Last month, we got the ball rolling with NT Internet Goodies. We talked about lots of different topics, including Instant Messaging, converting ASCII text files to PostScript, news programs, and email filters. Starting with this column, I think we'll go in a little more structured fashion. We'll start by going over some of the free and cool gear available from that gracious and genial behemoth, Microsoft itself.
Cruising Microsoft isn't as easy as one might think. The big question is: Where do I want to go today, anyway? Starting at www.microsoft.com is like following one of those Escher prints. I find myself getting sidetracked by every little detail and ending up back where I started. Take, for example, the chance to "voice my opinion" about the big trial at http://www.microsoft.com/misc/inv_howuhelp.htm (I said everyone would be happier if Bill coughed up some money for my 401k). Or the chance to get the full psychological effect of animated images of everyone's favorite plush purple preschooler's prehistoric palliative at http://www.microsoft.com/products/hardware/actimates/barney/default.htm. Happily, it's possible to heal from that particular form of aggressive chirpiness with minimal brain-stem loss as long as you recognize the symptoms—vacant smiles, mindless giggling, and sycophantic babbling—early! And once recovered from the effects of this or similar Web pages, it's on to the good stuff.
At the risk of sounding ridiculous, I must admit I'll only use Netscape's Web browser under duress. And it's all because of the reasons brought up in the Justice case. For all its faults, IE is bundled into Windows and doesn't require any cognitive process to set up. It's (literally) a no-brainer to use it. Now that I've irritated about half of my readership, let's go on to how the other half lives. And, I promise I’ll do a comparison with Communicator very soon!
The first thing any IE user should do is to make sure that they've got the latest copy. (We all know how these things change constantly.) Since I'm running with 95 and NT 4, the latest copy is IE 4.01 Service Pack 1. (Although it's very irritating that Help/About doesn't provide this information. All it does is tell me that I have version 4.72.3110.8. Sounds like a stardate to me!) If you're running 98 or NT 5, a different version may apply.
You should have a Software Updates folder under Favorites, and under that there should be an entry called Microsoft Internet Explorer. If you don't have this entry on your IE menu, you can always get the latest copy at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/ie40/.
IE Version 5 is available, for the truly brave. And, as I'm truly brave, I immediately downloaded it. After all, what's another all-nighter or so trying to reconfigure a completely screwed up system?
As with IE 4, install is a two (really three) step process. You first download the setup program (~450K) and run it. The setup program prompts you for the options to install. I selected Custom options and accepted the following items:
Internet Explorer 5
Internet Explorer 5 Web Browser
Offline Browsing Pack
Internet Explorer Help
Microsoft virtual machine (not checked by default—how could I play chess??)
Internet Explorer Core Fonts
Dynamic HTML Data Binding (not sure what this does, but it sounds cool)
Internet Explorer Browsing Enhancements (says it gives built-in FTP)
Outlook Express (my standard mail/news program)
Chat 2.5 (I'll investigate this to see just what it gives me)
Windows Media Player (duh! how could I play my MPEGs?)
Media Player RealNetwork Support
Vector Graphics Rendering (I wonder is this is VRML support?)
Intel Indeo5 (to give me that "richer playback" feeling)
AOL ART Image Format Support
Web Authoring Components
Visual Basic Scripting Support (yucky, but helpful)
Additional Web Fonts
I purposefully left out quite a bit. For example, I don't use FrontPage to do my Web authoring, so I didn't download that option. And I've never actually used Microsoft Wallet, so I didn't get it either. And while it was a struggle to choose between Simplified Chinese IME and Thai Language Support, I ended opting for plain old English.
Finally, I selected the Advanced button to see what else I could break. One nice feature is the ability to do a download only. This way, I know that I can leave the program running all night long without worrying about some stupid prompt asking me to "Click OK to continue" before it (continues) downloading another 10 megs of files. I've run into this type of brainless install problem before where the program stops in the middle of its processing to get yet another confirmation of something it should've confirmed up front. Very irritating for a long-winded install that you want to run after hours!
Another option on the Advanced button is Compatibility. This allows you to run both IE 4 and IE 5 together. Yeah, right--and throw in some swamp land, too. As if I want to make an already dangerous situation even worse! No, I believe that running one version of IE at a time is problem enough, thankyouverymuch. Any problems and poof! IE 5 is history.
After selecting all the options I want, and I clicked the
Next button, and I was prompted for my download directory. And I got another
(unpleasant) surprise. Apparently, I need different files for installing under
95/98 than for NT. I selected both options (I have both
Once I clicked Next, I got to pick from a list of download locations (I chose the closest one, natch) and We're Off! to the races. And some thumb-twiddling for the next three hours…
Come Tuesday Morning, and my computer says it's all done with the download. I double click on the iesetup.exe entry in my download directory, and I find myself going through the exact same setup as in Part 1! Ahh, but this is different. The installer checks for all the options you select and will download those options not already on your computer. However, it's still a pain to reselect everything again.
I got another unpleasant surprise when I got to the installation prompt. The IE installer told me I was missing a bunch of files from my local directory. This was peculiar, since I got no error messages during the download. Regardless of that fact, the installer downloaded another few MBs of data files and (finally!) started the install. After the install, I did the "reboot over and over" shuffle whereby Windows replaces system files and updates the desktop, and then I was complete.
I can't say I noticed any drastic changes in the overall look'n'feel of IE, Outlook Express, or anything else. I immediately fired up various Java-enabled Web sites to make sure that the new VM (a pretty hefty part of the download) still worked. The new features I could see and feel without actually reading any documentation include:
· File/New now has an "Internet Call" option. This is just a link to Microsoft NetMeeting. I haven't actually tried this yet, but it sounds like it may be a reasonable way to setup chats.
· Link to FrontPage on the File menu. I tried it and, indeed, FrontPage Express fires up. (However, didn't I say I didn't download the FrontPage stuff?? How did it get on my machine anyway??) But the editor is actually way cool. It allows you to take the current Web page you're viewing and see exactly how the designers set it up in a graphical format. Very nice.
· Import and Export on the File menu. This nifty feature allows you to import and export Internet-specific things like Favorites and Cookies. I can see that it will be very useful for SysAdmins wanting to setup a new computer to act exactly like an existing computer.
· No more Go menu. That's right. You can't tell IE to Go Home, or Go Search The Web, etc. Instead, you must use the toolbar.
· Tools/Synchronize. This option allows you to update your offline content. Since I never work offline anyway, it's of limited use to me.
· Tools/Windows Update. In their continuing effort to show that, truly, IE is an integral part of Windows, IE 5 has a link to update your Windows installation via a link to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/default.htm?page=productupdates. Except, wasn't there, like, always one or more Web page to update your Windows installation?
· Tools/Internet Options. This used to be under the View menu. Apart from some new icons and a nifty "Security Slider" control (that lets you pick from various security levels for each "Internet Zone"), it looks exactly the same as before.
In Outlook Express, the biggest external change is the ability to filter Junk Mail. The biggest internal change is that the names and locations of the tables that store messages (mail and newsgroups) are different. Thus, if any of you happen to have scripts for cleaning up, shall we say, "less desirable" downloads from certain naughty newsgroups, be warned that the file names are different. (All message files are stored in the Outlook Express main directory with the extension ODS.)
As I promised above, I took a look at Microsoft Chat. However, other than tons of adult chatrooms I couldn't see anyone or thing worth talking to. Also, I could only log in to the Microsoft Chat Server, even though the program displayed four or five different possible chat servers. All in all, I think I'll stick with AOL Instant Messaging and the ICQ network (both are free, easy-to-use, and useful).
The answer is: It depends. In my case, I was having trouble with some of the IE4 components (occasional GP faults on certain Java-enabled Web sites, and Outlook Express would sporadically crash). Thus, I was interested to see if the new DLLs would improve my machine's performance and reliability.
Since IE5 is pre-release software, it obviously can't go into a production environment. However, SysAdmins may very well want to take a look at IE5, especially for the Import/Export option I mentioned above. I can see that this option may simplify a standard machine setup in the corporate world, and an advance preview wouldn't be out of line for them to download.
After running IE5 on 95, 98, and NT for some weeks, I haven't run into any problems. The software appears well thought out and reasonably reliable, so I can't trash it out of hand. All in all, if you have a fast Internet connection and enjoy checking out new software, I'd say Go For It.
In my particular setup, I’m running 95, 98 and NT all connected on the same network. One thing I really liked about 95 was the Windows 95 Power Toys Set, located at (http://www.microsoft.com/windows95/downloads/contents/wutoys/w95pwrtoysset/default.asp). However, the disclaimer on the download page specifically says “This download is not intended for use on computers running Windows 98.” Hmmm. Some of those toys (specifically the Command Prompt Here extension, a nice way to open a DOS box directly from Windows Explorer) are pretty useful. So the big question is: Is Microsoft really telling the whole story? According to SOFTSEEK.COM (http://esn.softseek.com/Utilities/Taskbar_Start_Menu_and_Explorer_Enhancements/Shell_and_Desktop_Utilities/Review_5162_index.html), many of the Power Toys work just fine with 98 and NT. The best way to find out is (of course!) to try it out.
One caveat about downloading these Toys is that you don’t get a standard Windows installation program. Instead, create a folder on your computer (Microsoft suggests “Power”) and download the Power Toys into it. Then, open a DOS box, change directory to the Power folder you created, and execute the downloaded file. (It’s a self-extracting file.) Once you’ve done that, be sure to read the README.TXT file for details on installing the software.
On my 98 box, I got an error upon installing the software (a missing function name in Kernel32, I think). However, I’m pretty sure this was for the CD player extensions (which I don’t need anyway), so I just ignored the error and the toys continued to install without a problem. Immediately, my beloved Command Prompt Here… showed up as a right-click option on Windows Explorer. Also, the very useful TweakUI control panel applet installed. You can use this applet to automatically logon to Windows 98 without typing in a password. Also, the amusing “Paranoia” panel allows you to (Microsoft’s own words) “cover your tracks” by clearing the Document, Internet Explorer, and Last User Login history stuff.
Surprisingly enough, Power Toys installed on NT without any error messages at all! And, many of the toys work as they should (TweakUI and the right-click extensions all work). The only obvious flaw was the handy Contents option from a right-click on any directory entry in Windows Explorer. (This option displays the contents of a directory in a nested menu.) When initially selecting this new option from the right-click menu, all I saw was interesting graphics. However, when I ran the mouse over each option, the correct entry (the file name) showed up!
While we’ve only scratched the surface of the files available from Microsoft, you should have an idea of where to go and some useful things to look for on their Web site. For next time, I’ll do an expose of the free (or almost free) UNIX software available for your NT box. Lovely tools like vi and emacs and cat and gzip and more! So stay tuned, and keep surfing!