How-to: Using Accelerators in Internet Explorer

Remember Smart Tags? This was a feature that shipped in Microsoft Office XP onward and was supposed to go into Internet Explorer 6; except it became mired in anti-competitive slanging matches and was dropped from the browser.

In IE8, 9 and 10, Smart Tags are back; renamed ‘Accelerators’, Redmond is seeking to avoid more Anti-Trust furore by including a number of Accelerators from competitors.

“Accelerators are a type of browser extension that act on Web page content by sending the information to a service of the user’s choosing. Services then perform actions on the content (such as “email” or “bookmark”) or provide more information (“translate” or “map”). Users can install and access Accelerators from the browser shortcut menu, making their browsing experience more efficient.” (MSDN)

Often you want to copy and paste part of a web page in order to use if for something else. Accelerators ‘accelerate’ this process by providing a pop-up menu of options against highlighted text or graphics in an IE tab. Each of the options relates to a web service appropriate to what IE thinks is the data type selected.

This is effectively the counter-part of a right-click context menu elsewhere in Windows, but for web pages. It’s an overlay of additional functions provided by the browser, nothing at all to do with the source website.

Accelerators allow you to supplement, or even bypass whatever functions the source the web site provides. A given example is to use the IE Accelerator to lookup an address on a Bing! Map, even though there is a native map on the source page.

If you select some text in a Web page in IE 8, 9, or 10, you can then right-click on that selection and a menu will appear, listing Accelerators that may (or may not) apply to the selected text. What you see, is contextual depending on what’s selected and on which Accelerators are loaded in your browser.

In IE 8 whenever you select an item in a tab, you should see a small blue Accelerator graphic appear which you can click on for the context menu. IE 10 seems to have broken this convention, but you can still right-click for the context menu.

IE Accelerator into Bing Maps By default, IE 8 onward ships with several default Microsoft Accelerators, including Map, Translate and Search with Bing.

You can get more Accelerators on the Internet Explorer Add-ons site at www.ieaddons.com/en/accelerators. It’s an attractive and valuable page, but a usability nightmare. This whole Live Tile, sideways-scrolling thing is getting out of hand.

Firstly, it’s easier if you filter the bottom-right drop-list by Accelerators. You also need to realise that the page scrolls sideways using some clever Javascript on mouse action, when you hover over the page edges. There is no horizontal scrollbar on the page.

IE Accelerators GalleryGet past that ans you can add new Accelerators from Microsoft and third parties such as eBay, Facebook, Yahoo!; individual retailers, transport companies, government agencies, newspapers and shopping sites also have built accelerators. Click the orange Accelerator tag to install one,

What can you do with Accelerators? The classic examples are;

  • highlight an individual word and get a definition. select a full address and get a map
  • highlight a word in a foreign language and get a translation
  • highlight a product and shop for it – including a visual search on Amazon for example
  • invoke a Google search
  • blog about the selected text in Windows Live Spaces (well, you used to…)

Most Accelerators either invoke a pop-up window or load the information in a separate window or tab.

There must be fifty or sixty working third party Accelerators available from that page. They can be a genuine time-saver if you live in Internet Explorer full time. AJS

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