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9/96 Analysis: Start

Decision Time

Nashville puts a fresh face on Windows just as NT 4.0 arrives.
Now it's time to decide which OS and desktop are right for you.

By Fred Langa

DECISIONS, DECISIONS. At long last, an early Nashville prototype showed up-just as the Windows NT 4.0 beta program was nearing its final "release candidate" stage. Soon, we'll all have several crucial new choices to make.

Nashville is, of course, the code name for the new Web-enabled interface for Windows 95 and NT. Some have called it Win96, but Microsoft's current working name for this upgrade is Internet Explorer 4.0. I think it's a bad name because it sounds like it's just a new browser. Make no mistake: IE4 does include a new (and state-of-the-art) browser, but it's actually a sweeping look-and-feel upgrade to the Win95 user interface. Your entire Desktop becomes Weblike, and Web-aware.

The prototype IE4, for instance, offers single-click access to everything clickable or launchable (just like a Web page), and every clickable object on the Desktop gets a Weblike blue highlight. The Desktop's background image is actually a frame-based Web page stored locally on your system. You can display bitmaps or other backgrounds in the main frame, but you can also use one of the side frames to hook, PointCast-style, to live Web feeds. (PointCast is a free service that automatically broadcasts news, weather and other time-sensitive information. See the Surf's Up feature in this issue or go to

IE4 blurs the distinction between Windows Explorer (the File Manager-like tool) and Internet Explorer (the separately launchable browser). Either can now do most of the other's work. WinExplorer's new Web View option, for instance, lets you view all your folders in Web-page fashion. When you view an HTML file via WinExplorer-whether the file is local, on an intranet or out on the Web-the right pane becomes a full-blown browser window that supports Java and other advanced Web standards. A tree hierarchy still appears in the left pane, so even if you're browsing some distant Web site, all of your local resources are still visible.

Similarly, the separate Internet Explorer browser is now a full OLE 2.0-er, excuse me, ActiveX-application. IE4 lets you view and work on a file in one step by providing access to the appropriate toolbars of whatever file type you're viewing. A Smart Favorites option notifies you when sites you frequent-be they local files or distant Web pages-have changed. And IE4 also includes a "personal Web server" that enables others to view shared folders on your system as true HTTP Web pages. You can even run server scripts and perform other simple Web-server functions on your desktop system.

IE4 lets you link seamlessly among Web, intranet and local resources on your system. In fact, because distant files can be just as accessible as a file on your hard drive, you almost have to keep an eye on the status bars to see where you are.

IE4 is harder to describe than to experience. But once you see it in action, it's instantly clear what's going on. For a sneak preview, visit (And check out WinMagWeb's new high-speed access while you're at it. We recently increased bandwidth by more than an order of magnitude!)

This total marriage of the Web to your local desktop portends a huge and fundamental change in the way we all work. This month, Editor Mike Elgan's column-appropriately named "The Explorer"-discusses how IE4 fits into the scheme of things and what it means. Check it out!

It's stable, it's secure, it's NT4

The other new product that just arrived is NT 4.0. Some see NT4 as the Holy Grail of today's desktop computing: a powerful, fully 32-bit Windows version renowned for stability, security and safe operation, with the very latest Win95-style look and feel. And the whole package is long past the "Version 1.0" suspicions that unjustifiably plague Win95.

So-probably like you-I'm debating what to do. I'm intrigued by the promise of NT, but I worry about what will happen if I switch from 95 to NT. The new IE4 is not a factor in this decision because it runs happily on top of either NT4 or Win95.

For Win95 users, NT isn't an upgrade; it's a replacement product. Unlike the upgrades we all went through from DOS to Windows 3.x to Win95, you can't just drop NT on top of your existing software-it won't work. Ideally, you reformat your hard drive and start over when you install NT.

You can drop NT alongside your existing Win95 configuration and then configure your system to "dual boot" to one OS or the other. But even there, you still have to set up your peripherals separately and then reinstall all your applications to get them to run with NT. This is fine for the technically savvy readers of this magazine, but because of dual-booting's duplication, wasted space and extra complexity, it's simply not a realistic option for mainstream use.

Even with a fresh format, installing NT may not be a walk in the park. Plug and Play is still in NT's future, so there's a lot more Win 3.x-style manual work in finding drivers and getting things to fit together. Although NT has a decent body of native drivers, Win95 natively supports about 50 percent more hardware devices, and you can usually make it work with the rest. With NT, if any device or application requires direct, low-level system access or depends on the use of a TSR, real-mode driver or VxD, NT simply won't work with it, period.

As for system hardware, your personal desktop (like mine) may well be capable of satisfying NT's appetite for RAM, disk space and CPU horsepower, but the average business PC still has a way to go. NT needs about twice the RAM of Win95 for analogous performance. It takes 16MB of RAM to get NT working usefully, and at that, performance is analogous to Win95 with 8MB. NT starts giving good performance at around 24MB (12MB for Win95), and really stretches its legs at 32MB and above (Win95 is optimal starting at around 16MB). How many desktops can you afford to outfit with 24MB-plus of RAM for good performance?

Similar discrepancies arise with disk space, CPU type, hard-drive type and more: NT is a lot more demanding and finicky than Win95.

Does all this mean I'm anti-NT? No way. But companies viewing NT as a universal desktop panacea are in for a shock.

Need more help deciding?

Clearly, if you're considering NT, you have a lot to sort out. To help you along the way, WinMag's NT guru John D. Ruley spearheaded this month's in-depth look at NT 4.0. Combined with Mike Elgan's first look at Nashville, you'll get the clearest view yet on just where desktop Windows is going, and what your options are.

But wait, as they say--there's more. John and I recently gave a "Win95 vs. NT" presentation to IS professionals in New York City, and all the information from that presentation is now available for you. Check out The presentation can be a rich accompaniment to this month's cover story.

What's your take on Win95/IE4/NT4? Which system will you use? How will you call the shots? Drop me a note or join the current NT vs. Win95 debate at

Fred Langa is Editorial Director of CMP's Personal Computing Group. Contact Fred via his home page at in the WINDOWS Magazine areas on America Online and CompuServe. Fred Langa's e-mail ID is:

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