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Disable all add-ons in Firefox, Internet Explorer

Deactivate the browser helpers installed on your system to find the source of problems, or simply to speed up your browsing.

I have banished the Yahoo Toolbar from my PCs. It's not that I have anything against Yahoo. I use many of the company's services.

It's just that for me, the shortcuts on the Yahoo Toolbar don't justify the lost screen space, especially on my 13.3-inch laptop display.

So imagine my surprise when I happened to find the Yahoo Toolbar listed among Firefox's add-ons. (It snuck in when another user of the machine downloaded the Yahoo IM client.)

You might be surprised by the add-ons and extensions that have wormed their way into your copy of Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox 3.

You can work your way through the list of add-ons in your favorite browser, disabling and uninstalling those you don't need. Or you can save time by opening IE 7 and Firefox 3 with all add-ons and extensions disabled.

To open Internet Explorer with no add-ons or ActiveX controls working, click Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Internet Explorer (No-Add-ons). (In Vista, a faster way to open IE with no add-ons is by pressing the Windows key, typing Internet Explorer, and choosing Internet Explorer (No Add-ons) in the resulting list of shortcuts.)

To disable all of Firefox's add-ons, you have to open the browser in its Safe Mode (no relation to Windows' own Safe Mode) by clicking Start > All Programs > Mozilla Firefox > Mozilla Firefox (Safe Mode). A quicker way is to press the Windows key (in XP, follow this by pressing R), type Firefox -safe-mode, and press Enter.

Mozilla Firefox 3 Safe Mode dialog box
Disable all add-ons in Firefox by starting the browser in Safe Mode and selecting the "Disable" option. Mozilla

In the Firefox Safe Mode dialog box that appears before Firefox opens, click "Disable all add-ons" and choose the Make Changes and Restart button to run the browser with no add-ons or extensions enabled.

I can't tell you for sure that every feature of every Web site you visit will work as designed, nor can I say unequivocally that you'll be browsing faster with no add-ons enabled. But I made the rounds of my favorite sites in each browser's no-add-ons mode and didn't feel like I was missing anything. In fact, the only way I knew my add-ons were disabled in IE was seeing the Manage Add-ons option grayed out on the Tools menu.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 Tools menu
The "Manage Add-ons" option on IE's Tools menu is grayed out when you open the browser with all add-ons disabled. Microsoft

Disabling add-ons and extensions one at a time is a snap in both Firefox and IE. In the former, click Tools > Add-ons, select an entry under the Extensions tab, and click Disable. To toss an extension, click Uninstall. You can disable (but not uninstall) Firefox's plug-ins by clicking the Plug-ins tab, selecting an entry, and clicking Disable.

In IE, you can turn off add-ons one by one by clicking Tools > Manage Add-ons > Enable or Disable Add-ons. You have your choice of four views on the Show menu at the top of the Manage Add-ons dialog box (the default is "Add-ons currently loaded in Internet Explorer"). To disable an add-on, select it and choose Disable at the bottom of the dialog box.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 Manage Add-ons dialog box
You have a choice of four views when enabling or disabling add-ons in IE's Manage Add-ons dialog box. Microsoft

One reason you may need to disable your browser's add-ons is to troubleshoot poor performance. Microsoft provides a step-by-step guide for fixing problems with Internet Explorer, and one of the steps is disabling your add-ons and re-enabling them individually until the problem recurs, at which time you've found the troublemaker.

You'll find more information about Firefox add-ons at the Firefox Support Knowledge Base.