Customise Internet Explorer 7 to the way you work with add-ons - and most are free too.
While Firefox has enjoyed a healthy plug-in community for several years, Internet Explorer has lagged behind somewhat. That's set to change with the arrival of IE7 and the www.ieaddons.com website, though. There are 400 downloadable extensions for IE7 users, although with many coming at a cost, it's best to choose wisely.
The latest Firefox release has a spellchecker as one of its core features, so it's good to see IE7 catch up at last. ieSpell is free for personal use and integrates with Microsoft Office's proofing tools, including bi-directional use of your existing custom dictionary. It doesn't actually require Office to work, though, and uses both UK and US dictionaries. Ultimately, it isn't quite as good as the Firefox checker, which highlights spelling errors on-the-fly, but until something better arrives, it's an essential download.
IE7pro is another free add-on that attempts to address the gap between Internet Explorer and Firefox. With an emphasis on ease of use, security and customisation, it does a pretty good job. Highlights include the ability to double-click and close a tab, Opera-style mouse gestures (waggle your mouse to perform an action), saving the whole web page to an image and a basic ad blocker. But our favourite function has to be the Firefox-alike session crash recovery that can get you right back to where you were. With support for Vista too, it comes highly recommended.
LinkStash is a commercial add-on, but comes with a 30-day evaluation period. It's also the last bookmark manager you'll ever need. Supporting Opera and Firefox bookmarks, as well as IE7, all your Favorites are kept in a single Explorer-style format. Every bookmark has a field for comments (and automatic website password control), plus ratings and colour highlight labelling - you can also open it from within IE7 tabs. With all your bookmarks in one file, it makes backup and synchronisation between computers much easier. It saves space as well: 500 bookmarks that would use 2MB in IE require only 70KB with LinkStash.
Ad Muncher is another of the commercial add-ons available for IE7, but having used it for a few weeks we soon forgot about that - just like we forgot about website adverts. The ad-blocking market is a crowded one, but Ad Muncher has been seven years in development and it shows. It's hugely customisable, will remove pop-ups, pop-unders, embedded adverts, audio, Flash, background images, prevent auto-bookmarking, prevent web-bug tracking and all the time leave small, inoffensive text-only adverts alone (unless you want it to remove them as well).
For even the most casual web developer, the Microsoft-developed IE Developer Toolbar is another essential. One click opens up a toolbar occupying the bottom third of your screen, from where you can manipulate, explore and further understand any web page you visit. From modifying the Document Object Model (DOM) to locating specific elements of the page, you can view HTML object class names, link paths and tab index values. You can validate HTML, CSS, WAI and RSS, display image dimensions and file sizes, and even instantly resize IE to any given window size. Whether you're just curious to learn more about web coding, need to troubleshoot a page or ensure your site meets accessibility requirement, the IE Developer Toolbar brings it all together in a single download.