One of my customers complained to me about the "slow Internet" on her Windows XP SP3 machine, which was running Internet Explorer (IE) 8.0. Internet speed tests showed no problem, so I looked into the kinds of websites she was visiting and noticed all the Adobe Flash content. These days, it's hard to find websites that don't have video ads.

I realized that the video ads were likely the cause of the problem, so I decided to disable videos in the browser. My first attempt was to simply clear IE's Play animations in web pages check box. (This check box is in the Multimedia section on the Advanced tab of the Internet Options page, which you access through the Tools menu.) When that didn't work as expected, I did a little research and found that this setting affects only animated GIF files.

After doing even more research, I discovered that there are a few fast and easy tweaks you can make to improve users' Internet experience and productivity on older, slower systems (e.g., Windows Vista, XP) that use IE 8.0 or IE 9.0. These tweaks will also help with network bandwidth utilization.

Here's what you need to do:

  1. Open IE and go to a website that has Flash video (e.g., YouTube.com). Then, go to a website that uses Microsoft Silverlight (e.g., Microsoft.com). By going to these websites, you'll be loading the ActiveX controls for Flash and Silverlight.
  2. Select Manage Add-ons on the Tools menu. Make sure that Currently loaded add-ons is selected in the Show drop-down list. In the right pane, find Shockwave Flash Object and click it. Use the Disable button to turn it off. Then find Microsoft Silverlight and click it. Use the Disable button to turn it off.
  3. Close the Manage Add-ons dialog box.

With this technique, you can disable videos (and other add-ons) quickly and on the fly, without exiting IE. If you want to see active video in your IE session again, just go back to the Manage Add-ons dialog box, enable the ActiveX controls, and use the F5 key to refresh the web page.

If manually disabling the ActiveX controls isn't feasible, you can implement this technique with Group Policy. For information on how to do so, see the Windows IT Pro article " Managing Windows Vista Group Policy Options " (March 2007) and the Microsoft article " How to manage Internet Explorer add-ons in Windows XP Service Pack 2."