Windows Vista : Web and Email (part 3) - Stop Annoying Animations, Opt Out of Tabbed Browsing, Surf Anonymously

2/20/2013 8:30:52 PM

8. Solve the Blank Form Mystery

When was the last time you filled out a form on a web page and clicked Submit, only to be told there's something wrong with what you've entered? You do as you're told and click the Back button to return to the previous page, but now the form is completely empty.

This is caused by a bug in your web browser, not the web site. All versions of Internet Explorer, and older releases of Netscape (versions 4.x and earlier) exhibit this bug. Browsers based on the Mozilla engine, such as Firefox and SeaMonkey, are better at saving form information, except under certain circumstances. For instance, if a form is generated on the fly, Mozilla browsers usually can't save the text you've typed into it.

To date, no browser handles form data in previously visited pages perfectly, but there are a few workarounds.

For one, most web site designers are aware of the bug, and have built their web sites accordingly. So, if you submit a form, and need to go back and change what you've typed, don't press your browser's Back button. Rather, look for a Back button or Edit button right on the page, and click it to safely modify your text.

Next, make a habit of performing an impromptu backup before you submit any form. For instance, if you've written a long message, click in the text box, press Ctrl-A to highlight all the text, press Ctrl-C to copy it, open Notepad, and press Ctrl-V to paste. (Repeat these steps for each long field in the form.) If you're later returned to an empty form, simply paste your text back into the fields and try again.

Finally, Mozilla SeaMonkey can prefill most types of web forms. Just before submitting a form, select Edit → Save Form Info. Then, if the form is blank when you return (or if you encounter a new form requiring similar data), select Edit → Fill in Form to restore your data.

9. Stop Annoying Animations

It seems like everywhere you go on the Web, something is pulsating, flying across the screen, or playing music. So, how do you make this online circus stop?

In most cases, pressing the Esc key stops the animations, but this is temporary and only works with animated .gif image files. If you want to permanently disable .gif animations altogether in Internet Explorer, open the Tools drop-down, select Internet Options, click the Advanced tab, and turn off the Play animations in web pages option. You can also turn off sounds and videos with similar settings in the same section. Click OK when you're done.

In Firefox and SeaMonkey, type about:config into the address bar to show the staggering list of all available fine-tuning options for these browsers. Find image.animation_mode in the list (type something like anim in the Filter field to locate it quickly), double-click the option, and type none in the Enter String Value box. If you don't want to completely disable animations, you can type once here instead (normal is the default) to let sites play all animations only once, but never repeat (loop) them. Click OK when you're done.

Other types of animations require different strategies. To turn off Flash animations in Internet Explorer, you must uninstall the Flash player using Macromedia's elusive uninstaller tool, available at (search the knowledgebase for "uninstall").

But in Mozilla Firefox and SeaMonkey, you can use the powerful Adblock Plus extension, available for free at, to selectively hide animations. Once installed, restart your browser, and then go to Tools → Adblock Plus. Open the Options menu, and if the Show tabs on Flash and Java entry doesn't have a checkmark next to it, select it and then click OK. Thereafter, a little tab labeled Block will protrude from any Flash animation on a page (see Figure 4); just click the Block tab to show the address of the ad, and then click OK to begin blocking that particular Flash animation.

Figure 4. The tabs feature in AdBlock Plus is a quick way to get the address of an embedded web object, as well as a means of eliminating annoying animations from a web page

Adblock Plus supports wildcards so that, for instance, you can block all Flash animations from a particular server, rather than having to do it manually for each one. The next time you click a Block tab, you'll see the address of the .swf file, like this:


Just replace the filename with an asterisk (*), like this:


to block all the files from the /ads/ folder on that server. Adblock Plus will continue to hide these animations until you manually remove the corresponding rule from the Adblock Plus Preferences window.

Now, if the animation, video, or sound is coming from an embedded Java applet, and you don't have the luxury of an ad blocker, you can turn off Java support altogether. In Internet Explorer, go to Tools → Internet Options, click the Security tab, click Custom Level, and in the JavaVM section, select Disable Java, and then click OK in both boxes. In Firefox, go to Tools → Options, choose the Web Features category, turn off the Enable Java option, and click OK. Or, in SeaMonkey, go to Edit Preferences, highlight the Advanced category, turn off the Enable Java option, and click OK.

JavaScript, not to be confused with Java, is often used to create flyovers (where a button or icon changes when you move the mouse over it) as well as cursor trails (the flying bits that follow your mouse pointer). Now, because so many sites rely heavily on JavaScript, it isn't a good idea to turn it off just to purge these sorts of animations. In most cases, you can curb annoying JavaScript behavior with an appropriate user script. If you're using Firefox or SeaMonkey along with Adblock Plus, you can use the "Blockable items" window (press Ctrl-Shift-B) to block one or more of a specific site's external JavaScript source files.

10. Opt Out of Tabbed Browsing

Some people like tabs because they can be used to reduce screen clutter, but if you don't specifically want to use them (for instance, if you like to view pages side-by-side), tabs are just a nuisance.

Fortunately, it's easy to do away with tabs in Internet Explorer. Just open the Tools drop-down, select Internet Options, and choose the General tab. In the Tabs section, click Settings, and turn off the Enable Tabbed Browsing option. Click OK and then OK again, and then close any open Internet Explorer windows for the change to take effect.

If you're using Firefox or SeaMonkey, turning off tabbed browsing is a little more involved. To disable all tabs in Firefox or SeaMonkey permanently, install the free TabKiller extension available at, and then restart Firefox. Thereafter, Firefox will ignore any attempts to open new tabs, instead opening such links directly. (To have Firefox open such links in new windows, go to Tools → Extensions, highlight TabKiller, click Options, turn on the Open new windows instead of new tabs option, and click OK.)

On the other side of the fence are those who despise the pile-up of windows, and are happy to put up with tabs to keep the browser window tidy. If you fall into this category (and you're a Firefox user), install the Switch Windows Mode extension, free from, or the This Window extension, free from

If you don't want to turn off tabbed browsing or mess with add-ons, you can use keystrokes to control what happens when you click links:

Internet Explorer

Hold Ctrl when clicking a link to open it in a new tab, or Shift to open it in a separate window. If you have IE's pop-up blocker set to the highest filter level, you can also press Ctrl-Alt to temporarily allow pop ups from the site.


Like IE, hold Ctrl when clicking a link to open it in a new tab, or Shift to open it in a separate window. You can also hold Alt to save the link target on your hard disk.


Hold Ctrl when clicking a link to open it in a new window, or Shift to save the link target on your hard disk.

In any browser, you can also right-click a link and select Open in New Window or Open in New Tab to control tabs from the comfort of your index finger.

11. Surf Anonymously

Web sites you visit know more about you than you probably realize. Along with the browser signature, your browser sends your PC's Internet IP address to every web site it visits, and from that, a web site can extract some pretty interesting things. (See the upcoming "What Can They Find Out About You?" sidebar for the nitty gritty.)

What Can They Find Out About You?

Your IP address is sent to every web site you visit. While no one can determine your exact street address directly from your IP address, there are ways to infer this information with elaborate tracking schemes. Think of your IP address as a serial number, a unique identifier some web sites can use to identify you when you visit.

For instance, let's say you make a purchase from an online store that sells toasters. As soon as you pay for that fancy new four-slicer, the store records your name, street address, credit card information, and your IP address. Provided the toaster store keeps your private information private, you've got nothing to worry about. But can you say the same thing for the other site you just used to sign up for a free plasma TV?

This is where advertising comes in. Most ads on many web sites originate from only a handful of companies, and those companies track who's looking at their ads, even when you don't click them. If you view a page at a news web site that displays a banner ad hosted by, say, or, and then you sign up to win a free TV on another site that has another ad from the same agency, that ad server knows you've visited both sites. What's more, if the ad agency is in cahoots with the people who are giving away the TV, they have your email address, street address, shoe size, and anything else you typed into the sweepstakes sign-up page.

Now, most folks have dynamic IP addresses, which change every time they start a connection, but a single IP can remain active all day (or with a router, for weeks at a time), which means your IP address can be used to track quite a bit of your online activity. And with a geolocation tool like, anyone can find your approximate location. What's more, many unscrupulous sites use so-called tracking cookies to do the same thing—namely, tag your PC with a unique serial number that can be read as you visit many different sites.

So, how can you stop the snooping? Most antispyware software is designed to scan your system and delete any tracking cookies it finds, but you may want to take it one step further and configure your browser to not accept any cookies from these sites. You can get a list of known tracking sites from (If this feels like overkill, block only those sites responsible for the cookies your antispyware software finds on your PC.) To block cookies in Internet Explorer, go to Tools → Internet Options, choose the Privacy tab, and click Sites. In Firefox, go to Tools → Options, choose the Privacy category, expand the Cookies section, and then click Exceptions. Or, in SeaMonkey, go to Tools → Cookie Manager → Manage Stored Cookies.

Use a proxy server to mask your IP address (and yes, your state) from the web sites you visit. As the name implies, a proxy server stands between your browser and the sites you surf, in effect "hiding" you from prying sites. Once you set up a proxy server, all information you send and receive with your browser goes through that server (email and other programs must be configured separately to use the proxy). Most large companies use their own proxy servers to help protect the data on company PCs from prying eyes, but you don't have to work at a big company to get the same protection.

Start by visiting to view your IP address as web sites see it. Then, go to, click page 1, and find any server marked "anonymous." Highlight its IP address and press Ctrl-C to copy it to the clipboard; also note the Port shown in the adjacent column. Next, configure your browser to use that proxy server.

Wondering whether you can trust the proxy service not to use your IP and other info for nefarious purposes? The truth is that there's no reason to trust an anonymous proxy any more than the sites from which you're hiding. For practical purposes, you should only use one of these proxies when you specifically need to surf anonymously, and avoid logging in to your bank's web site while connected to a proxy.

If you're using Internet Explorer, open the Tools drop-down, select Internet Options, choose the Connections tab, and click LAN Settings. Turn on the Use a proxy server for your LAN option, and then paste (press Ctrl-V) the IP address you got at into the Address field. Type the port number (usually 80 or 8080) into the Port field, and click OK when you're done.

If you find yourself using proxies often, you may want to reduce the number of trips you make to Internet Explorer's LAN Settings window. Click the Advanced button, and in the Exceptions box, type the addresses of web sites you want to connect to directly (no proxy).

Settings made in the Internet Options window affect Internet Explorer only, so you'll have to use a slightly different procedure for other browsers. If you're using Firefox, go to Tools → Options, choose the General category, choose the Connection Settings tab, and select Manual proxy configuration. If you're using SeaMonkey, go to Edit → Preferences → Advanced → Proxies, and select Manual proxy configuration.

Now, go back to and notice that your IP has changed! (If you can't load the page, the proxy server is down; just choose another proxy server from, and try again.) From here on, every site you visit will see your proxy server's IP address instead of yours until you disable the proxy.

Every byte of data you send and receive with your web browser will be sent through the proxy server. Unless you know—and trust—whoever is hosting that server, you should always disable the proxy before sending sensitive information (e.g., your home address, credit cards, etc.).

If you don't want to go to the trouble of setting up a proxy server whenever you visit sketchy web sites, there are alternatives. One solution is to use a free, single-serving proxy web site, such as Proxify (, The Cloak (, and the Private Surfing box in the upper-right corner at Anonymizer ( Just type or paste the URL of the site you want to visit into the text box on any of these pages, and press Enter. The proxy site will load up the page, allowing you to surf anonymously for this session. Click the links in the page to continue surfing anonymously, or use your browser's address bar, bookmarks, or Internet Shortcuts to return to the normal, non-proxy surfing.

Anonymizer also has a free Privacy Toolbar (for Internet Explorer only), which does pretty much the same thing as the web-based Anonymizer, albeit with a slicker interface.

If you're using Firefox, check out the excellent FoxyProxy add-on, available for free from Among other things, FoxyProxy makes to easy to switch between proxy servers (or none at all), and even lets you set up rules (called patterns) to automatically enable a specific proxy when you visit certain web sites.

If you want more flexibility than web-based proxies can offer, and don't mind paying for it, try Anonymizer's Anonymous Surfing tool, the Anonymous Browsing Toolbar 3.3 (, or Hide the IP ( These products, in the form of software you install on your PC, perform pretty much the same function as the web-based proxies mentioned above, albeit with more features and speed. All things considered, these software-based proxies are probably marginally safer than anonymous proxies, and less of a hassle than web-based proxies.

Now, you might be thinking, why not just use a router? Well, routers—offer terrific firewall production and indeed act as a layer between your PC and the rest of the Web. But when you surf from behind a router, web sites still see your router's IP address, and thus are still able to collect all the same information about you and your geographical location.

  •  Windows 7 : Zero Touch Installations - Monitoring Deployment Progress
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  •  Windows Vista : Setting Up a Small Network - Setting Up a Peer-to-Peer Network
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