Microsoft has published an excellent resource designed to help users boost the performance of Internet Explorer 8. It does fall on the Redmond company increasing the performance of Internet Explorer, but, at the end of the development process, customers that install the browser need to also fend for themselves. The “Enhancing the performance of Windows Internet Explorer 8” whitepaper currently available for download from Microsoft, free of charge, is designed to provide guidance on a set of steps that can really make a difference in terms of browser performance.

For instance, there’s nothing stopping users from bloating IE8 with add-ons, plug-ins and toolbars, to the point where the browser is barely crawling along. From my own experience, some customers are hitting the “Yes” button on all messages that pop up offering to install browser extensions without even reading to see what they’re agreeing to install. On more than one occasion did I see browsers on friends’ computers that had three or more add-ons installed, neither of which were actually used. All browser extensions deliver an impact on the browser’s performance, at least until Microsoft will cut them out, just as Mozilla did with the introduction of out of process capabilities in Firefox codenamed Lorentz.

“Although browser add-ons can add great new features to your browser, they can also introduce performance issues if written poorly. Add-ons cause most browser crashes, accounting for over 70% of Internet Explorer 8’s crashes. Slowdowns in Internet Explorer 8 are very often caused by add-ons – especially when you open a new browser window or tab,” Microsoft notes in the whitepaper. “Over time, web browsers accumulate add-ons that may affect the performance of the web browser. An installed add-on is automatically enabled and users may not be aware of which add-ons are installed. This means that many users have unwanted and unneeded add-ons installed and don’t even realize it.”

The fact of the matter is that, although add-ons, toolbars, or plug-ins crash, are instable, perform poorly, etc., it will always be Internet Explorer that will get blamed. Even ahead of reading the IE8 performance whitepaper, I was always running the browser in no-add-on mode. Trust me, it makes a world of difference. One of the pieces of advice that Microsoft gives in the whitepaper is to try to run IR8 with the add-ons disabled, by entering “iexplore.exe –extoff” in a Run dialog box. I generally have opened in excess of 100 websites at any time on my computer. If I ran it with all the add-ons enabled, performance would be so poor that the machine would be virtually unusable.

But in the end, you don’t need to disable all extensions. Just leverage the Internet Explorer 8 Add-on Manager and switch off the ones that cause problems for you. With the default IE8 add-on management tool, you can “manage any of the following add-on types: Toolbars and Extensions. View, enable, or disable toolbars, ActiveX controls, browser helper objects (BHOs), and browser extensions. Search Providers. View, change defaults, and add or remove search providers. You can also prevent programs from changing your default search provider. Accelerators. View, change defaults, and add or remove Accelerators. InPrivate Filtering List. View status and manage your list of blocked websites,” according to Microsoft.

But there are additional ways to ensure that IE8 is at the top of its game in terms of performance, and Microsoft offers some great advice in the “Enhancing the performance of Windows Internet Explorer 8” whitepaper. It is more than worth a read, if you ask me.

Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) RTW is available for download here (for 32-bit and 64-bit flavors of Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008).

Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) Platform Preview is available for download here.

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