ALToolbar is a free Internet Explorer toolbar that offers a number of very useful functions straight from the browser, including an internet cleaner, advanced find, automatic site login with online password storage, online bookmark management , screenshot capture for websites, quick access to multiple search engines, a flash ad blocker, control by mouse gestures, and a few others.
Let me be clear first that I usually do not like toolbars and try to avoid them. I especially do not like toolbars when they offer functions and features that have little value-added, and then try to force you to use their own custom search page.
The only toolbar that I have previously recommended on Freewaregenius is the Google Toolbar (see this post). ALToolbar, however, offers a number of functions with high value added and I have no qualms giving it my highest possible endorsement.
The reason I recommend ALToolbar is because it brings together a terrific collection of browser tools in one place.
And although it does have it’s own customized search page, the last used search engine (e.g. Google or whatever other engine you like) will be used as default, or you can define your own default search provider.
Note that of the many functions that ALToolbar offers, two of these (the automatic password login ALPass and the Bookmark manager) actually store your information online. The idea behind this is to enable you to manage your bookmarks or site logins on one computer (say, at home), and then access these from your work computer for example such that you will always have access to the will always be in sync. These are discussed in mroe detail below. Here’s a list of all the functions ALToolbar has to offer:
- The user interface: the toolbar generally looks good but what is cool is that it allows you to maximize it (so that a text label is displayed next to each button) or minimize it so that only the icons appear. The latter option is very useful if you are interested in minimizing your browser toolbar clutter.
- Customizability: ALToolbar allows you to pick and choose in terms of the buttons you would like to display within the toolbar and/or the functions that you would like enabled. If you do not care about any offered function(s) you can disable it and use the remaining ones.
- The search function: the idea here is to get quick access to any search engine (or websites such as YouTube or Dictionary.com). It also will highlight the search text on the results page, Google Toolbar style, for searches done with any of the supported engines. If, as an example, you often use Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube searches, you can install all of these (and many others) into the ALToolbar search function and access them quickly and easily by doing any of the following (a) pressing the ’search’ icon on the toolbar, (b) by right clicking twice in quick succession, or (c) by pressing shift twice on the keyboard. The last used search service becomes the default button on the toolbar.
- The internet cleaner: you can use this to instantly erase any combination of: browsing history, cookies, temporary internet files, autocomplete information, saved passwords, and address bar history. You can tell it exactly what you want and do not want it to erase by checking the appropriate boxes in a checklist (see screenshot). This function is similar to that provided by CachePal, but ALToolbar offers more control over what is erased and in general it does it better.
- Find text: similar to previously reviewed “Find as You Type“. This function will highlight any text in the browser screen that corresponds to what you are typing as you type it. It has buttons to quickly switch forwards/backwards acorss all found instances of the text, and the option for case sensitive finds and/or finding whole words only.
- Browser screenshot capture: this is a fantastic function that gives you great flexibility when capturing screenshots from the browser. It allows you to capture a screenshot of a web page in its entirety, including the part that is not visible on screen. It is similar to Faststone Capture or Webshot but is better than both of these in that aside from grabbing whole pages or manually selecting an area, it can automatically detect and grab elements on the page (e.g. a table, a flash banner). After using this for about a week I can report that it can be extremely useful.
- Mouse gestures: there are a number of built in mouse gestures that can be performed and can be associated with a number of pre-defined actions (back, forward, top/bottom of page, open in new window/new tab, refresh, close window, previous/next tab, minimize/maximize window, display search bar). The way to do these is right click and do the pre-defined gesture (a visual representation will appear on-screen). If this does not sound like it’s quite your cup of tea, try the “jump to top” and “jump to bottom” of the page gestures; you’ll probably find them to be very cool (I did).
- Right click enable: you might have encountered sites which disable the right click context menu as a means of preventing you from saving images locally, etc. One of the services that ALToolbar provides is to override this and re-enable the right click (look for it in the preferences).
- Shortcuts: you can define keyboard shortcuts and associate them with sites. For example, you can set it such that it takes you to Freewaregenius.com when you enter “fg” in the address box, and so on. Can be a very handy way of getting to your favorite, frequently used sites.
Last but not least, here are two functions which save your information online and require that you create a personal ALToolbar account using a valid email address. Here’s more information:
- ALPass: this is an automatic login function that can store your passwords and logins and automatically fill them in for you when you need to. I reviewed this as a standalone program more than a year ago, but the component that used in the toolbar differs from the desktop version in that it stores your information online, such that you can access your most recent logins from multiple computers (assuming they have ALToolbar installed). This feature is actually very well implemented and I am guessing that you will like it. One thing that it does not have at the moment which would have been nice is importing logins/data from the desktop version of ALPass. Lastly, if you have security concerns read the security section below.
- Bookmark management: fairly straightforward bookmark management, with your bookmarks stored online. Can import your local bookmarks, and will present you with a folder structure such that you can check a box next to the folders you want to import.
Security: you might wonder about (a) the reliability of storing your data online, in terms of being able to access it when you need to and it being preserved and not lost, and (b) data security in terms of being able to trust that it will not fall into the wrong hands or be subject to abuse.
With respect to (a), I know that although they recently had problems with their servers, the developers of ALToolbar recently underwent a massive server upgrade, so all should be well on that regard.
Point (b) is a little bit more complicated, but here’s my two cent’s worth. I have been using the desktop version of ALPass, the automatic password login component for almost two years for all my passwords without exception, so I figure if this company was in the business of stealing passwords I would have been adversely affected by now. They go to great lengths to explain that your data is encrypted on their servers, so nobody can read it even if they got access to it; and then it is transmitted over an encrypted connection . The question is whether you believe that these measures described here are actually the case… which I do not see a real reason to doubt, personally.
At the end of the day, though, it will boil down to a matter of trust: any login/password manager can be insecure (unless you clamp down on it with an airtight Firewall, a situation you do not want to be in the first place). If you are not comfortable thinking that your personal login and pass for a particular account is stored somewhere out there on a server then don’t do it.
- The ability to use the password management component while storing the information locally, for people who would rather not store their personal info online. Note: if you do not want to use the password management component you can remove it from the toolbar and just use the other functions.
- A version of ALToolbar for Firefox.
The verdict: this is probably the best free Internet Explorer add-on out there (and the more I use it the more I find this to be the case). Even if you are not interested in using the online functions the other functions alone are worth installing it for. Recommended!
Version Tested: 1.13
Go to the program page to download the latest version (approx 4.73 megs).