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Mike Elgan
Mike Elgan

Your New Job: Webmaster
Let me give you some critical career advice: Learn how to create documents in HTML.

You’ve heard it before: The next version of Windows is a browser. But until you’ve tried the new “Windows 98,” or “Memphis,” user interface, it’s impossible to grasp what this means for you personally.

Here’s what it really means: Your computer is a Web site, and you are the Webmaster. The next version of Windows lets you customize both the Desktop wallpaper and individual folders with HTML files.

The Windows 98 Desktop is what Microsoft calls an “Active Desktop” on which you can drop literally dozens of HTML objects. You simply right-click on the Desktop, select Properties, click on a new Desktop tab, then point to HTML documents on your Desktop, the network or the Internet. They show up on your wallpaper, and you can use the mouse pointer to move and resize them. The HTML documents can contain live links, videos, sound files—anything that can be put into a Web document.

You won’t believe how easy it is to add Active Desktop content. When I first saw it, I ran out of my office and accosted innocent co-workers just so I could share my discovery. Showing one editor, I went to AltaVista, selected the browser’s View Source feature, selected the part of the code that puts up the button and the search window, pasted it into an empty Notepad document, gave it an HTM extension, then pointed the Desktop at that file. Presto—I had a fully functional and seamless AltaVista search button on my Desktop in 30 seconds. In another test, I put a rotating dinosaur on the Desktop using an AVI file and Microsoft Word’s Internet Assistant add-on. (Maybe I went too far: At day’s end my Desktop looked like an artist’s nightmare, and the staff was avoiding my office.)

In another development, folders have a Customize This Folder option on the Context menu when you right-click on an open folder window. A wizard walks you through the creation of a bare-bones HTML document that lives inside the folder. You can open the document in Notepad or the HTML authoring tool of your choice, and edit it to your heart’s content.

A couple of years ago, Bill Gates said, “Microsoft is hard-core about the Internet.” Man, he wasn’t kidding. By adding HTML customization to the Desktop and to every folder, Microsoft has increased the customizability of Windows by several orders of magnitude. I write, edit and compile all the Windows tips for WINDOWS Magazine, and I’m going to be a busy guy with Windows 98.

So here’s some career advice: Learn how to create documents in HTML.

In addition to the HTML-based user interface, Windows 98 includes dozens of Web-aware goodies, including the Web server software I mentioned, universal VBScript and JavaScript customization, single-click navigation, a Web “subscription” feature that downloads pages on a schedule you customize, an update wizard that automates dribbleware downloading and installation, and much, much more. Oh, and it has a browser, too. But at this point, who really cares? If Windows 98 is even reasonably bug-free, the browser wars are over. And guess who won?

On the other hand, if you don’t want to become a Webmaster, Windows 98 won’t force you to. It can feel and act just like Windows 95. You can turn off the single-click navigation, keep a passive Desktop and avoid customizing your folders. There are dozens of non-Web additions and improvements that make it a compelling upgrade even for the unconnected.

All this only skims the surface of Windows 98’s new features. For in-depth information, see our exclusive cover story.

By the way, you don’t have to wait for Microsoft’s official release to try the new Windows 98 user interface or the Web server software. You can download both at http://www.winmag.com/people/melgan. And I’ve built a special Web site that contains everything I know about Windows 98 at http://www.winmag.com/windows. I’ll add new information as it becomes available.

Contact editor Mike Elgan at the e-mail addresses here.

Windows Magazine, August 1997, page 39.

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