Internet Explorer 5 survival guide

Microsoft's latest browser has been out for a few months now - long enough for the irritating interface glitches, security flaws, bugs, and incompatibilities with other applications to manifest themselves fully.

The good news: IE 5 is more stable than IE 4.0 was at the same stage in its development. The bad news (sorry, Microsoft): IE 5 is buggy. Fortunately, you can fix or work around most of the problems. (Note: most of the patches listed are included on the cover CD of PC World's August edition).

An IE 5.0 service pack is undoubtedly in the works, though at the time of this writing, Microsoft had not announced one officially. Meantime, Microsoft has released a confusing dribble of minor updates. Office 2000 shipped with IE 5.0a, a minor upgrade that includes Office 2000 compatibility tweaks, but no bug fixes, according to Microsoft. Concurrently, the company updated the downloadable version, from the original IE 5.0 (shown as version 5.00.2014.0216 in Help-About Internet Explorer) to the new IE 5.0a (shown as 5.00.2314.1003). As news of the update leaked out, users anxious for a fix downloaded the update from Microsoft's Web site, but all for naught: Version 5.0a doesn't fix a thing.

Besides releasing its Office 2000-related versions, Microsoft has posted two corrective IE 5 patches to close the security holes mentioned in last month's Bugs and fixes (p141). The 1.1MB IE 5 MSHTML patch fixes three security flaws, and the 170KB DHTML "Edit Control" update fixes one. Find both of these patches - and more details - at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/security/default.asp. Versions of each fix are also available for Internet Explorer 4.0, including version 4.01 with Service Pack 2 (see below).

Unlike the rather obscure security holes these patches try to plug, some other IE 5.0 bugs may interfere with your productivity, or at least drive you crazy. Here are three of the most commonly encountered bugs, and what you can do about them:

BUG: While browsing in IE 5 and clicking links to visit new Web sites, you decide you want to return to a previous page - but the Back button is greyed out. Microsoft promises to include a fix for this snag in a yet-to-be-announced update.

WORKAROUND: For the present, Microsoft suggests, you can get back to the page where you want to be by selecting the appropriate URL from the Address window's drop-down list. Or you can try closing and relaunching IE 5. Unfortunately, however, the drop-down list in question can take a long time to display. Some users have reported that the Back button problem may go away if you perform the following steps: Choose Tools-Internet Options, select the General tab, click the Settings button that's located in the Temporary Internet files area, and set Check for newer versions of stored pages to Every time you start Internet Explorer.

BUG: The Outlook Express 5.0 mail and news reader lacks a spelling checker, but it can use one that comes with another Microsoft product (like Office). When you spell-check an e-mail note you've written, though, OE may display one of those helpful error messages saying that the program encountered "an error".

FIX: Open the Registry Editor (Start-Run-Regedit). Press to start a search, enter SharedFilesDir in the Find what field, check the Values option under Look at, and then click Find Next. When Regedit finally locates the value, double-click it and make sure that the string ends with a backslash. On most systems, the correct string will be C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\. Click OK, and exit the Registry.

BUG: Web pages appear blank or only partially rendered, even though IE 5 displays the Done message in the status bar.

Download a 332KB patch from http://support.microsoft.com/download/support/mslfiles/3725.exe. For more information go to http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/q226/5/50.asp

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