[ Go to August 1997 Table of Contents ]|
-- by Amy Helen Johnson, David Methvin, and Cynthia Morgan
This summer and fall, you're likely to hear a lot about Memphis. While Tennesseeans will undoubtedly feel a little extra pride, the Memphis in the news isn't a place; it's a thing, and it's coming to us by way of Redmond, Wash.
Memphis is the code-name for the next version of Windows. Most likely, it'll give up the Memphis moniker in favor of a more recognizable name, like Windows 98, but one thing is certain-it's real, and it's on its way.
On the following pages, we cover some of the new technologies and services Microsoft will likely include in the next Windows. To assemble this preview, we tapped our own hands-on experience with a prerelease version of the OS, and all other available sources of information. This complete guide raises the curtain on some of the tools, technologies, utilities, quirks and interface changes you can expect to find in Windows 98. The operating system is, of course, a work in progress, so some of the wrinkles have yet to be ironed out. But Win98 is crammed with new technology, and you'll need to know about it-in advance-if you want to make the best choices for yourself and your company.
Microsoft says Win98-or whatever its official name will be-is still on target for release this fall. Microsoft provided an alpha version of the operating system for WINDOWS Magazine to test. Although the new Internet Explorer 4.0 (IE4) shell was not integrated into this version, Microsoft has separately released a beta of IE4 (the Platform Preview release) that demonstrates most of the new interface's features. The Memphis alpha and the IE4 beta-even in preliminary form-provide an exciting look inside the next version of Windows.
Windows with a Web Look
Boot your PC with Win98, and you'll see a dramatically new user interface. To be sure, the change isn't as startling as the leap from Win3.x to Windows 95; the major changes are under the hood. This time around, the desktop gains significantly more functionality.
In addition to reinventing the operating system's shell, Microsoft has integrated the formerly separate IE4 Web browser into it. Other standalone programs, such as a personal Web server, conferencing software, an e-mail utility and a low-end HTML editor, are standard parts of the new configuration.
If you've been using the IE4 beta with its integrated browser mode turned on, you'll immediately recognize Win98's new desktop environment. You can access lists of Favorites from Windows Explorer, the taskbar behaves like an IE4 sliding toolbar, you can launch programs with a single click, and information channels deliver Web content directly to your desktop. Although Microsoft will undoubtedly tweak the OS before it finally ships, the company has stated that the mid-1997 IE4 integrated browser mode will be the desktop that ships with Win98. There will, however, be a switch for "Windows 95 classic mode," according to Microsoft. The switch will turn off the Active Desktop and revert to double-click actions. It will also toggle off WebViews, retain the Folder view's sequentially layered windows and eliminate the Folder view toolbar. IE4's enhanced taskbar and Start menu will remain.
The Folder and Explorer file views also have the IE4 interface, with Forward and Back buttons, a Links toolbar, a Favorites menu item and an address bar that displays the path of the current file. Toolbar buttons change depending on the content you're viewing. If you're looking at a local file, the buttons offer options such as cut, copy, paste and undo. Switch to a Web page and standard browsing buttons appear for actions like Stop, Home and Refresh. The address list is also context sensitive. When you're scanning files on your local drive, the address bar's drop-down list displays the desktop hierarchy: C:, D:, Network Neighborhood, Recycle Bin and so on-plus The Internet. Click on The Internet and you gain access to the Web-site shortcuts on your desktop. When you're browsing through Web pages, the address bar's drop-down list shows the URLs of last-visited sites, whether local or on the Internet.
Web View is a new file and folder display option that lets you blend the flexibility of an HTML page with a traditional file list. You can build a Web page that contains text, images, links and applets that describe the folder's contents or link to other related information. You can put anything in a Web View that can go onto a regular HTML page. Also, the folder's contents are displayed alongside the HTML page, so you can still navigate the file hierarchy.
Click and Hover
In Windows 95, you launch an application by double-clicking on a program icon, but you can accomplish the same thing in Memphis with a single click. And when you're using the interface to navigate the Web, a single click will activate links.
The change to single-click functionality necessitated other changes to the file-browsing utilities. For example, when you hold the cursor over an item-such as a file or folder icon-it's automatically selected (Win95 requires a mouse click to do this). The icon's label changes color, and it becomes underlined; the cursor also changes from an arrow to a pointing hand, as it does in IE4 (and IE3)
You can toggle between single- and double-click operations in the dialog box that appears when you select View/Options. When you do this, you need to have the file-system Context menus in use, which usually means that the browser is directed toward a local file or folder. On the View tab in the dialog box, use the radio buttons in the section labeled Web View to set either single- or double-clicking. If you pick "Display standard Windows appearance," the interior panes of file-system utilities revert to a Win95 look, but the context-sensitive toolbars remain.
New Taskbar Tricks
The taskbar in Memphis is Web-enabled, so it can contain ActiveX controls, such as stock tickers, as well as the usual set of icons for open applications. You can create collections of files, applications and controls-equivalent to IE4 toolbars or Windows program groups-called deskbands, which you can display on the taskbar. Clicking on an icon in a deskband launches that application or file. The taskbar has default deskbands; two of them-Address and Links-parallel the Web browser's toolbars. You can type an Internet address or file name at the Address deskband to go directly to that item. Desktop is a third default deskband; it contains shortcuts to all desktop items.
You can also create custom deskbands by dragging items to the taskbar. Right-clicking on the taskbar brings up a deskband menu option that lets you place folders or Web pages on the taskbar.
Another new taskbar feature lets you instantly minimize or restore all open windows. You can access this feature by clicking on the taskbar icon that looks like a desk with a lamp. You can also access the feature via a right-click menu.
The Start menu has new features, too, including a Favorites menu item and a Find option that lets you search the Internet by taking you to a predesignated search site, such as Yahoo or AltaVista. A new wizard makes it easier to reorganize Start menu items, using the familiar Win95 dialogs. Now you can also drag and drop items directly onto the cascading Start menu lists to organize your Start menu.
The desktop itself has gained some added capabilities with Win98. Microsoft calls it the Active Desktop, able to contain ActiveX controls, display live Web pages as wallpaper and receive pushed content. A new Desktop tab on the Display Properties sheet lets you customize the desktop, or you can pick components from Web sites and place them on the desktop. A small rectangular symbol that says "Put it on my Active Desktop" identifies components you can add to the desktop.
Microsoft has made arrangements with push vendors like PointCast to create channels that send content to the Active Desktop. You can do the same on an intranet, creating channels that target the Active Desktop as the content receiver. To enable these channels, content providers must create a Channel Definition Format (CDF) file. When you visit a site that has a CDF file posted, you can request that the site send information automatically to the Active Desktop.
To help you work with all the added HTML-based features, Memphis also has an HTML editor. The editor, FrontPad, is a scaled-down version of Microsoft FrontPage 97. FrontPad, a WYSIWYG editor with an available HTML code window, can handle pages with images, video, sound and ActiveX controls, and has features that are specific to Web View page creation.
A Better Browser
Microsoft has also enhanced IE4's browsing capabilities. When you're navigating the Web or your intranet, context-sensitive features provide options such as pop-up URL listings, and history lists on Forward and Back buttons. The browser also supports the latest HTML innovations and has added hands-off downloading capabilities that can reduce your time online.
When you add a Web page to your list of Favorites, you can subscribe to the page for automatic downloading. You can also indicate any required log-in information, how frequently downloads should occur, how many link levels to download, and whether to download images, sound files and video files. You can also specify how you want to be notified of new content.
You are notified when IE4 downloads new content for each subscription you specify. The information is downloaded into cache, so you can browse it offline quickly. When you browse offline, the hand symbol that indicates cursor position is accompanied by a circle with a slash to indicate when links on the page cannot be followed (because they were not downloaded)
The Win98 e-mail client, Outlook Express, supports HTML, so you can insert URLs, horizontal rules and images into messages. The client offers a WYSIWYG display so you can view fully formatted messages. If your e-mail preferences are less exotic, choose only plain-text messages. Outlook Express has all the essential e-mail features: You can attach files to messages, reply to and forward messages, set delivery priorities, check spelling, and select fonts and colors. Outlook Express also supports digital signatures and encryption for added security. The program supports Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) so you can search for e-mail addresses at white pages sites like Four11.
Outlook Express has a three-paned display. The folders you've created are on the left, and the messages in the selected folder are listed on the upper right. Message contents are displayed in the lower-right area.
A rules-based filtering system lets you specify the disposition of messages based on various criteria. Outlook Express can accept mail from multiple accounts, and you can set up rules to sort incoming mail by account.
Several Memphis utilities help you track updates, patches and fixes to the operating system. Internet System Update, an ActiveX control located on Microsoft's site, examines your system and determines whether it's lacking any upgraded components. You can browse the list and selectively download software.
System File Checker helps keep your system healthy by locating changes in system DLLs resulting from software installations. If the offending application installed a different-or older-DLL that may disrupt other applications, this utility lets you revert to the previous version. While helpful, System File Checker isn't a cure-all for DLL woes. When System File Checker finds files that have changed, it displays the versions, sizes and dates of the old and new DLL files. However, it doesn't indicate which application updated the DLL or when it occurred, nor does it offer a best course of action.
Two other utilities are noteworthy. The System Information Utility is very similar to Microsoft Office's MSInfo utility. It displays information about your system and software configuration in an Explorer-like view. Dr. Watson captures similar information, but can also take a snapshot of your system if an application crashes. The snapshot could help a software vendor track down the crash-inducing bug.
The Zero Administration Windows (ZAW) initiative announced by Microsoft promises to further simplify Windows management. The ZAW components were not implemented in the Memphis test version.
Network Near or Far
Enhancements to the Dial-up Networking (DUN) facility include support for Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP). PPTP will let you build a virtual private network (VPN), which is a dynamic, secure link to a remote server. This capability-also known as tunneling-can help organizations reduce their long-distance remote-access charges. DUN supports PPTP using the same interface as standard dial-up calls.
Dial-Up Scripting-previously available only in Microsoft's Plus pack-has been added to DUN. Scripts can be used to automate almost any dial-up task. The scripts use a simple macro-like command set that can change port settings, enter passwords, wait for specific prompts and change IP addresses.
Memphis will also have full Multi-Link Channel Aggregation, first seen in the ISDN Accelerator Pack (available from Microsoft's Web site). Aggregation lets you combine multiple dial-up lines to achieve faster overall transmission speeds. This is especially useful for ISDN, which requires aggregation of two 64Kbps B-channels to achieve its maximum 128Kbps rate, but it can also be used to combine modems on two standard phone lines to boost performance.
Most of these new features are under the hood and not visible. There are some noticeable changes, however, For instance, instead of the Connected button on the taskbar, an icon of two connected PCs is now displayed in the system tray. This icon also replaces the modem icon. The PCs' screens light up to indicate data sent and data received. Click on the DUN icon in the system tray, and a familiar Connected box appears on the desktop.
Software for Hardware
Many new Win98 features are intended to make newer hardware work better with Windows. Some of these features appeared in the OEM Service Release 2 (SR2) version of Win95, and others are downloadable from Microsoft's Web site. One of the "biggest" improvements in Win98 is the FAT32 file system. Win95's FAT16 file system is inadequate for the large hard disks that have become standard issue in desktop systems. FAT16 can't handle disk partitions larger than 2GB, and while it can deal with smaller partitions it does so by using very large cluster sizes. This results in a lot of wasted disk space.
Windows 95 SR2 introduced the FAT32 file system, which can accommodate disks up to 32GB. Disks smaller than 8GB formatted with FAT32 use a 4KB cluster size-one-eighth the size of FAT16's cluster. (For more on FAT32, see "FAT32: The Big Deal About Big Disks," this issue.)
Memphis disk utilities also include Defrag, which now has a wizard that tracks your program use and places the most frequently used programs close together to reduce disk head movement. If you turn your system off without using the Start/ShutDown procedure-or have a power failure-Memphis runs ScanDisk at next boot up to ensure that the disk was not corrupted.
Memphis takes advantage of Intel's MMX technology through DirectX and Direct3D video drivers optimized for MMX-capable systems. Microsoft's ActiveMovie streaming video technology works through DirectX, so it also reaps the benefit of MMX. The same is true for any software that uses DirectX.
Memphis' ability to support multiple displays falls into the "catching up to the Mac" department. A few PC vendors offer proprietary solutions that emulate the Mac's multiple-display support, but Win98 makes it part of the operating system. This lets you install several video boards in the same system and connect each to a monitor. You can then move windows among the monitors, treating them as one large desktop workspace.
Even More to Come
Some of the technologies expected to be supported by Win98 can't really be tested yet, because the corresponding hardware isn't available. These include Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP), digital videodisc (DVD), Universal Serial Bus (USB) and the IEEE 1394 device bus. Intel plans to make the first AGP-enabled Pentium chips available later this year. These chips promise to deliver much-improved video performance. DVD drives for PCs have been delayed, but should be available soon. Some systems have been shipping with USB ports for more than six months, but the lack of operating-system support with USB drivers has deterred many vendors from shipping USB peripherals. A similar situation exists for the IEEE 1394 bus. When Memphis ships, expect USB and IEEE 1394 devices to proliferate.
Memphis' new device drivers have subtle yet important differences compared to those of Win95. Microsoft has defined a new Win32 Driver Model that will be used in both Memphis and NT 5.0. Up to now, Windows 95 and NT required different drivers, which tended to delay the delivery of NT drivers because of its smaller installed base. The common driver model should ease unsupported hardware problems for NT users.
Because the new Win32 Driver Model won't be supported by Windows 95, you may have to upgrade to Memphis to take advantage of newer hardware. For example, unless a vendor writes its own USB Windows 95 driver, you'll need Memphis to use the USB device.
Something Old, Something New
As our sneak peek indicates, Memphis is replete with new features. Many are already available in other Microsoft products or downloads, such as Plus, Windows 95 SR2, the IE4 beta, Personal Web Server and the ISDN Accelerator Pack. Others, such as drivers to support new hardware technologies, may be available only in Memphis. From what we've seen so far, though, it looks like Memphis could be an upgrade with less installation pain and more feature gain than Windows 95. But it's still early. We'll let you know more after we test drive Microsoft's public beta of Windows 98. Stay tuned and visit our Win98 Web page at http://www.winmag.com/windows for updates.
SIDEBAR: Visual Guide To Memphis
The Memphis Desktop and Explorer Interface -- The Folder and Windows Explorer file views get a face-lift.
The right pane of Explorer and the whole window in Folder view can now hold HTML content; they will act as Internet browsers when you want to see Web pages. Type a file path and name into the Address line to browse the contents of local files.
New Toolbars -- Explorer's toolbars-Address, Links and navigation buttons-act like the IE4 toolbars: Multiple toolbars on the same row slide open to reveal their contents.
When you right-click on a toolbar, you can choose which items to display and decide whether you want to see text labels along with the navigation buttons.
Toolbars Are Now Context Sensitive -- Windows Explorer's context-sensitive toolbars change depending on the content you are viewing.
The upper toolbar includes file-manipulation commands like Copy, Properties and Delete.
The lower toolbar appears when you browse a Web page; it has traditional Web commands like Refresh and Home.
One Click or Two-It's Your Choice
Windows Explorer's View/Options dialog lets you choose whether single- or double- clicking will launch an application.
More of Your Favorite Things -- The concept of Favorites-Web sites or local files-is extended in Memphis to all parts of the desktop.
Even the Start menu and Recycle Bin have Favorites menus. You can launch a URL from any Favorites menu.
Create a Web View -- To place a Web View within any folder, select View/Customize This Folder.
You end up with two extra files in a customized Web View folder: a hidden file, DESKTOP.INI, that contains the name of the HTML page you want displayed (by default, FOLDER.HTM), and the HTML file itself.
Get a Head Start with Cleanup
Right-click on the taskbar and choose Properties/Start Menu Programs, and a wizard will step you through cleanup tasks like removing empty folders and storing all readme files in a single folder.
Up to the Task
The taskbar address box shows recently entered files and URLs.
Multiple tools can reside on the HTML-enabled Memphis taskbar, including defaults such as the address list box and custom additions like the Debabelizer folder shown here.
One-Click Minimize and Restore
A new button on the far right of the taskbar allows you to minimize or restore all applications instantly.
An Active Desktop
The Display Properties dialog has a new tab, Desktop, that lets you customize the items on your Active Desktop. For example, you can place a live HTML document or ActiveX controls on the desktop background.
Find Finds Search Sites
The Find command on the Start menu now has an option for going to your favorite search site to find information on the Web.
Schedule Timely Web Updates
When you subscribe to a favorite site, you specify when and how frequently Memphis should download updates from that site.
Subscribe to Automatic Downloads
When you mark a Web page as a Favorite, you can use Memphis' subscriptions feature to automatically check the site and download updates.
Publish Your Pages
The Web Publishing Wizard asks a few simple questions about your Web page content, then posts it at a remote ISP, on an intranet or on your own PC, running the Personal Web Server software that comes with Memphis.
Outlook Express lets you classify, reroute or dispose of incoming e-mail according to simple criteria that you set.
SIDEBAR: Visual Guide To Memphis: System UtilitIes
QuickFinder Manager Finds Files Faster -- Windows 98's QuickFinder Manager makes it easier to find things on your multi-gigabyte hard disks.
Use QuickFinder to index the contents of the disk, and its Find option will quickly locate files or a CD-ROM.
Update Manager: Easier OS Updates
You can download and install any updates you need from Microsoft's Web site.
Win98's Update Manager ActiveX control shows you which updates are available, what they do and whether you've applied them.
System File Checker Keeps Key Files Safe -- The System File Checker utility keeps watch over system files to ensure they aren't overwritten or corrupted.
You still must tell the utility what to do when it finds a change in a file.
There Is a Doctor in the House -- Win98 also features an updated version of the venerable Dr. Watson utility. It provides much the same data as the System Information Utility. Dr. Watson can help diagnose problems, and if you add it to the StartUp folder, it will activate when application errors (GPFs) occur.
You can capture error information to a file and use it to help the application vendor diagnose the problem.
System Information Shows What's Installed and Running
Memphis borrows the System Information Utility from Microsoft Office. This applet provides data about the system configuration, installed devices and currently running software.
Quicker Connections With Dial-Up Networking
Win98 offers new Dial-Up Networking features. You can now bypass the Connect To screen if you've permanently set a password. That enables you to schedule automatic downloads with the new Subscriptions feature.
Power Management: Quick Conservation Choices
Win98 makes it easier to take advantage of your PC's power-management features. The Power Management Properties sheet lets you adjust settings from within Windows.
Scheduled Tasks Folder Offers Unattended Operations
The System Agent from Win95's Plus pack has gotten a makeover in Memphis and is now called the Scheduled Tasks folder. Use this folder to schedule utilities, batch files or VBscript programs.