[ Go to October 1997 Table of Contents ]|
-- by Jonathan Blackwood, Senior Technology Editor, Mike Elgan, Editor, Martin Heller, Senior Contributing Editor, Tom Henderson, Contributing Editor, Amy Helen Johnson, Senior Technology Editor, Karen Kenworthy, Contributing Editor, Cynthia Morgan, Senior Technology Editor, John D. Ruley, Senior Technology Editor, Rich Santalesa and Paul Silverman, Associate Editor
Windows 95 is more than two years old. Maybe it's time to dump it and move up to something better. But is something better in the works?
The short answer is "yes." But you may have heard that Windows 98 is no big deal, a minor and unnecessary upgrade. Compared with the upgrade from Windows 3.x to Windows 95, this is relatively minor. It's still a 32-bit OS and the user interface is not only familiar, you can download it free and use it with Win95.
Despite all this, there's more to Win98 than meets the eye, including better performance; an all-new system-wide automation utility that replaces old DOS batch files; support for the newest hardware; a vastly improved set of disk, file and system optimization and troubleshooting tools; better security, networking and system administration features; and faster, easier and more automated Internet connectivity.
Novices may balk at upgrading to Win98. But Win98 is a must-have upgrade for you power users.
Windows 98 is currently in the beta stage of development and will likely become commercially available early next year. Unlike the Win95 beta program, which was a "public preview," the Win98 beta is and will remain closed.
This special report is the result of extensive hands-on testing and investigative reporting by 10 of WINDOWS Magazine's expert reviewers and reporters. We reviewed the most recent code from the IE4 and Memphis (Win98) projects, pored over mountains of internal Microsoft technical documentation, and interviewed members of the IE4 and Memphis product teams. The result is the most comprehensive report available on the next version of Microsoft Windows.
And now, may we present Windows 98!
One of the most important options in Windows 98 is Web View.
A Web browser is primarily a navigation instrument that offers single-click access to hypertext and linked graphics. Everything else a browser delivers-access to interactive multimedia, cool graphics, dynamic content-is icing on the cake. Web View brings the iced cake to the Windows table.
Web View does three things: It allows single-click navigation; it provides a way to view and customize the appearance of folders; and it adds a Web View option to Win95's original four (large icons, small icons, list and details)
Don't confuse Web View with Win98's many hooks into the Internet. You can get to the Web anytime from anywhere in Win98, even with Web View turned off. Likewise, you can enjoy Web View without an Internet connection.
To turn on Web View, launch My Computer and select View/Options; click on the General tab, and then on Web Style. You can do the same with any folder. An alternative is to select Custom from the General tab, and click on the Settings button. That will lead you to a dialog box full of choices, including whether to show all folders as Web pages or just those you specify, and whether to select icons when the mouse pointer hovers over them so you can launch them with a single click.
With Web View on, a new item appears on the Explorer View menu called Customize This Folder. This item will also appear on the Context menu when you right-click on the white space inside a folder.
When you select Customize This Folder, a wizard offers three options: Create or edit an HTML document, choose a background picture or remove customization. The first option launches Notepad and loads a default HTML document.
Hopefully, access to Web View options will be simple, easy and consistent in Win98's final release. But right now, there are two minor inconsistencies in the way Web View is presented. The As Web Page menu item appears on the View menu only if the folder, hard disk or floppy disk being browsed is already Web-enabled. It should appear in the View menu whenever the other four views are listed, and grayed out when not appropriate. In addition, all the Web View options should be accessible from a single menu or icon, rather than placed on the View/Options menu and the View menu itself.
Win98's Active Desktop lets you turn Web pages into wallpaper and screen savers. The Active Desktop wallpaper displays Web components that can be ActiveX controls, Dynamic HTML pages, WebCast sites, Java applets and Microsoft Active Channels-all in resizable, movable windows.
MIS managers can preconfigure and lock down your Desktop via Active Setup and the Internet Explorer Administration Kit (IEAK). Using these tools, you can configure your Desktop, for example, with a Web component that automatically provides company info and updates.
Defining new active content with Active Desktop is easy. Right-click on the Desktop and select Active Desktop/View as a Web Page. Right-click on the Desktop again, and select Active Desktop/Customize My Desktop to open the same Display Properties dialog you get by selecting Properties from the Desktop's Context menu.
Click on the Web tab to access the Active Desktop controls. Existing Desktops are listed, each preceded by a check box. There's also a graphical representation of your Desktop above the list, as well as four buttons: New, Delete, Properties and Try It. Click on the New button, then click on Yes in the dialog that asks if you'd like to go to Microsoft's Active Desktop Gallery. You can then select from the Gallery's small assortment of desktop components. At press time, there were six choices: the MSN Investor Ticker, MSN Custom Page, MSNBC Weather Map, c|net NEWS.COM, a 3D Java Clock and Microsoft's Site Builder Network.
You can, however, add your own components. If you sidestep the Gallery, a new dialog will ask for a URL to add as an element. Click on Browse to open your Favorites folder to select a bookmarked page. With a supplied URL, Active Desktop actually creates a Channel Subscription and asks you to schedule delivery. All Desktop components are automatically cached offline and add an entry to your Subscriptions folder for the item. You can set different update schedules for each Active Desktop component.
You can also add Active Channels, selected from Microsoft's premium push partners, including PointCast, Microsoft's MSN and MSNBC, Disney Online, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, The New York Times and CBS' SportsLine USA. Channels can appear on the Desktop, in your browser or within the channel viewer.
Active Desktop strikes us as a mixed bag. If your work involves a lot of open apps, you may never see more than just a sliver of your Desktop. Netscape's spring-loaded Netcaster screen, which pops up when you click on a protruding tab, seems a more practical way to deliver information. Win98's new taskbar has a one-click button to get to the Desktop, but Alt+Tab access to Active Desktop content would be easier.
The taskbar, one of Windows 95's smarter innovations, is even better in Win98 and Internet Explorer 4.0. It hasn't been radically overhauled, but rather enhanced with significant and useful additions.
For example, new Web-savvy features include the Favorites folder on the Start menu. And under the Find folder, a "Find ... on the Internet" choice whisks you to Microsoft's search site.
The Start menu additions are notable, but the taskbar itself is where the action is. You can now drag and drop document, application and folder shortcuts directly onto the taskbar, as you can with Office 97's Shortcut bar.
And, as you can with the Office 97 Shortcut bar, you can define toolbar sets using the taskbar. Office's toolbars are essentially limited to shortcuts, but Win98 toolbars can contain shortcuts, URLs, folders, applications, disks, network connections-the works.
To create a new toolbar, right-click on the taskbar, select Toolbars, then choose New Toolbar. A dialog box appears, asking you to "Choose a folder or type an Internet address." You can also create a toolbar set by dragging any folder onto the taskbar. If you drag shortcuts or applications to the taskbar, they become items on an existing toolbar set. You can move and resize toolbars, and if you right-click on one, a context-sensitive menu pops up.
From a taskbar's Properties menu, you can choose whether to display text labels for the toolbar's icons and whether to show the toolbar's name. You can also toggle between small and large icons.
Netscape calls it "Netcasting." Microsoft calls it "Webcasting." Everyone else calls it "push." Whatever you call it, push technology brings you content from a Web site or other channel, so you don't have to "pull" the content one browser click at a time.
In IE4 and Win98, Microsoft segments Webcasting into three levels: Basic, Managed and True.
Basic Webcasting. Basic Webcasting consists of automated, scheduled crawls of Web sites. Win98 looks for updated content within a certain number of levels of links to the designated page. It's not really push at all, but "smart pull." Basic Webcasting works on any Web site that allows crawling.
Basic Webcasting either tells you a site has changed (via an e-mail or on-screen notification), downloads the new pages (for offline browsing) or both. If you choose to download and cache new pages, you can opt to skip video, sound or graphics. And if you're not constantly connected to the Web, an autodialing agent makes the connection based on a schedule you define.
If a crawled site on your Favorites list has changed, it's indicated by a red spot next to the item's icon. The red-spot highlight appears on every Favorites list throughout Win98, including the one in the Start menu. It's easy to set up a change-notification option from the Add Favorites dialog. Just indicate that you want to subscribe to the site and click on OK on the subsequent screen; change notification is the default subscription setting.
You can turn on change notification for any existing Favorite through its Properties dialog. The dialog has a Subscription tab that summarizes the shortcut's Webcasting features and, if there are none, gives you the opportunity to subscribe. The Properties dialog also lets you modify a subscription-you can start it, stop it or alter its update schedule.
Offline browsing options are also built into the Add Favorites menu sequence and a shortcut's Properties dialog. Once you choose to subscribe that way, click on the Customize button and follow the Subscription Wizard, which lets you specify how much data you want downloaded and when.
You can choose Update All from the Favorites menu, but that could reap an enormous amount of data. Updating individually (set up via a Favorite's Properties dialog) is a convoluted process. Your best bet is the Update option, which you get by right-clicking on a Favorite. You can do that via the Subscription Manager, which is accessible through the Favorites drop-down menu. It lists all your subscriptions, their details and the status of their last updates.
Managed Webcasting. Managed Webcasting also consists of automated, scheduled crawls. But it uses a channel definition format (CDF) file on the Web site to guide the crawl, so the site can control what's delivered and how.
Web authors create the CDF files to allow managed Webcasting. CDF files can designate sites associated with different topics, and can publish the update schedule for those areas. For instance, the CDF for a daily online newspaper could define topics for local news, national news, business, weather and sports, and suggest a daily update to guarantee a download of fresh news.
A CDF file also determines the way information is displayed. For example, it can designate specific content to be shown as a screen saver or as Active Desktop content.
True Webcasting. Of the three approaches, True Webcasting is the one that might be called real push: Information is broadcast from a single source and "picked up" by anyone who chooses to do so. True Webcasting uses IP multicast technology along with the CDF file to broadcast channel content over a local network at designated times.
Corporations can use this method to save bandwidth on their internal networks, because only one version of the information is broadcast regardless of how many users choose to view it.
Home users will eventually be able to receive WebCast channels via direct broadcast satellite and broadband TV cable. Channels will have an update schedule built in. All you'll have to do is click on a button at the provider's Web site requesting access to the channel.
Win98 and Performance
Microsoft improved the overall performance of Windows in Win98. But performance tweaking and optimization are the last steps before an OS ships. Win98 should be the fastest version of Windows yet, and it promises to support new, faster hardware.
We were able to look at several new performance-enhancing features in the beta release. When we receive final or near-final code, we'll test and quantify any improvements in performance, and report our findings.
Disk Defragmenter Optimization Wizard. Win98's Disk Defragmenter Optimization Wizard boosts performance by tracking the programs you run most often, then clustering them on the fastest part of your hard disk. To use it, close down all applications and launch the wizard to choose the programs you run frequently.
Because we were working with a beta, it was difficult to tell just how much optimization occurred, but the applications in our tests did seem to launch more quickly and run a bit faster.
Windows Scripting Host. The Windows Scripting Host (WSH) is the successor to the venerable DOS batch file format. WSH will be a standard feature of all future versions of both Windows 9x and Windows NT.
There's good news and bad news about WSH.
More good news: WSH also provides several new functions that can be called by scripts. These functions, implemented as methods of a special Shell object, allow scripts to create, read, write and delete Registry entries, create and modify Windows shortcuts, map network drives and printers, and even retrieve and modify values stored in DOS environment variables.
Other available methods allow scripts to display small dialog boxes containing text and buttons, and detect which button a user clicks. As a result, scripts can be interactive. WSH scripts can also launch other applications, scripts and traditional batch files. They can control, via exposed methods and properties, applications that support ActiveX scripting (such as IE, Word and Excel)
Microsoft even provides two versions of WSH. One (CSCRIPT.EXE) is a command-line utility that can run in a DOS box under either Win98 or Windows NT 5.0. The other (WSCRIPT.EXE) is a standard 32-bit Windows application. Either can be chosen as your default scripting host (the one that runs automatically when a user double-clicks on or runs a script file)
The ability of WSH-hosted scripts to work with Registry entries and shortcuts should help system administrators and software vendors write powerful, user-friendly installation and configuration scripts.
Now the bad news: WSH doesn't include functions that allow scripts to work with hard disk files. There are few installation or administration scripts that don't need to manipulate hard disk files, scan directories or check version information. Without these functions, it's hard to see how WSH will achieve its full potential.
For security reasons, Microsoft implemented WSH's Registry functions as methods embedded within WSH itself so they are available to local scripts running under WSH on a user's computer, but not to Web-based scripts. Hopefully, Microsoft will take the same approach with hard disk I/O functions, so scripts can work with disk files and directories without relying on external programs.
Dial-Up Scripting. Accessible on the Scripting tab in the Dial-Up Networking Properties dialog, Dial-Up Scripting uses a new scripting language. You can use it to build a template of your provider's log-in requirements and record the entries when you log on. Other scripts may be activated once the connection is made.
Anyone familiar with advanced scripting or a programming language should be able to pick up Dial-Up Scripting's syntax, although it would've been nice if Microsoft had standardized on VBScript or another variant of Visual Basic.
Win98's New Device Support
Windows 98 adds operating system-level support for some of the latest hardware technologies.
MMX. Win98 supports MMX (Multimedia Extensions), a set of 57 new instructions Intel added to certain processors to speed multimedia tasks. MMX-enhanced processors include Intel's P55C Pentium and Pentium II, AMD's K6 and Cyrix's 6x86MX. Windows 98 is the first operating system to support MMX, which means improved performance for image processing, video, audio and similar functions.
USB. Universal Serial Bus, now common on new systems, operates at speeds of up to 12Mb per second (compared with a serial connection's 115.2Kbps speed) and allows daisy-chaining up to 127 devices off a single port. The connector also provides power across the bus. Win98 includes USB support.
IEEE 1394. Win98 also supports IEEE 1394-another new bus standard. The Win98 beta shipped with drivers for the Texas Instruments PCILynx, the Adaptec 8940 200Mbps host controllers, a driver for the Sony desktop camera (CCM-DS250) and a beta version of IEEE 1394 networking for connecting two PCs. (For more on USB and IEEE 1394, see "Get on the Bus," Features, May. )
DVD. The Digital Versatile Disc (also referred to in some circles as Digital Video Disc) is destined to change the way we view multimedia and archive large amounts of data. Nearly identical in size and appearance to existing CD-ROMs, DVDs will initially provide 4.7GB of data, with future versions increasing capacity to 17GB. Win98 support will include an applet akin to the CD Player in the Win95 Accessories group.
Windows CE. Windows 98 will include built-in support for connecting to and synchronizing with Handheld PCs (HPCs) and other Windows CE-based devices. While the current Win98 beta lacks HPC support, Microsoft indicates the shipping version will treat all Windows CE-based devices like printers-that is, by placing them in a special folder.
FAT32. Windows 98 supports both 16-bit and 32-bit file allocation tables (FAT). Win98's FAT32 support is nearly identical to the same feature in the Win95b (or OEM Service Release 2) version of Windows 95. A new wizard-the FAT32 Converter-guides you through the process of converting to FAT32. (For more on FAT 32, see "FAT32: The Big Deal About Big Disks," Features, August.)
Multiple Displays. Windows 98 lets you plug up to eight monitors into your PC and use them as a single Desktop. That means you can drag and drop, resize and move Desktop items-such as windows, folders, icons and applications-from one monitor to the next. You can use a different make or model of video card for each monitor, or a single specialty card that can handle several monitors. Each monitor can be set with a different resolution and color depth. Win98 picks one of the monitors as the main unit, based on how the monitors are plugged in-and displays the taskbar and Desktop icons there. Open, but not maximized, folder windows can be moved among monitors and can even straddle monitors; maximized items, however, fill only one screen.
PC Card Power Management. Windows 98 takes care of the battery drain an idle modem card can cause, by putting the PC Card modem to sleep. Win98 wakes it when the phone rings (if auto answer is set) or if you try to make a connection. You control this feature with the new Power Management Control Panel applet.
New Internet Applets
Outlook Express. Don't confuse Outlook Express with Outlook, which comes with Office 97. The Express version replaces IE3's Internet Mail and News, and supports POP3, SMTP and IMAP4.
Billed as a "lite" version of Outlook, Express has a few bells and whistles its bloated brother lacks. For example, its integration with the Internet is head and shoulders above that in Office 97's Outlook.
Express lets you send an entire Web page as e-mail-with annotations if you wish-or send a page with live links to graphics. Recipients see the whole page, graphics and all, but they're really pulling them off the Web.
The first time you run Outlook Express, it checks for another mail package and, if it finds one, offers to import the messages. The program supports rules for both newsgroups and incoming e-mail, and the Smart Reply feature sends a reply in the same format as the received message. Express also supports the use of Java-enhanced HTML in e-mail. So you can embed a Java-based app in a message that will execute when the message is opened.
The Stationery feature offers a collection of color themes (backgrounds, graphics and typefaces). Other features include 150 levels of undo, a spell checker, digital signature and encryption using S/MIME, and business cards using the vCard standard. If an address is not in your address book, Express will search the Internet for it using LDAP. In a step toward the long-awaited universal inbox, Express lets you have multiple mail accounts all flowing into one Inbox.
NetMeeting. Included with both IE4 and Win98, NetMeeting is an all-in-one intranet and Internet communications applet. It supports application and Clipboard sharing, whiteboard, chat, file transfer, videoconferencing, Internet phone calls, and what Microsoft calls intelligent audio and video stream control. The applet enables calls directly from Microsoft Exchange, Outlook or Internet Explorer. It's not new: Version 2.0 shipped in April.
Most of these features work well over an intranet, or a very fast and uncontested T1 or T3 line. But the average dial-up connection causes some of the cooler NetMeeting components to slow to a crawl. You can use NetMeeting for productive communications, but you'll need speedy hardware and high-bandwidth connections across the board.
The free NetMeeting Resource Kit will help network administrators configure a firewall for NetMeeting and set System Policies to control access.
NetShow. NetShow's inner workings are in NT Server's Internet Information Server (IIS) application. The NetShow client that ships with IE4 and Windows 98 is just an ActiveX control designed to receive NetShow data. The data can be sound, video, IP multicast and good old-fashioned file transfers. The client also accepts WAV, AVI, QuickTime, PowerPoint, JPEG and GIF files.
FrontPage Express. FrontPage Express is a pared-down version of Microsoft's FrontPage 97. The Express version borrows most of FrontPage's editing power. You have the option of editing HTML pages in WYSIWYG or color-coded source mode, and both remain consistent with each other in real time as you're editing. FrontPage Express also lets you add HTML markup as an object in WYSIWYG mode.
Basic functions, such as font and page formatting (colors and backgrounds), hyperlinks, image insertion, bulleted lists and WYSIWYG forms are all included. You can also insert audio and video files, and modify the properties of most inserted objects with a simple right-click.
FrontPage Express supports WYSIWYG tables, so you can easily adjust table and cell properties to customize alignment, background images, colors, size and borders. As with FrontPage, you can't resize tables in FrontPage Express by dragging the borders, but right-click menus make adjustments easy enough.
One of FrontPage Express' better features is its ability to open any live Web page. Select File/Open and then From Location to open an Internet Web page in the WYSIWYG editor. This option also works directly from IE 4.0: Select Edit/Page, and IE will automatically launch FrontPage Express with the page loaded.
Several wizards help speed page creation, including forms, personal home pages and survey templates. Other goodies include support for script insertion, ActiveX (plus a library of controls), Java applets, plug-ins and PowerPoint animation. FrontPage Express even features a small subset of FrontPage's WebBot components. Include, Search and Timestamp bots come free. The Web Publishing Wizard is a major bonus; it lets you save a file directly to a server.
Configuring FrontPage Express with IE's Edit/Page option was a little tough at times, depending on a system's file associations. If FrontPage Express doesn't open, or if the Edit/Page option is unavailable in IE, make sure Internet Assistant for Word is not installed. Then, open the File Types tab in My Computer/View/Options. Find the file type associated with HTM files (probably Internet Document HTML) and make sure the Edit action is associated with FrontPage Express.
FrontPage Express lacks some of its big brother's features, such as FrontPage's Server Extensions and site-management tools, as well as a spell checker and support for frames. Also, you can't create or import framed pages; it lacks an image mapper and has no facility for image editing or resizing.
Nevertheless, FrontPage Express should satisfy most basic HTML editing needs.
Personal Web Server. Windows 98 will ship with the Personal Web Server (PWS) application currently available with IE 4.0. PWS supports Common Gateway Interface (CGI) and Internet Server Application Programming Interface (ISAPI) applications. That means you can use it as a staging server to test Web apps before promoting them to your live server. PWS even supports Internet Information Server's (IIS) Active Server Pages (ASP) technology, but you'll have to download the ASP component of IIS 3.0 from Microsoft's Web site and then install it into PWS.
PWS doesn't have the performance of IIS, but you can still serve out static HTML files using equipment as modest as a 486 with just 10MB of RAM. But a more powerful host system will handle more complex CGI or ASP scripts better. It's easy to set up, and it can run as a background task on a nondedicated server. PWS is fine for small intranets of 20 or fewer users.
To test PWS, click on the Control Panel's Internet icon and then on the Connection tab. Uncheck the boxes labeled "Connect to the Internet as needed" and "Connect through a proxy server." Start your browser and go to http://127.0.0.1. The default PWS page should load. Also try pointing your browser to http://pcname/, where pcname is the name of your PC from the identification tab of Network Properties.
PWS inherited HTML-based administration from IIS. Most options can be set through a series of Web pages found in the Administration tab. You can add new virtual directories, change the locations of existing directories and more.
PWS is not intended as a server for a live Internet site. While PWS does offer user-based authentication, it's still insecure. We strongly advise you not to use PWS to host a live site.
However, PWS is still a valuable resource for developing Web applications. Webmasters and developers will appreciate its power and programming support. And small businesses and intranet administrators will love its price and ease of use. (For more information about PWS, see "Build a Win95 Web Server," Features, September.)
Getting under the hood for some OS fine-tuning will be easier than ever with Win98-and if you run into a problem, there's more help than ever, too.
Windows Update Manager. The Windows Update Manager is a Web site that keeps your system as current as possible by checking it for out-of-date files and linking you to the latest replacements. Part of Microsoft's Zero Administration Windows program, Update Manager can both install and uninstall system files contained on the site.
You can access the Windows Update Manager by clicking on a link on the HelpDesk page. You'll be automatically connected to the Web and the Update site. After examining your hardware and software, the system offers a list of files with more recent creation dates, explaining their functions and asking if you want to download and install them.
After you use the Update Manager site, a History button will appear; click on it to see your previous updates. You can also remove previous updates and return your configuration to its original form.
Microsoft System Information Utility. At first glance, Windows 98's Microsoft System Information (MSI) utility version 4.1 looks like the old version found in some Microsoft applications. But check the Tools menu and you'll find a whole lot more, including old favorites ScanDisk, the Registry, ScanReg and Dr. Watson. But the best MSI stuff is brand new.
The System Troubleshooter (called System Configuration Manager on the Tools menu in our beta) automates the recovery procedures that the computer-savvy have used for years to identify elusive glitches. It repeatedly boots up, tests and eliminates configuration instructions until the problem goes away.
The System File Checker is another great new MSI app. It checks your systems files automatically for errors. MSI's ScanDisk utility adds new options for checking out errors due to name length and for reporting duplicate files. Not much else is new about ScanDisk-but it will now run automatically after a hard drive error or an improper shutdown.
MSI's report screens expand on the old System utility in the Win95 Control Panel, reporting on device conflicts, defining memory spaces occupied by various resources, and pointing to 16-bit, 32-bit and MS-DOS components. Also highlighted are hardware installations that had to be "forced"-that is, that Win98 couldn't find and install on its own-which is useful if you're having device problems.
MSI also lets you display and sort information in the Registry from the MSI Tools menu, an easy way to see which OLE components are registered for which applications, for example. It also includes a button to copy any entry into Clipboard for pasting into another editing tool, as well as the ability to export any entry as a TXT file. MSI gives you better control over printing Registry entries than Win95's REGEDIT ever did.
MSI's ScanReg tool does a quick backup-and-scan of your Registry, tells you of potential problems and lets you know if it's been too long since your last backup.
System File Checker. Anyone who tinkers with PCs knows it's a good idea to maintain backup configuration files for the inevitable moment when a vital OS function or Registry setting gets trashed. System File Checker (SFC) automates the process by storing version information for key Win98 files-monitoring DLL, COM, VXD, DRV, OCX, INF, HLP, SCR, EXE, SYS and 386 files-in an SFC file that lets you update a corrupted system by clicking on a Restore Defaults button.
You can add other file extensions as needed, and also select folders or subfolders to monitor. By default, Win98 checks only the \WINDOWS\ACCESSORIES and \WINDOWS\SYSTEM folders.
The program also automates installation file extraction. This used to require a series of DOS commands; you can now select "Extract one file from installation disk," then click on the Browse button to find the file-making it much easier to work with CAB files.
When you perform a system file check, the applet examines current folder entries against its data files. It offers to restore any that have changed, or to update its files to include the new version. It doesn't, however, tell you how the file was modified in the first place, which would give you a better idea of whether to restore it. The applet does have a couple of other safety nets: You can save a backup of configuration files before going through SFC, and you can maintain a log file to show what went wrong if you make choices you later regret.
System Troubleshooter. Troubleshooting AUTOEXEC.BAT, CONFIG.SYS, SYSTEM.
INI and WIN.INI files with the painstaking rename-and-comment-out process is history. System Troubleshooter lets you select which processes to activate during Win98 startup, so you can easily isolate trouble spots.
You can also choose whether to load items in your Startup group, a big help when you need to reboot repeatedly. Advanced options on the applet's Startup tab let you get really nasty with system plumbing. You can disable ScanDisk here, or limit memory access to as little as 4MB. System Troubleshooter also has editors for the AUTOEXEC.BAT, CONFIG.SYS, SYSTEM.INI and WIN.INI files.
SYSTEM.INI and WIN.INI files are displayed Registry-style, so that instead of paging through numerous lines of code, you can just click on the plus sign to expand a particular heading. You can disable items individually with the Startup tab.
Each tabbed editing page includes a View menu that lets you look at Control Panel, Device Manager and other configuration settings. One thing we didn't see that would be nice in the final version: a search tool for probing these often-lengthy files.
Tune-Up Wizard. The Tune-Up Wizard should be called the Windows Janitor, because its job is to schedule routine storage maintenance tasks. The wizard lets you automate ScanDisk, get rid of extraneous files or defragment hard drives on a customizable schedule.
Kodak Imaging. Windows 98 sports a new, improved Wang Imaging utility (branded as Kodak Imaging because Kodak acquired Wang earlier this year). The TWAIN32-compliant applet is designed to handle graphics imported by digital cameras and scanners. It also serves as a FAX viewer utility, replacing FAXVIEW. In addition, you can use Kodak Imaging as an all-purpose image tool. It supports TIFF, Fax (AWD), Windows Bitmap, JPG, PCX, XIF, GIF and WIFF file formats. Oddly, Kodak Imaging doesn't support Kodak's own FlashPix format.
Kodak Imaging can operate in Push mode, which means you can launch applications by pushing buttons on the device (your scanner, for example). You need USB hardware to take advantage of this feature.
Toolbar buttons let you look at images as thumbnails, zoom in and zoom out, and rotate and flip images. You can annotate images by typing or importing text, though the text-importing feature didn't work in the beta.
Backup. Windows 98 comes with a new Backup utility that's a slimmed-down version of Seagate Software's Backup Exec, a 1997 Win 100 award winner.
The new Backup offers wider compatibility than the previous version. According to documentation provided to beta testers, the utility supports parallel, IDE/ATAPI and SCSI devices, including QIC-80, QIC-80 Wide, QIC-3010, QIC-3010 Wide, QIC-3020, QIC-3020 Wide, TR1, TR2, TR3, TR4, DAT (DDS1, 2 and 3), DC 6000, 8mm and DLT. The documentation also specifies support for the following vendors: Conner, Exabyte, HP/Colorado, Iomega, Micro Solutions, Seagate, Tandberg, WangDAT and Wangtek.
When you launch Backup, you get five options-using the Backup Wizard, launching Backup, opening an existing job, bringing up the Restore Wizard or starting a blank restore job. An Advanced tab lets you set file verification, compression options, your password, file exclusions and so on. The Options button lets you back up your Registry.
Microsoft says the shipping version of Win98 Backup will be able to restore from backups made with the previous version, although that feature doesn't work in the beta.
Accessibility. The Accessibility features in Win98 are a bit more, well, accessible than their Win95 counterparts. Accessibility in Win98 is now a default item on the Start/Programs menu, which leads to two features. The first is a Windows Accessibility Wizard that steps you through the process of turning on the Accessibility features you want.
The wizard offers five choices: "Items are too small in Windows," "Seeing colors in Windows," "Hearing sounds in Windows," "Using the keyboard" and "Using or seeing the mouse." You can select any or all of the options. Once you're past the initial screen, you can fine-tune the options you selected.
You can also get at the Accessibility features via the Control Panel Accessibility item. This applet has tabs for the keyboard, sound system, display and mouse, as well as a General tab.
The only all-new Accessibility option is a Magnifier, which magnifies between two and 12 times the area of the screen your cursor is on. Some older apps may not respond to this feature, however, and can end up hidden from view.
Remote Access Server. Windows 98 builds Remote Access Server directly into the operating system. It's the same version you can buy now for Win95 as part of Microsoft Plus. The big changes to RAS will arrive in Windows NT 5.0.
Windows is now more networking-conscious than ever, and includes tools for securing networks and expanding them via the Internet.
Security Zones. In an aggressive attempt to simplify security, Microsoft introduces the concept of Security Zones in IE4 and Windows 98.
Users or system administrators can apply four levels of trust as default values for all zone-resource browsing, or as characteristics to be applied to specific sites. You can apply levels High, Medium, Low and Custom-to four zones: Local Intranet, Trusted Sites, Internet and Restricted Sites. You configure zones and levels of trust by selecting Options from the View menu and clicking on the Security tab.
The ability to set security should increase the comfort level of both Win98 users and network administrators-especially with the new Active Desktop. The Security tab allows users (and administrators through system and user policies) to place various reminders between Active Desktop users and the resources that can be linked to the Desktop. Before IE4, Microsoft's browser used Java-based security and simple toggles to warn users when sites were trying to send cookies or to decide whether files should be saved to the hard disk or opened as an object or executable.
You can restrict potentially damaging interactions by selecting either a varietal type of security or by choosing the Custom security level, which sets a security policy crafted with user- or policy-defined choices for either a single site or one of the four zone types.
- Choices for ActiveX. The first custom choice is for ActiveX components and controls. These applications are either presented to users as they browse sites, or can be activated after they've been downloaded or installed. The following choices are offered for Enable (with no question), Prompt (ask the user if it's okay to use or run) or Disable (refuse to download or invoke): Download signed ActiveX controls (delivered via Authenticode or other security certificate); download unsigned ActiveX controls (no security certificate associated with the control); initialize and script ActiveX controls not marked as safe (no associated security certificate)
- Choices for Java. Java security settings follow the Java 1.1 standard. Java Permissions have ratings of low, medium and high security, and disable Java.
- Choices for scripting. The two types of scripting supported-ActiveX scripting and Java applet scripting-have the choices of enable, prompt and disable.
- Choices for downloads. Two types of download security settings are available: for file download (enable or disable) and font download (enable, prompt and disable). The font setting can prevent new fonts from overwriting existing fonts.
- Miscellaneous choices. Other choices include:
Submit nonencrypted form data, launch applications and files, install Desktop items, or drag and drop, or copy and paste files.
Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol. The Windows 98 version of Dial-Up Networking supports Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), a relatively new standard defined by the PPTP Forum (consisting of Microsoft, U.S. Robotics and several remote-access vendors). PPTP defines a method for encapsulating PPP packets inside IP packets and sending them over IP networks such as the Internet. This lets you build a secure networking connection over an otherwise insecure public network.
The key advantage to creating a virtual private network (VPN) using PPTP is cost. VPNs build a protected link, or tunnel, across the Internet that acts like a private phone connection between a remote user and a server-the server can be anywhere, but you can connect with a local phone call.
Microsoft first offered VPN capabilities in Windows NT 4.0, and has added a Windows 95 PPTP client to the updated version of the Dial-Up Networking utility, now available on the Microsoft Web site.
You need three things to establish a VPN: a Windows NT PPTP server; a Windows 98, 95 or NT PPTP client; and Internet access at both ends. Because a VPN "embeds" data packets inside a PPTP "wrapper," the service works with popular network protocols, including IP, IPX and NetBEUI.
The client computer first establishes an Internet connection through any ISP using Dial-Up Networking. Then the client activates a second Dial-Up Networking connection, this time establishing a secure link/tunnel to the PPTP server by using the server's IP address or DNS instead of a phone number. Client and server computers send encrypted data packets through the tunnel, rejecting the transmissions of nonauthorized users.
ISDN. Windows 98 is the first Windows version to support ISDN out of the box. Sure, you can use an ISDN device in Win95, but you need to download the ISDN Accelerator Pack 1.1 to make maximum use of ISDN's bandwidth. Windows 95 alone couldn't combine ISDN's dual 64Kb-per-second channels into a single pipe.
Win98 has an updated Accelerator Pack, version 1.2. It also supports internal ISDN adapters-in Win95, this often required additional software from the manufacturer-and the Dial-Up Scripting feature of Dial-Up Networking (DUN)
Using DUN's new Multilink tab, you can manually assign two target phone numbers-one for each ISDN channel-and combine, or bond, them on connection. The log-ins needed to connect online via ISDN are sometimes nonstandard, but Dial-Up Scripting lets you automate that process.
If you install Win98 beta 1525, you may run into some problems. Many ISDN terminal adapters require (and often include) an Accelerator Pack 1.1 upgrade; installing beta 1525 may cause conflicts and affect-or disable-the ISDN adapter.
56K Modem Support. Windows 98 beta 1525 struggled with 56K connections in our tests. But 56K modems are so new it's sometimes hard to find good drivers for them, even in Windows 95. None of the modems we tried (a Cardinal Connecta 56K external, a U.S. Robotics Sportster 56K Faxmodem, a Boca 56K MD56E and a Motorola ModemSurfr) were able to sustain connections long enough for accurate download tests. Modem manufacturers promise full Win98 support by the time the operating system ships. For now, however, beta testers are better off with non-56K drivers.
Dial-Up Networking. Many of the things you hated about Win95's remote functions go away in Windows 98, including slow connections. Win98's new Dial-Up Networking (DUN) utility looks a lot more like the Control Panel's networking configuration utility. You can now add devices that clearly aren't modems or ISDN adapters, but nonetheless involve computer-to-computer connections.
There are two ways to increase network bandwidth. One is to use a bigger pipe. The other is to use more than one pipe, because DUN includes support for multilink channel aggregation (MLCA), which lets you use two or more pipes.
You can use DUN's MLCA support to add the second 64Kb channel of an ISDN line for double the transmission speed. MLCA lets you combine other types of communications as well, provided they support IETF's RFC 1717 standard for channel aggregation. As long as the server you're connecting to uses multiple phone numbers, you can increase throughput by activating more than one connection at a time. And the devices don't have to be identical. You could, for example, connect both 64Kb-per-second channels of an ISDN BRI and a single 33.6Kbps modem line, and MLCA will balance data transfer across all the lines.
We tested multilink connections with multiple ISDN lines, with a combination of ISDN channels and analog modems, and with analog modems by themselves. In Win98 beta 1525, DUN generally had trouble making the second and third connections if the devices weren't identical to the first. And it was hard to tell if subsequent devices connected properly. We got around this by changing the order of the devices in the call list so that an audible analog call was always last. DUN should display progress reports that clearly label each device.
DUN also appears to make it easier to establish a parallel- or serial-cable connection with another PC for file transfer and remote control, but the feature doesn't appear fully cooked in this beta.
The new DUN tells you more about what's going on behind the scenes. Rather than the skimpy information provided by the Win95 version, a click on the Details button during a DUN dial-up in Outlook Express, for example, dishes up an informative running commentary on what's going on.
Win98's DUN also offers more information up front in its directory folder. Set the folder view to Details, and you'll see the phone number (or IP address for VPN connections) and device name, along with a status column that shows which devices are connected, dialing or disconnected.
One feature we'd really like to see: the ability to copy existing DUN connections into new files that can be modified for additional accounts with the same provider.
Also missing is the ability to store alternate phone numbers for online services in case the first number is busy or unavailable. You can, however, set the connection to redial almost immediately if it gets a busy signal-previously, it waited for the full time-out period before notifying you. The new version also lets you bypass the prompt to add user name, phone numbers and dialing location if it's already part of the file.
Is Windows 98 an upgrade you'll want to make? Don't forget to consider Windows NT 5.0 as well. It'll have all the features of Win98 and then some. Its improved stability and set of higher-end networking and administrative features could turn the heads of many a power user. Still, the new Web-enabling and other features in Win98 make it worth serious consideration.
Rich Santalesa is a New York-based writer and consultant.
Up-to-the-Minute Win98 News
Windows 98 is still evolving, and we're keeping up with every development at our special Windows 98 Web page (http://www.winmag.com/win98/). Check it every day for the most up-to-date, complete and independent coverage of Win98 you can find. We'll bring you news, tips, reviews, ideas and free software-everything you need to get the most out of the next version of Windows.
SIDEBAR: Inside the Interface, Part I
Here's how Win98's Active Desktop works.
The Active Desktop lets you view Web components-HTML pages, ActiveX controls, Java applets and scripts-on your Desktop, right along with traditional Desktop icons. It draws the HTML in a background layer, where the Windows wallpaper used to be, and the icons in a foreground layer, where they've always been.
The HTML is kept in a file-but you can't edit it. IE4 creates and edits the Desktop HTML file to guarantee that it can always be displayed. One HTML tag represents each Desktop component:
- An <IMG>tag links to a static picture.
- An <OBJECT>tag links to an ActiveX control.
- A floating frame <IFRAME>tag links to another HTML page-which, in turn, can reference other images and contain live hyperlinks.
- The background attribute of the <BODY>tag references a wallpaper image, which can be tiled, centered or stretched.
HTML isn't known for positional control, but Active Desktop can precisely place and even layer components by using new HTML syntax for absolute positioning of elements in x, y and z coordinates. You edit those positions when you move an object on the Desktop using a special ActiveX control. In this screen shot, the floating HTML frame (with a "paper" background) is surrounded by a light-gray border, with a triangle and an x in its upper corners.
That gray frame actually belongs to the ActiveX control used for moving and sizing elements; it appears only when the mouse lingers near the edge of the floating HTML frame. Clicking on the triangle opens a menu for customizing the floating frame; clicking on the x closes it. You can grab the edges or corners to size the object, or move it by dragging the top bar. When you're done, the ActiveX control updates the HTML to reflect the adjustments.-Martin Heller
SIDEBAR: Inside the Interface, Part II
An inside look at how Win98's WebView works.
One of the most compelling features of Windows 98 and IE4 is shell integration-Windows Explorer can display both Web pages and file folders, and even display file folders as Web pages.
Whether Web View is enabled for a folder depends on the presence of two files in the folder: DESKTOP.INI and FOLDER.HTM. An example of DESKTOP.INI is shown below. The file defines the controls to be used in the view (the long hexadecimal strings in curly brackets), the custom Web page used for this folder (PERSISTFILE=FOLDER.HTM), how the view appears in the menus (As Web Page), the background image for the icon area (here, COFFEE BEAN.BMP), and the color of the icon area text (here FFFFFF, or white)
MenuName=as Web Page
ToolTipText=as Web Page
HelpText=as Web Page
The file is generated automatically by a wizard, invoked from the Customize This Folder item on the View and Context menus for most directories. You can edit it at your peril. Special folders-My Computer, the Control Panel and so on-have special formatting, and don't present a customization menu item.
When you customize a folder and create an HTML document, the wizard copies FOLDER.HTM from a template in the Windows Web subdirectory. This directory also holds MYCOMP.HTM, (used for displaying the My Computer folder) and CONTROLP.HTM, (used for displaying the Control Panel)
The default Folder Web page uses a table and positioning syntax to produce a layout similar to the example above.
The left-hand part of the pane is a table that uses 30 percent of the screen width; the HTML looks like this:
<table width&EQUALS;30&PERCENT; height&EQUALS;100&PERCENT; cellpadding&EQUALS;0 cellspacing&EQUALS;0>
Within the table, the top portion gets its text from something that looks a lot like server-side scripting:
It sets its background from the file WVLOGO.GIF in the Windows Web subdirectory, which has the cloud image:
It is defined as 20 percent of full height:
<td align&EQUALS;left valign&EQUALS;top width&EQUALS;100&PERCENT; height&EQUALS;20&PERCENT;>
The file list is an ActiveX control, which is set to use the remaining 70 percent of the window width:
<object id&EQUALS;"FileList" border&EQUALS;0</P>
>style="position: absolute; left: 30%; top: 0; width: 70%; height: 100%
Once you use the wizard to create an HTML page for a folder, you can edit the code-again, at your own risk. If editing introduces errors to the file, Explorer may hang up trying to display the folder, and you'll have to use the task list to kill the hung process. If Explorer can still access a mis-edited folder, bring up the Customization Wizard and select Remove Customization. Otherwise, you can delete DESKTOP.INI and FOLDER.HTM from the affected directory using the "del" command from a DOS prompt. -Martin Heller
SIDEBAR: Key Desktop Technologies -- The most exciting news may be under the hood.
Win32 Driver Model
The Win32 Driver Model adapts the new driver model developed for Windows NT to the Windows 9x operating system. By unifying the Windows 9x and Windows NT driver models, Microsoft boosts both the NT platform, which has traditionally suffered from a poor driver selection, and the 9x platform, which had a technically inferior driver model compared with NT's. The Win32 Driver Model will be used for all nondisplay hardware devices, including USB, codecs, video capture, audio and IEEE 1394 (FireWire). A kernel-mode component can access kernel services and communicate directly with the hardware; a user-mode component sits between the kernel-mode component and the application software. The Win32 Driver Model is a more sophisticated and complex model than that required for DOS, Win 3.x or even Win95. The result should be higher-quality drivers for Win9x and NT.
NetWare Directory Services
Support for NetWare and IntraNetWare are much improved in Win98. The default choice during Win95 installation was the Microsoft Client for Novell Networks (MCNN). Although you could log onto NetWare 3.11+ NetWare resources, you could see only NetWare Directory Services (NDS) in NetWare Bindery Emulation mode. Bindery Emulation mode allowed log on and use of server and network resources, but Win95 users were unable to administer NDS or use NDS object functionality as full participating members.
With a fresh install of Win98, setup chose the NDS client as the default. However, with an upgrade from Win95, when a bindery client type was present or when the Novell NetWare 32 client shell was installed, Win98 didn't choose the NDS client as a default. We had to remove and install the NDS client (a process that required four reboots from beginning to end) to get the NDS access we wanted. Once installed, the local network resources were shown in NDS format.
The current release of the NetWare 32 Client for Windows 95 appears to work correctly either over a freshly installed version of Win98 (successfully replacing the Microsoft Client for NDS) or in an upgraded installation. Many Novell administrators prefer the NetWare client. Unless there's a current compatibility or usage issue with the NetWare client, there's no reason to replace it.
Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) is a standard promulgated jointly by Microsoft, Intel and Toshiba. It specifies changes to system hardware that give the OS control over power management. Computers that don't support ACPI handle power management in three ways: APIs written for Windows' own Advanced Power Management module, the system's own BIOS and PnPBIOS APIs (Plug-and-Play BIOS information programmed into PnP devices). ACPI supports these earlier schemes as well. But with the OS governing power management, improvements can be programmed, rather than wired into the hardware. This should result in improved power management across a variety of hardware, including legacy machines. One immediate user benefit of ACPI is OnNow.
A part of the ACPI spec, OnNow describes a PC that appears to be turned off, but is always on and responds immediately to the user. Because of the improved power management ACPI provides, OnNow systems use very little power to remain in what is essentially a suspend state. Yet the system becomes available with a keystroke or mouse movement. -Jonathan Blackwood and Tom Henderson
SIDEBAR: Microsoft To-Do List
All betas are crawling with bugs and unfinished features. That's why they're beta. But several major problems with current Windows 98 betas might make us pause in recommending either specific features-or the upgrade itself-if they're not fixed. Here's our to-do list for Microsoft before Win98 ships:
- Make the presentation of Web View options consistent.
- Let users copy and modify Dial-Up Networking files.
- Enable Windows Scripting Host scripts to work with disk files.
- Prevent embedded Java-based programs from executing automatically when Outlook Express users open messages.
- Improve system performance and cursor control during NetMeeting calls.
- Add a NetMeeting diagnostic utility.
- Make it easier to add FrontPage Express editing to the IE4 toolbar.
- Add frame support to FrontPage Express.