You know those panels (you select them with "View|Explorer Bar") on the right side of an Internet Explorer window that show your browser history, provide search facilities, let you browse your local file system and so on? Have you ever considered how cool it would be to create a browser portal for your Web application in one of those panels? Well, if you've looked into it you'll have discovered that it is all based on programming with Microsoft's Component Object Model.Working with COM is not a task that most people take lightly but I have discovered a product that makes designing, building and deploying Explorer Bar panels much easier - it is called Explorer Bar Maker from Text-Reader Software (see links below).Explorer Bar Maker, which runs under Windows 98, 2000, NT, and XP with Internet Explorer 5+ comes in three variants: left side, top, and bottom (it is odd and irritating that the company charges separately for each version).The installation adds a COM control (a Dynamic Link Library) to Internet Explorer along with a default entry named "My left bar" in the "View|Explorer Bar" menu. There's also a default button that can be added to the tool ribbon using the "Customize ..." option available in the context menu accessed by right-clicking on the tool ribbons.Unfortunately, because of the design of IE (specifically its artificially over intimate relationship with Windows) you must restart the operating system to enable Explorer Bar Maker. But once you do, well, perhaps I'm just overly geeky but when you first go to the "View|Explorer Bar" menu and open "My left bar" and the bar opens it is really cool.The new bar loads a Web page that demos some of the features of the system. To create your own bar there's a configuration utility to change the default bar name, button name, button icon and page to load.Bars can load other bars, load contents into the main browser window, contain forms, execute applications, load other COM controls - pretty much any browser accessible content. Explorer Bar Maker also comes with brief but detailed information on what can be done and how to do it.This is a powerful tool for projects such as intranet support allowing you to create your own informational and control panels with tremendous ease. On the negative side the system has some rough edges (for example the configuration utility is very rudimentary) and costs $100 - a rather heavy price for the level of polish. There's also a rather gray area regarding deployment - it is unclear whether a license is required for each installation.You can test Explorer Bar Maker for 30 days.