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Web browsing tips

We all use the web, and at one level, there seems to be very little to the browser: an address line, a search box and an area where the content of the page is shown. Perhaps we can add to this a list of  favourites or bookmarks and the ability to print pages, but that would appear to be it.

Yet, there are quite a few little tricks which the web-browser makers put into their products, and these can be very useful on ocassion, or at least save us time and hassle. The list below includes features that are supported by the vast majority of web browsers on both PCs and Macs.

Note for Mac users
I refer below to the  Control key, which on PCs is used for keyboard shortcuts.  Macs use the Command key for this purpose, even though most Mac keyboards have a Control key as well! So, if you see an instructions such as 'press  [Ctrl] F', take it to mean that on the Mac you should press [Command] F.
 Control key (PC)Command key (Mac) 

Zoom in, Zoom out

Text too small to read comfortably? Press [Ctrl] + (that is, the control and the plus keys) to enlarge it! Repeat as necessary. Or, if you want to 'zoom out', press [Crtl] -  to zoom out. This works in all browsers I've come across.

Find on page

Pressing [Ctrl] F will bring up a small search box which will allow you to search for text within the current page on the screen (on some browsers you can press  [F3] instead). All browsers do the search instantly - that is, they search as you type, and show you the results with each keystroke. This can be extremely useful if you are looking for a particular bit of information.

Note that different browsers handle the search slightly differently. For example, Internet Explorer will show you the first occurrence of the text on the page, and you will need to press [Next] to see the next one. Safari shows you all occurrences by highlighting them and dimming the rest of the page, and Firefox allows you to choose whether you want to search for the text one occurrence at a time or highlight all at once.  However, while you may prefer one approach to another, these are trivial issues in the grand scheme of things and certainly won't present a problem to you.

Full screen ('presentation mode')

Pressing the [F11] key will not only expand the window to full screen size, but will hide the browser's 'window furniture' such as the frame, scroll bars and toolbars. This can be useful in a number of different situations. First of all, it is good for presentations, where you only want the content to be shown, without the distraction or other windows or elements. Secondly, it can be useful on smaller screens by making better use of available space. Thirdly, it is sometimes nice to have a clean, clutter-free screen while working  on (or enjoying!) a web page. To return to the normal screen, just press [F11] again.

New Tab

All new browsers support tabs. Tabs  are essentially a way of showing multiple web pages within one window. They allow you to have several web pages open simultaneously  while keeping clutter to a minimum (try open five web pages in separate windows and you'll quickly realise why tabs were invented!).

In most browsers, the 'new tab' button looks like a small tab with a + symbol. However, all browsers also recognise the [Ctrl] T keyboard shortcut, which is less fiddly to do, so learn it and use it! 

Tabs in Opera 11.0

Another useful tip is that right-clicking a link will often give you the option of opening it in a new tab, and that some browsers allow you to 'undo close tab'  (although the method for doing so varies widely). Finally, you can  drag the tabs from one position to another in most browsers, and some will even allow you to turn them into Windows by dragging them onto the taskbar or dock (the bar at the very bottom of the screen).

Print part of a page

Web pages can be difficult to print. Some pages use frames, other have navigation bars on the left and on the right, and may have animated adverts you don't want to print (or can't). Still others are designed in such a way that they are too wide for A4 paper, and then you have the pages with a small article in the middle and extraordinarily long preambles and trailers. What to do?!!

There are several solutions. The simplest, and often the best method, is to highlight ('select') what you want to print and to bring up the 'print' dialogue box by choosing the Print... command (usually in the File menu).  Tick the 'selection' option in the dialogue box and go ahead and print. 

TIP: Even better than using the print command in the menu is to use the [Ctrl] P shortcut, which is both quicker and works even when  the menu is  hidden!

The 'print selection' option reformats the selected part to fit onto the page, so solves several problems in one go. As  an extra bonus, the option exists in some other programs, such as Word and Excel.

An example of a 'print selection' diaglogue box

Unfortunately, 'print selection' does not always work, so here are two additional approaches. First of all, you can convert the page to PDF, then open the PDF and print the desired pages. To create a PDF on a Mac, choose the print command again, then click the [PDF] button and choose [Save PDF As...]. On a PC, you will need software such as PDF Creator, covered in the 'PDF Tools' article on this web site. Finally, there are tools such as the Printliminator discussed here, which allow you to eliminate elements from a web page before printing it.