By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
When I installed the latest test version of Windows 98, I expected it to look prettier and run more smoothly than Windows 95. I was not disappointed. But what I had not expected was a dramatically improved stability in my Internet connections.
I had faithfully patched my copy of Windows 95 to add every possible enhancement, especially the newest Internet-connection software. This software includes the now-famous "Winsock" and a new, sleeker dialup program.
But anyone who adds patch upon patch to Windows 95 is likely to pile up trouble upon trouble, and this shows up in your PC's Internet connections right away. I did everything I could, took all the advice I could gather and retried all the steps I'd ever taken, without getting a stable and speedy connection.
Windows 98 has turned that around. Built into Windows 98 is Microsoft's newest Internet networking software, Winsock 2.0, along with its latest dialup software and a host of hidden improvements.
The difference, even after many days of using Windows 98 on the Internet, is hard to believe. Connections to my Internet provider are now totally reliable, and I am seeing faster access to Web sites of all kinds. My e-mail arrives in a torrent instead of drip by drip, no matter which e-mail software I used, and Windows 98 did a better job than the current operating system of sorting out all the tasks done on the Net while I'm doing other things. Although Microsoft made no important changes to the way Windows handles multiple tasks, Windows 98 clearly runs more smoothly when you have many programs running at the same time.
The connectivity improvements make Windows 98's two biggest Internet features stand out even more. They are the Internet Explorer 4 Web browser and Outlook Express, an e-mail and newsgroup program.
Internet Explorer 4 is an outstanding Web browser, probably the best you can use overall. It requires a lot of memory and a fast PC—making its lean-and-mean competitor, Opera, an attractive alternative for anyone with an older computer—and it does all the amazing tricks built into the latest Web-page design code.
IE 4 knows how to update itself, offers you a clever full-screen mode that's ideal for many of the newest sites and is about as easy to use as your toaster. I like this version. (I had cautioned against installing earlier versions of IE 4 on Windows 95 PCs, and I'm sticking to that advice. Windows 98 was built for IE 4, so there's no reason to worry about IE 4 under Windows 98.)
Outlook Express also has changed. The first versions, designed to run under Windows 95, were buggy and slow. The version included in Windows 98 is the opposite—superbly designed, extremely fast and rich with features and functions.
As a basic e-mail program, Outlook Express outclasses all its competitors. It makes Netscape Mail, Eudora Light, Eudora Pro, Exchange, Windows Messaging and even Outlook 97 (the heavy-duty mail program in Office 97) look like they were designed a decade ago. It's much faster at everything it does than any of the others, too. Microsoft spent a lot of time clearing out incompatibilities in the way Windows handles e-mail in the background, and the effort yielded the best combined mail-and-news software around.
Outlook Express has a good address book—much better than the one built into Exchange and Windows Messaging—and it has a helpful auto-copy and auto-delete function to help sort and winnow out mail. But does not have the advanced features of Outlook 97, which still ranks as the best sophisticated messaging program among all the ones designed to integrate tightly into Windows.
Windows 98 has many other new Internet-related features, too. We'll take a look at some of them next week.