me the Arab language instead English.

  22. Squire says:


    Though you can find addons like IE Spell (addon to spellcheck in IE) which requires you to purchase License for Commercial use but here is a simple little trick to have a Spell checker installed on any version of your Internet Explorer browser.

    The Free Spell Check Software is “Google Toolbar” .. Most of you must be familiar with Google Toolbar addon which is available for both Internet Explorer and Firefox users.

    Google toolbar also provides grammar check  and free online spelling suggestions in the toolbar.Just press the Spell checker button whenever you want to Spell check  the entire webpage or the filled form (This feature is not available in IE Spell addon) and you will find spelling errors in the particular web page!

  23. MD says:

    Anyone know of an accelerator for tracking numbers used for shipping, i.e., UPS, FedEx, and USPS?

  24. IEBlog says:

    When designing Accelerators for IE8, we had a number of scenarios in mind. Primarily, we looked at the