By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers
Ready for Windows 98? You can get a free preview this Tuesday.
Microsoft, maker of the Windows operating system for personal computers, is releasing the main component of Windows 98 on Sept. 30. If you have a way of connecting to the World Wide Web, you can download this part of Windows 98 for free. If you don't have an Internet connection, you can order it on CD-ROM. (Go to http://www.microsoft.com/ie/ for the download and for a link to the CD-ROM order site.)
Windows 98 is the successor to Microsoft's Windows 95. It's different in many ways from Windows 95, which the company introduced two years ago. It looks more modern, can handle more add-on devices, can display different programs at the same time on multiple monitors and knows how to fix problems as they come up.
But those features are still to come with the official launch of Windows 98, expected next summer. What you'll be able to try out starting Tuesday is the biggest change in Windows 98, the one that beta testers have been arguing about for months. It's Internet Explorer 4.0.
Don't let the name fool you. Internet Explorer 4.0 is not just a Web browser. It handles Web browsing very nicely, but referring to Internet Explorer 4.0 as a Web browser is like calling Madonna a female entertainer. What Internet Explorer 4.0 does to your standard Windows 95 operating system is amazing—and probably perplexing, if you're like me.
I'd better explain.
Internet Explorer 4.0 changes vital sections of the Windows operating system to turn your desktop into a Web browser. Microsoft calls this the Active Desktop. The desktop itself is a Web browser, able to show a live Web page as the background instead of a dull "wallpaper" image.
Under the Active Desktop, all your desktop icons are hyperlinks, for example. It also means all the file-and-folder windows you open when you're browsing through your computer are turned into Web pages.
Internet Explorer 4.0 goes a step further. Because you are actually using a Web browser when you open a window to view folders stored on your own computer, there's no functional difference between an item stored on your own hard drive and one stored on a Web site 3,000 miles away. They're both hyperlinks in a browser.
And this, at last, gets rid of the distinction between local and remote objects. While you are looking through your hard drive for a folder, you can click on another icon in the same window and open a file (or even a folder) on another computer somewhere on the Web. You can drop down a small window and type in the location of a file on your own computer or on another computer and retrieve the file just by pressing the Enter key.
Experts in computer interfaces have talked about such a radical change for years, and now you have a chance to try it out for yourself.
You'll especially want to download and install Internet Explorer 4.0 if you want a preview of "push" technology. Like it or leave it, "push" technology, in which news and entertainment is automatically delivered to your computer screen, is the way most personal computers will work five years from now.
Internet Explorer 4.0 automatically shows a list of news and entertainment Web sites, called "channels," on the left side of the screen when you run it for the first time. You can choose to receive continually updated pages from any of these sites. The updates can be done while you are sitting at the computer or overnight, when you are sleeping and the Internet is less busy. (You can also have the updates done during the day, while you are away from your home PC.)
The "channels" feature can deliver news, weather, sports scores, TV and movie reviews, travel information and many other kinds of information directly to your desktop. That's why it's called "push": Web sites send this stuff your way automatically by "pushing" it to your computer. (The standard method, in which you log onto a Web site and click on a download link, is now called "pull.")
Internet Explorer 4.0 makes many other changes to the way Windows works. I've described only a few of them here. Before you download the file—it's a big file and the transfer will take a long time—make a complete backup of your main drive. If something goes wrong, or if Internet Explorer 4 won't work with some of your other programs, you'll be able to restore everything from the backed-up version of your drive.