Utility Spotlight: Customize Your Browser

You can use the Internet Explorer Administration Kit to customize Internet Explorer 9 just about any way you want.

Lance Whitney

If you need to configure and deploy a customized version of Internet Explorer 9, you should take a look at the free and reliable Internet Explorer Administration Kit (IEAK) from Microsoft. The latest edition, IEAK 9, helps you tap into the new features of Internet Explorer 9 and ensures that your build will have consistent settings.

Beyond creating a customized and consistent package for widespread deployment, you can also use IEAK 9 to maintain and update Internet Explorer 9 settings and permissions with an Internet Settings (INS) file. This can be handy if you don’t have or don’t want to use Group Policy to control and manage Internet Explorer. This month, I’ll cover how to use IEAK 9 to create your build. Next month, I’ll look at how to use an INS file to administer and update Internet Explorer 9.

IEAK 9 leads you through the process of building your package, so it’s relatively user-friendly. Before you get started, though, you may want to browse through the Internet Explorer 9 documentation and the IEAK 9 documentation at the Microsoft TechNet library. The former will help you bone up on all of the new features in Internet Explorer 9. The latter provides a good overview of what to expect when you go through IEAK.

You have to install Internet Explorer 9 on your target PC before you run IEAK 9, as it imports certain settings from the installed browser. You can download IEAK 9 from its own Web page. Simply find the version specific to your language and install the downloaded ieak.msi file.

At one point early in the installation process, you’ll have to choose a license type. Assuming you’re creating a build for your own organization, choose the last option for Internal Distribution via a Corporate Intranet. After installation, you’ll see a new folder in the All Programs area of your Windows start menu called Windows IEAK 9. Open that folder and select the shortcut for Internet Explorer Customization Wizard 9. On the Internet Explorer Customization Wizard, you’ll find a Help button that provides detailed, context-sensitive help. This will help you determine the best options to select for your build.

The screens in the first section, called Gathering Information (see Figure 1), do just that. Here you’ll be prompted for the destination folder; it will ensure you have the latest version of Internet Explorer 9; you’ll choose your OS platform and language; then you’ll determine whether to save your build to a CD, a file or both. This is where the real customization begins, as well. In this section, you also choose which Internet Explorer 9 features you want to include in the build.

The first section gathers basic setup information and lets you begin customizing

Figure 1 The first section gathers basic setup information and lets you begin customizing.

The next section—Specifying Setup Parameters—starts with Automatic Version Synchronization. This feature automatically downloads the latest Internet Explorer 9 files and components to your build. It also lets you add any custom components and determine if Internet Explorer will be the default browser.

The third section is called Customizing the Setup Experience. Here you choose the type of install (silent versus hands-on) and determine whether the PC should reboot following the installation of Internet Explorer. If you chose a CD-based installation, here you would also set the CD autorun parameters and other options.

The fourth section—Customizing the Browser—contains the bulk of the settings you’ll need to specify for your build of Internet Explorer 9. Here you can customize the title bar and toolbars. You also set up the URLs for the homepage, search providers, Favorites and other required pages. You can create a custom welcome screen and decide if you want Internet Explorer 9 to run in Compatibility View (Internet Explorer 7 mode).

You can also set up and modify your Connection settings by importing them from the installed version of Internet Explorer 9. This is also where you’ll specify an INS file if you wish to use one to manage the browser settings. Simply point to the server path and file name where your INS file is stored so Internet Explorer 9 will know where to find it (see Figure 2). Finally, you can also establish your proxy settings, and import and modify your current security and privacy settings.

You can indicate where you want to store your INS file 

Figure 2 You can indicate where you want to store your INS file.

Additional Customizations is the final section. This lets you import your current browser’s Program settings and establish any permissions, restrictions and other standard settings put in place by your organization (see Figure 3).

This section helps with access control and permissions 

Figure 3 This section helps with access control and permissions.

After you’ve completed the final section, IEAK 9 will build your package using the settings you’ve specified. Once finished, the build will reside in the destination folder that you entered in the first section. By default, the folder is named c:\builds\[date]. For example, if you created the build on Aug. 1, 2011, the folder name would be named c:\builds\08012011.

If you drill down past the date folder, you’ll find a subfolder called FLAT (assuming you choose to save your build as a file and not CD content). Drilling down past the FLAT folder, you’ll eventually find the two installation files for your package: IE9-Setup-Full.exe and IE9-Setup-Full.msi. You can use either the EXE file or the MSI file, but the MSI is preferred, as it gives you the full range of Windows Installer options.

You can see all options available to the MSI file by opening a command prompt to the folder containing the file and typing IE9-Setup-Full.msi /?. Several options will have already been established in your build, but you can override them if you wish. You’ll want to pay special attention to the Logging options (see Figure 4). These can generate a log file to catch any errors that occur or confirm that the build is working.

The log options let you record events and catch errors 

Figure 4 The log options let you record events and catch errors.

You’ll next want to copy the entire builds folder to a test PC or network share from which you can launch the MSI file. You may want to create a simple batch file containing the path to the MSI file and the switches you need. You can run that file on a test PC and other computers to try out the build. After you’ve tested your build and confirmed that it works, you can then use a batch file, login script or other means of deployment to roll out your Internet Explorer 9 package to your user community.

That covers the basics of creating your Internet Explorer 9 deployment package. Next month, I’ll look at how to use the IEAK INS file to manage the browser on an ongoing basis.

Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a writer, IT consultant and software trainer. He’s spent countless hours tweaking Windows workstations and servers. Originally a journalist, he took a blind leap into the IT world in the early ’90s.