With their recent Web browser releases, Netscape and Microsoft have strived to incorporate the latest whizzy Web technologiessuch as Cascading Style Sheets and DHTMLsometimes at the expense of greater functionality. Sure, you can watch a GIF file dance across the screen, but what good is it if your browser crashes or slows to a crawl?
Microsoft has taken a different tack with Internet Explorer 4.5 Macintosh Edition, the latest version of its Mac Web browser. You won't find any earth-shattering new capabilities, but the upgrade adds some clever features designed to make Web surfing easier.
One of Microsoft's design goals was to reduce the number of mouse-clicks and keystrokes needed to perform common tasks. Like previous versions, Internet Explorer 4.5 features a Search Pane that lets you keep search results separate from the main browser window. The upgrade adds a similar Page Holder feature that lets you temporarily store a page containing many links.
For example, a popular news site might include links to dozens of news stories on the Web. With Page Holder, you can store that page separately and then follow its links in the main window. You can then quickly return to the Page Holder without clicking repeatedly on the Back button.
Two new features make it easier to fill out online forms. Form AutoFill lets you store personal information in a preferences file. When you encounter a form on a Web site, you can click a toolbar button to fill in the fields automatically. Form AutoComplete automatically fills in a form entry after you've entered the first few letters.
Internet Explorer 4.5 also includes several features to enhance printing from the Web. A new Print Preview function, similar to the one in Microsoft Office, lets you view a page before printing. You can turn images, backgrounds, and headers and footers on or off, and you can crop pages that include wide tables. The browser can scale the output to fit the paper, and can also break a page around images and other objects rather than cutting them off.
Microsoft says it built the browser from the ground up to run on the Mac, and the program supports many Mac OS technologies. For example, the browser recognizes ColorSync profiles embedded in downloaded images, ensuring more-accurate color display. You can access the Sherlock search engine in Mac OS 8.5 directly from the Internet Explorer toolbar.
Along with Internet Explorer 4.5, Microsoft has released an upgrade of Outlook Express, its free e-mail client. Outlook Express 4.5 now lets you preview e-mail message headers before you download them. A new AutoText Clean Up feature lets you rewrap paragraphs, convert text to upper- or lowercase, and remove or straighten quotation marks.
Outlook Express 4.5 also provides more-extensive AppleScript support than do previous versions. All functions are scriptable, and you can organize scripts into hierarchical menus. You can also link scripts to the program's mail-filtering function.
Along with the new software, Microsoft has launched a Mac-specific Web site called MacTopia ( http://www.microsoft.com/mac/ ). In addition to information about Microsoft's Mac products, the Web site includes Mac-related news, software downloads, and a chat room.
Internet Explorer is the main bone of contention in the Justice Department's antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, which has revealed that Microsoft and Apple may not be the happy partners they have claimed to be recently. In widely publicized testimony, Apple software chief Avie Tevanian charged that in 1997 Microsoft threatened to cancel development of Microsoft Office for Macintosh if Apple did not make Internet Explorer the default browser for the Mac. Shortly thereafter, at the 1997 Macworld Expo in Boston, Apple announced its landmark deal with Microsoft, which included the controversial decision to embrace Internet Explorer. However, at the recent 1999 Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Apple and Microsoft reaffirmed that they are working closely together despite disagreements in some areas, such as multimedia. Apple has alleged that Microsoft attempted to kill QuickTime, Apple's popular multimedia system software.
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