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Internet Explorer 4.5
reviewed by Shawn FitzGerald

I'll confess to no small measure of hesitation in recommending Internet Explorer 4.5 for Macintosh. As a rabid Mac advocate, it pains me (oh...the pain) to endorse any Microsoft product. I am, however, and enlightened and fair person, and if Satan himself made a good product I would probably use it.

With IE 4.5, Microsoft pulled the same trick they did with Office 98. They went and rewrote the program specifically for Macs, instead of porting an inferior Wintel version. It is likely at this point that Microsoft is making better software for the Macintosh then they are for their own operating system.

IE 4.5 installs the same way Office 98 does. You start with a folder with the application, and when you run it the first time it installs all required extensions and whatnot. You don't even have to restart your Mac to use it. Also, if a required extension or file goes missing, IE 4.5 simply replaces it with a new copy. This can be a bit of a pain if you are short on memory and frequently load with different extension sets. IE 4.5 just looks to see if the extension is there, so if you move it, you'll have more than one copy floating around. I'd recommend Conflict Catcher 8 to deal with this, since CC 8 will locate duplicate copies of startup items regardless if they're loading.

It hurts me to say this, but IE 4.5 for Mac is better than Netscape 4.5. It has a nice interface, and several tricks that make using Microsoft's browser easier and more enjoyable.

Outlook Express has also been rewritten for Mac, and is included with IE 4.5 in one of the download options. I'm not reviewing Outlook Express, but I might in the future. To be honest, I haven't found a single email program I like since Claris Emailer 2. Even the later versions of Eudora don't make me happy. I poked around in Outlook and was initially disappointed, but I hear its quite nice.

Tabbed Windows:

IE 4.5

(click for full-size version)

The right side of the browser window in IE 4.5 has several tabs that can be clicked. Doing so slides a smaller window over your main view. At first this was annoying, but once you get used to having the tabs there they are fairly unobtrusive. There is a tab for searches, which loads the page you have specified in a preferences item. Your favorite search engine shows up in the tab window on the right, and any link clicked on in that window opens in the left. This lets you look at many different sites without having to flip between windows, or keep hitting your "Back" button. A handy pull down item at the top of this window lets you change search engines quickly.

A second tabbed window is called the page holder. Click on a button in the page holder, and whatever page is loaded in the main window is copied to the smaller window. This is great for pages like site maps that contain numerous links that you might refer to. There is even an option to view only the links on the page, providing a simple link list without a ton of visual clutter.

Forms Autofill:

Ever get sick of typing your name, email address, snail mail address, etc. in dozens of forms just so you can look at a company's FAQ? There is an Autofill button in IE 4.5 that fills in predefined information to common form fields. Just specify this information once, and then click Autofill the next time you encounter a form. Explorer fills in the fields for you. This works fairly well, but you may want to review any fields after an autofill to make sure the correct information was entered. I've only encountered one field so far that had an error. When I was at Microsoft's tech support page, my first name was entered in the middle name field. Yes, this was at Microsoft's own page.

Font Size:

There are handy "smaller" and "larger" items on the button bar that will scale the fonts on a page up or down while you look at them. Netscape does this, but provides no buttons for the function. I like buttons.

Download Manager:

It took me a while to like this, but IE keeps track of your downloads in a separate window called the Download Manager. The only problem with it is lack of feedback. The DL manager is opened in the background, behind the window you've activated the download from. You have to use a pull-down menu to see the DL Manager, which is unfortunate. The DL manager keeps a list of your most recent downloads (the number is definable in a preferences panel), and you can use this list to download a file again without having to go to the source web page. If the file is still on your computer (i.e., you haven't decompressed a Stuffit file and then thrown it away), a button will show the file in the Finder.

Download Icon:

I can't help thinking this is the neatest trick in IE 4.5, and all of the reviews I've read have failed to mention it. When you are downloading a file with Netscape, it shows up on your desktop (or wherever else you've told it to go) with a generic, white file icon. This icon changes to its correct type (usually) when it is finished. IE 4.5 disposes of the generic icon, and uses a set of little pictures to create a progress bar on the icon itself. You can hide IE and see how far your download has without flipping back to Explorer every few minutes.

Printing:

Perhaps the best improvement to Web Browserdom in the enhanced printing in IE 4.5. Printing web pages used to be an adventure in pain, with images getting cut in half, and the ubiquitous blank pages that spit out of your printer for no apparent reason. While Explorer solves some of these problems, it isn't perfect. I can't complain though, because Not Perfect is still Much Better. IE 4.5 tries to scale pages to fit as much on one printed page as it can. It also does a nice job of not splitting images in half across two pages. It will also invert the colors of light text on dark backgrounds. I don't know how many times I've tried to print something that was white-on-black and been left holding a white piece of paper. Site designers take note: not only is this annoying from a print standpoint, it also makes you text much more difficult to read. This is why you don't see books printed white on black paper.

Complaints:

I have only minor complaints with Explorer 4.5 for Macintosh. The above mentioned lack of download feedback is one. Another is the roundabout way of importing Netscape bookmarks. It can be done, but it is a bit of a pain, and a novice user that doesn't know exactly where the Netscape bookmark file is stored won't have much luck figuring it out. It took me a good half hour of poking around before I got it to work.

If Microsoft can keep the quality in its new Mac products, I'll keep using them. 4.5 is the first version of Explorer I've used and liked. Netscape will have some catching up to do. But then, a browser is like a screwdriver: just a tool. Switching browser brands isn't much more difficult than switching browser versions. Heck, it's free, download it, try it.

b i o
Shawn FitzGerald is perhaps best known for his counter espionage work during the Cold War, placed in deep cover behind the Iron Curtain, and known only to the East Germans as der Raumdrache. While crediting Mr. FitzGerald solely with the collapse of International Communism may be stretching things, it is certain that you can thank him for the current revival in the preparation and eating of spaetzel.

The writer of this article welcomes your comments: shawn@mindjack.com