By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
The beta-test version of Windows 95 that came out three years ago had no Internet pretensions. You had to pay $40 for the Microsoft Plus! Pack to add Internet capabilities to Windows 95. Even when the regular version of Windows 95 was introduced six moths later, connecting to the Internet was still an optional extra
How times have changed! The Windows 98 beta I installed on my PC this winter should have been delivered in a package marked "for Web use only." When Windows 98 officially starts taking over from Windows 95 this spring, PC users who don't have access to the Internet will lose out on many of the features of the new Windows.
As many of you would expect, Windows 98's file-and-folder program, called Explorer, doubles as a Web browser. (For example, if you type a Web address into the file-and-folder window, Explorer opens up a folder on another computer across the Internet. This dual function is installed in Windows 95 PCs by Internet Explorer 4, and is familiar to millions of users already.)
But that's just the beginning. When Windows 98 has a problem, users can choose to have the PC automatically send a report to Microsoft over the Internet. When you want to hold a conference over the Internet, you don't need to buy extra software; Windows 98 comes with NetMeeting, a superb audio-and-video communications program. If you like Internet chat, you can use the chat program included with Windows 98.
Let's get a little deeper. If you want to connect to your office network through the Internet, you can use the free "tunneling" features built into the Windows 98 Winsock (the Windows Internet networking software). Want to use two modems and two phone lines to double your access speed on the Net? No problem; that's built in, too.
How about a Web-page editor? You get one of those, too, along with a free Web server (of limited functionality) so you can create a Web site in a few minutes.
There are many more Internet-related features. As I explained last week, one of the freebies in Windows 98, Outlook Express, is undoubtedly the best medium-duty e-mail program for Windows. It is also an excellent newsgroup reader. And, although Internet Explorer 4 takes up too much memory for many older PCs, it's clearly the best Web browser for users whose PCs have a lot of memory and a fast processor.
The most visible Internet-related feature is the Windows 98 Web desktop. I turned mine off after a week after it became annoying. When I finally get a permanent high-speed Internet connection through my cable company, I'll try it again. Making your Windows wallpaper (the background on your Desktop) into a live Web page, or making a live Web page into your Windows wallpaper, whichever way you want to understand this brilliant-but-crazy idea, is just not the way most people work and play on their PCs.