Washington Apple Pi

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A Not So Impartial Review of Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.5, Macintosh Edition

By Al Lubarsky

Washington Apple Pi Journal, March/April 1999, pp. 33-35, reprint information

After less than a month of using the Microsoft Internet 4.5 package for Macintosh, this user is still as enthusiastic as ever. Absolutely the best free packages available anywhere -- no strings attached. Of course, this reviewer was reasonably swell-satisfied with the previous editions of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express, too. It may be difficult to explain this in a Journal that often refers to Microsoft as the Evil Empire and in just the last issue, had its Lab trying to dump these superior applications from a borrowed iMac in favor of Netscape and Eudora. Makes about as much sense as dumping the other Explorer (Pi's) in favor of AOL. No accounting for taste!

First about the Browser Wars

When landing in the anti-Microsoft camp, it sometimes helps to bring up the big guns first. Sort of gives some creditability (probably not much). Allow just a couple of shots from David Pogue in December 1998 MacWorld. After a lengthy treatise, his comparison of Explorer 4.01 versus Netscape 4.05 concludes that the choice is Netscape for speed and Explorer for features. He could have been correct, but in the few trials made in support of this article, Explorer 4.5 consistently loads much faster and downloads Web pages at about the same speed as Navigator 4.06. While this test program was carried out on a Power Macintosh 6100/66, with 72MB of RAM and a 33.6 kbps modem over WAP Explorer during "non-busy" Internet hours, it is not claimed to be scientifically structured, statistically sound or even repeatable by any one else -- but feel free to do your own comparison.

Microsoft Explorer 4.5 during a visit to Microsoft's MacTopia Web site.

In so far as the features, the Netscape bookmarks features don't come close to the flexibility exhibited by the Explorer Favorites menu. Even after inadvertently trashing a well-edited Favorites list, it was possible to rebuild almost all of it from the list of sites visited during the past several months contained in the History file. There are shareware fixes and patches to make Netscape's bookmarks almost as useful, or at least there were some back in the 2.01 days, when Netscape was the only Mac game in town, but why resort to that now? Pogue also mentions the Explorer text enlarging buttons, but truthfully, they have never been needed here; perhaps using well-fitted trifocals is the solution. His article also mentions stability versus crashes. Explorer 4.5 has yet to crash on my machine; there is always that possibility, perhaps even before this article reaches you. On the other hand, Navigator 4.06 occasionally freezes the machine while loading, but admittedly, not as frequently as past editions.

By far the best Explorer feature, the one that may serve to save the entire endangered specie of "two fingered, hunt and peck keyboarders", is the AutoFill Profile. Just fill in your "vitals" one time, and watch this feature zip through all your registration, order, contest and whatever other "requests for information" that confront you from day to day. A solid winner. The Print on One page feature works well with this setup and has already conserved at least the equivalent of one small tree when printing Web pages that seem to be purposely designed to run about a quarter inch wider than the maximum printable area on the LaserWriter Select 360.

Of course, there is at least one reason to run Netscape, but only if you don't want to change banks. Yes, one large local bank supports only Netscape for Macs, even though they do handle both browsers for PC-equipped customers. Is someone that writes for this Journal also in charge of NationsBanks Internet banking Website? Fortunately, the other two financial institutions of interest, Navy Federal Credit Union and T. Rowe Price have Internet services that are content with the 128-bit encryption version of either browser. Your results and mileage may vary.

E Mailer

The reviewers level of experience here is somewhat more limited. Having used only free email packages in the past, it isn't possible to get into a detailed discussion about the merits of Eudora Pro, versus Outlook Express (OE) 4.5. However, in a comparison of no-cost apples (awful pun), neither Claris E-Mailer or Eudora Light come remotely close to offering the type of mail service available on OE 4.5. Filtering rules are as simple or complex as you choose to make them. Folders and sub folders are easy to set up, maintain and edit. Moving email back and forth between desktop file folders and email folders is straightforward, unlike Eudora Light. The address book, like most included with e mailers, is easy to complete with pop up menus, but having more than one address book on a system seems impractical, and none that are included with free e mailers are sufficiently fully featured to handle large address lists or otherwise act as a PIM. Using the OE 4.5 Contacts feature to store frequently used names with their related email addresses does allow for automatic completion of the address line.

For those that are true Microsoft believers or have some other reason to have Word 98 installed, there is the automatic spell check -- either as you type or with control-click access to contextual menus for synonyms and almost any other Word feature and-- if all else fails, the traditional document spell-check. Even without experiencing these features on Eudora Pro, it is hard to imagine why anyone using Word would desire a second dictionary that needs customizing and maintenance, etc. A computer designer might find having three independent word lists with majority rule logic to be intellectually appealing, but isn't it difficult to build a compelling case for keeping two?

One new feature included within OE 4.5 is the "three pane view" that allows mail file folders, folder contents and email text to be viewed at the same time. The Microsoft blurbs describing this, carefully avoid the phrase "within the same Window," possibly to keep Mac users from labeling the feature as a pain. Either way, when compared to Eudora Light or Claris E-mailer, a big improvement, especially since folder contents are now coded to show status (unread, read, forwarded, etc.)

The three pane window of Microsoft Outlook Express 4.5.

Once the email is opened in a full screen, the Auto Text Clean Up menu selection may improve its legibility, at least in some cases by filling lines and text wrapping. Along with colored quotes, that may make it easier to follow threads or conversations, the claims are somewhat better than the performance. Straggling and orphan lines seem to get a different color more often than do quotes, but perhaps with more experience, this can be avoided.

When preparing a new message, one of many personal signatures can be chosen, rather than one of the two in Eudora Light. After creating an email message, users now also have the option to Send Now, Send Later or Save as Draft. With these new Send options, users can control when to send messages. Attachments can also now be coded (and fortunately decoded, too) in AppleDouble along with lots of other schemes that will never open on anyone else's Mac.

Installing

So much for the "using" part. Now that you're convinced to try Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.5, it can be downloaded from Microsoft's new site, "MacTopia" (http://www.microsoft.com/mac/). One just assumes that no Empire, Evil or otherwise, could exist in a place with such a fa├žade. Right?

The installer file in MacBinary is 11.0 megabytes, which on an average day via TCS Explorer with a 33.6 kbps modem might take about 2 hours. While you're at it, might just as well go back for the IE 4.5 128-bit encryption, which at 656KB shouldn't take more than another 5 minutes. That's the only hard part. The Installer uses Drag & Drop Install, so just decide which folder and hard drive deserves this jewel and it is in.

For the more ambitious, OE 4.5 is fully scriptable in all functions - including all areas of e-mail; even contacts can be scripted by users. Several sample scripts are included. The one needed and that is sorely lacking would disconnect the telephone connection automatically after downloading new e mail or being informed that the user's mailbox is empty. A standard feature on Eudora Light. So far, no luck in making a script work, but there are probably lots of readers who will do better at it. Both IE and OE 4.5 are also self repairing - the equivalent of new extensions are generated each time the application is launched, rather than storing a multitude of items that are prone to corruption. The same feature is used in Office 98.

All in all, the new Internet package is very Mac-like in most aspects. For those using Microsoft Office 98, the Internet package can be included in the Office Manager menu and pretty well completes a useful small office suite, although those with experience with Outlook on PCs might wish for a better scheduling and information management system in the future. For those not yet convinced, this may be the last Mac offering from Microsoft as we currently know it, depending upon the upcoming decisions on the Empire's future direction.

Al Lubarsky has been a WAP member since 1995, when he retired from the Department of Defense. His first computer-related employment concerned systems integration of the AN/FSQ-7, a portion of which, complete with vacuum tubes, is currently on display at the National Museum of American History. It is untrue that he in fact told Orville that it would never leave the ground, but he has been referred to as an orthogonal thinker by more than several famous, or at least near famous, ADP, IS and IT professionals since then.



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Revised April 11, 1999 Lawrence I. Charters
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