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Internet Explorer 4.0 and the "preview" that backfired
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

Internet Explorer 4.0 and the "preview" that backfired 

Bit Player for July 27, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Microsoft has posted a "preview" version of Internet Explorer 4.0 at its Web and ftp sites. If you like adventure and don't mind reinstalling Windows in your abundant free time, download it and click on "Install."

Yes, there's more than a little sarcasm in my comment. After downloading and installing more than 20 megabytes of the future of Web browsing, I had to spend a weekend in the glorious and wonderful past of reinstalling my computer's operating system. Internet Explorer 4.0 had turned my Windows into mush.

Let me stop here and assure you that I know why Internet Explorer 4.0 failed so spectacularly and why it brought down Windows 95 in the process. Internet Explorer 4.0 failed to signal the operating system to shut down every other program that had "hooks" into the shell, the program that ties everything together. When my computer shut down and tried to reboot, it sat forlornly in front of me, its operating system fried.

My software mixture is different from yours. What happened to my PC and me probably won't happen to you.


That's the part that irks me. Most of us know that there's no guarantee that a program that Microsoft calls a "preview" and the rest of all call "beta" will work when you run it. But we might not realize that we also have no guarantee that a beta program will even install itself properly. Nor any assurance, as I rediscovered last week, that a beta program will leave your computer in the condition in which it found it.

Internet Explorer 4.0 is Microsoft's biggest shot yet in the Web software war. Two things you need to know about IE 4.0—it's a much better browser than Internet Explorer 3.02 (the current version), and it doesn't really exist yet.

You heard that right. IE 4.0 doesn't exist yet as an official Microsoft program. Sure, Microsoft invites you to download it. Microsoft even advertises Internet Explorer 4.0 in the current issues of computer magazines. But it's not a program that Microsoft supports. If you have a problem with it, it's your problem. Don't call Microsoft to complain; the company won't take telephone calls about problems with "preview" software.

I think this policy stinks. I can understand the end of it, but I have a problem with the beginning. Even companies as big as Microsoft have few resources to handle complaints from the public about beta software. That's understandable. What's not conscionable is the way Microsoft has turned Orwellian fiction into reality. It has changed the language we all understood and turned it into Newspeak.

"Beta" means "preview" now, and hordes of computer journalists accept this putrefaction. Go to the movies, see a preview. Go to Paris in the spring, see the fall fashion preview. Install an unfinished piece of software, and you've just held hands with the devil. "Preview" is a good word. It was never meant for this kind of subterfuge.

"Bugs" don't exist in Microsoft software; the company refers to them as "issues." Well, I have an issue for Microsoft. Somehow, somewhere, someone who was supposed to make sure your unfinished Internet Explorer 4.0 was finished enough to know how to install itself fell asleep at the wheel. No—pardon me, I mean an "issue" of some kind diverted the individual's attention. Perhaps it was even an "issue" that dealt with a "preview."

Regardless of how it happened, the "preview quality control" folks didn't check their "issues" or their quality well enough. No doubt they'll get it right some day.

And some day I'll happily install the real version of Internet Explorer 4.0. I might even forgive Microsoft for what happened.

But right now forgiveness is not in my lexicon. Just as "beta" is not in someone else's.

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