Utility Spotlight: Customize Your Browser, Part 2

You can customize Internet Explorer 9 just about any way you like with the Internet Explorer Administration Kit.

Lance Whitney

If you need to create and manage your own customized version of Internet Explorer 9, the free Microsoft Internet Explorer Administration Kit 9 (IEAK 9) can help. The latest version gives you easy access to all the latest features of Internet Explorer 9, and helps you put together a build that will have the same settings for all users. Last month, I looked at how to use IEAK 9 to create your Internet Explorer 9 build. This month, I’ll cover how to use it to manage and update Internet Explorer 9 settings across your organization.

If you already use Group Policy, you know you can manage and update Internet Explorer through Group Policy settings. Microsoft provides the necessary administrative templates for Internet Explorer 9, and you can tweak those to control different browser settings. If you don’t use Group Policy, though—or don’t want to use it to administer Internet Explorer—IEAK 9 has its own tool called IEAK Profile Manager.

Follow the Wizard

Let’s say you’re already using the IEAK Internet Explorer Customization Wizard to build your package. In the fourth section of the Wizard—called Customizing the Browser—you need to set up a link to an Internet Settings (INS) file. An INS file is a simple text file that contains virtually all of the browser’s key settings. By storing the INS file on your network and pointing your Internet Explorer build to that file, you can propagate the browser’s settings to all of your users.

At the Automatic Configuration screen (see Figure 1), turn on the option to Enable Automatic Configuration. Specify the name and path you want to use for your INS file. The path must be a URL, so you’ll have to store the INS file on a local HTTP server. As an example, if you want to name the INS file ie9.ins and store it in a folder called IEAK on a Web server with a domain name of www.acme.com, the URL you type in this screen would be: http://www.acme.com/ieak/ie9.ins.

The Automatic Configuration screen lets you specify the name and location of the INS file.

Figure 1 The Automatic Configuration screen lets you specify the name and location of the INS file.

After you’ve added the INS option to your package, run Profile Manager to set up the file. Click on the Start Menu Programs folder for Windows IEAK 9 and choose the shortcut for IEAK Profile Manager.

When the Profile Manager loads, all settings are grayed out. To enable them, you can either create a new INS file or load an existing one. The second option is simpler, because you already have an existing INS file (the one you generated when you built your Internet Explorer 9 package).

From the Profile Manager, load your build’s INS file by clicking File | Open, then drill down through your c:\builds folder. Once you pass the date folder, choose the INS subfolder. Drill down further until you see the file INSTALL.INS. Double-click it to load that file.

The INSTALL.INS file contains all of the settings and options you chose when you first built your package. Therefore, you probably won’t make any changes to it the first time around. Resave the INS file using the same name you gave it in the Automatic Configuration screen when you built your package (for example, ie9.ins). Click on File | Save, then browse to a local folder or other location where you can safely store the file for now (see Figure 2).

Save the INS file in a safe, local location

Figure 2 Save the INS file in a safe, local location.

When you save the INS file for first time, you’ll notice the Profile Manager also wants to save a CAB file. IEAK often applies Registry keys for certain updates. Those keys are stored in INF files, and saved in a compressed CAB file. The CAB file will automatically use the same name as your INS file and be saved in the same folder.

Before you can save both the INS and CAB files, you’ll have to specify the Web server URL where you’ll store the files. Enter the same domain name you typed in the Automatic Configuration screen, such as http://www.acme.com. After you finally save the file, you can open the local folder you specified to see both the INS and CAB files.

As your final step, copy both the INS and CAB files to the location specified on your Web server. Now, each time your users launch Internet Explorer 9, the browser will read the INS file and propagate the appropriate settings on all client PCs.

Change It Up

After you’ve had Internet Explorer 9 deployed for several months, you’ll probably need to change a few settings, like the homepage, default search engine or privacy controls. Load the INS file from your local folder back into IEAK Profile Manager.

IEAK Profile Manager divides its settings into two categories: Wizard Settings and Additional Settings (see Figure 3).

IEAK Profile Manager lets you change settings within your INS file.

Figure 3 IEAK Profile Manager lets you change settings within your INS file.

The settings you worked with throughout most of the Customization Wizard—such as toolbar buttons, homepage and search providers, proxy settings and security zones—are stored under Wizard Settings. Additional Settings contains settings that let you restrict or lock down different options and screens in the browser so users can’t view or modify them. You’ll find these settings in the last screen of the Customization Wizard.

Like IEAK Customization Wizard, IEAK Profile Manager is fairly user-friendly. Simply click on each category to modify its specific settings. There’s also help available to explain the various options. After you’ve made your changes, resave the INS file and the CAB file back to your local folder.

Instead of overwriting your existing local INS and CAB files with changed files, it’s recommended that you save the new INS file with a different name—for example, ie9_test.ins. Then copy the new test INS and CAB files to your server. This will let you test the new changes before you deploy them to your users. Then, on a single computer, change the name of the INS file setting in Internet Explorer 9 (which you’ll find under Tools | Internet Options | Connections | LAN Settings) to point to your test copy. Close and then reopen the browser to ensure the changes are applied.

After you’ve run your tests, go back to IEAK Profile Manager and resave the INS file with the same name as the live one on your Web server. Once that’s done, you can replace the live INS and CAB files with the new ones from IEAK Profile Manager so the changes are successfully deployed to all your users. Follow this same process whenever you need to test and then deploy new changes to your browser settings.

The Microsoft TechNet Library page, “Use IEAK Profile Manager,” provides more information on using IEAK Profile Manager and INS files

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.