Our featured guest this month is Microsoft Corporation of Redmond, Washington. I'm sure you've heard of them. Adam Carroll, Business Manager of the Macintosh Business Unit and Omar Shahine of the Macintosh Development team in Cupertino came to give us the rundown on Internet Explorer 4.5 for Macintosh, Outlook Express 4.5 for Macintosh and Mactopia, Microsoft's web site devoted to things Macintosh.
The meeting started as usual with the Question and Answer session, hosted by Pi Secretary and Macintosh Guru Lawrence Charters. The Q&A was followed by a quick business meeting at which the bylaws changes and upcoming Pi elections were discussed. Lawrence then played an interesting Star Wars QuickTime movie that explained what may really have happened at Tatooine.
I must confess that I've been using Internet Explorer 4.5 for some time now. I took the chance and got the Beta early on. There are some things I like about Internet Explorer 4.5 and some things I like about that other browser. Anyway, Adam did a fantastic job of showing us some of the great new features in Internet Explorer 4.5. In fact, Internet Explorer 4.5 has gotten quite a few accolades in the browser wars. Internet Explorer 4.5 won the "Best of Show" at the recent MacWorld in San Francisco.
By now, most of us have experienced an Internet browser. Some of us are old enough to remember when interacting with computers meant punched cards and listings printed on an impact printer. Believe me, a browser is better. In the early days of the Internet, most of us browsed text files that had imbedded hypertext links. These links showed up in bold or a different color, and placing the cursor on your terminal over the link and hitting enter (this was on a VAX, no mouse!) moved you to another page. With the advent of modern browsers, with graphics, Java, Flash, etc. it now takes almost 3 minutes to load most pages with a 33.8K modem. Is this better? Could it be we have gotten carried away by the fluff at the expense of the content?
Right away, you notice that Internet Explorer 4.5 is a little different. Down the left side of the screen are four tabs, Favorites, History, Search and Page Holder. This is one of my favorite features of Internet Explorer 4.5. Clicking on any one of these tabs will slide your active page to the right and open up a frame with your selection in it. If you visit a site that you think you'd like to return to frequently, you simply select Favorites from the menu bar and click "add to favorites" and there it is. Click on the favorite and there you are. History remembers where you've been. The list is divided up into folders for today, yesterday, Tuesday, etc. and you can control the number of links saved in the preferences.
Ever tired of typing the same stuff over and over again? Internet Explorer 4.5 will now auto-complete information it recognizes in URLs and forms fields. In addition it as a forms auto complete feature which will fill in most common forms for you automatically. You can turn this feature on and off with preferences, of course, and you are prompted to fill in the data for auto-fill the first time you fill in a form. Any time you fill in a form field, the browser will suggest an auto-fill as soon as it recognizes a saved string. Since I fill out lots of forms when begging vendors to come and speak to us, I liked this feature. Your mileage may vary.
Another favorite feature of Internet Explorer 4.5 is the ability to go to a site and download its contents into a "Web Archive". This is a great feature for anyone who has a PowerBook and travels frequently. Instead of watching Armageddon on your DVD, you can surf the net from your airplane seat. Just set the site to save in a web archive before you go to bed and let the pages download to your hard drive. Next day on the plane, select offline browsing from the File menu and surf's up!
The Page Holder feature is one I didn't appreciate at first, but have come to appreciate more and more. Ever go to a web site that has a big page of links to follow for more information. Just drag that page into the page holder and you can follow the links without flipping back and forth between pages.
The Search tab opens up a standard search dialog and gives a list of results from one of the popular search engines. You are given a default engine and can change it if you like. There is also a link in the upper right corner to Sherlock. One suspects that this will be more tightly integrated in the future. One comment, my experience is that using Sherlock and Internet Explorer 4.5 together causes occasional crashes. I think this may be because of some problem such as init conflicts or something, because I haven't heard many complaints from other users.
By far my favorite feature is the "shrink pages to fit" feature when printing. Very often, I would print pages only to have information I needed truncated off the right side of a page, or two pages would print with only the navigation bar or other useless data on the second page. Now you can preview what will print and Internet Explorer 4.5 will automatically try to shrink the page to fit on your printed page. This feature alone is worth the price, (oh yeah, its free! I forgot.)
On to Outlook Express 4.5. I must admit I have tried this program and didn't like it. Not because it didn't work well or because it had some inherent flaw; it just wasn't what I was used to. Long ago, I worked for a company in Cambridge, Massachusetts which was an e-mail pioneer. They were close neighbors of Bolt, Beranek and Newman, the company that developed the Internet for DARPA. Well, I got used to a certain way of handling my e-mail and Outlook does things a bit differently. Some people actually like eating raw fish, too. It's a matter of taste. To be honest, I tried Outlook Express 4.5 again and liked it better, but I still haven't switched. My company recently switched our e-mail to Outlook, so I will be forced to use it at work. Maybe this will be the push I need to give this program a fair shake.
Another "feature" is the ability to create and read HTML mail. Once again my e-mail prejudice is showing, but getting fancy-shmancy e-mail is not on my hot list. Just plain text is fine by me. I could be wrong. Another feature which may get me to switch to Outlook Express 4.5 is that it handles newsgroups as well as e-mail.
Finally, Adam gave us a look at Mactopia (http://www.microsoft.com/mac/), Microsoft's web site devoted to things Macintosh. It is very convenient having it all in one place at last, but personally, I find the "cartoonish" look off-putting. It’s bad enough that the dark side still thinks that the Macintosh is just one step better than a Game Boy! Having a site which looks like Wylie Coyote and Beep-Beep are soon to appear doesn't make things much better. Once again, it's a matter of taste, but none of the other Microsoft pages have this childish look.
Following his demo, Adam bravely opened up the floor to questions from the audience. For the first time in my tenure doing these programs, someone who couldn't attend the meeting even e-mailed in a question. The questions were many and varied. One of the topics which I had expected did come up. Office for the Mac does not have a version of Access (a database package) nor does one appear to be on the horizon. It appears that FileMaker Pro has this market on the Mac.
Due to a shipping problem, the anticipated CD-ROMs of Internet Explorer 4.5 and Outlook Express 4.5 did not arrive in time for the meeting. Adam did promise to make sure we got several hundred copies to give away at next month's meeting. He did, however, bring lots of goodies to give away including four copies of Office 98 for the Macintosh and 50 Mactopia T-shirts, plus other stuff. Beth, our office manager begged for one of the copies of Office 98 for the Pi Office and since she is so very nice to me and misses most meetings by staffing the table in the lobby, I couldn't refuse.
Thanks to Adam Carroll and Omar Shahine for visiting us from the left coast. It really shows that vendors are serious about the Mac and about user groups to have them put up the resources to send two people to demo a product that they give away! Yes, I know Mr. Gates can afford it, but I appreciate it anyway.
Next month, Pi President Lorin Evans will give his annual Fireside Chat. No hints yet on what the topic will be. Also Tom Witte, Pi Board Member and QuickTime author will host QuickTime Follies. Examples of his work creating the Pi Birthday QuickTime Movie and other examples from Pi members and other sources. Word has it that Adobe is coming in April, but I don't have a topic from them yet either. See you next month!
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Revised March 31, 1999 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi