Product review: Explorer makes small strides

While most new applications become "fatter" and demand more resources, Microsoft's latest release of Internet Explorer for the Macintosh does just the opposite. Version 4.5 includes a bevy of enhancements, is easier to use and install, and improves performance substantially over earlier versions and Netscape Communicator 4.5 -- thanks to a smaller memory footprint.

Fusion with Mac OS

Internet Explorer's Mac OS integration is greatly improved. There is now support for dragging and dropping links and images from a Web page to the desktop and Apple Appearance Manager support.

Particularly helpful is its integration with Mac OS 8.5's Sherlock technology that lets you choose three task types: Find similar sites, copy a page summary to the clipboard, or launch Sherlock outside the browser. Microsoft also added Office 98 features such as drag-and-drop installation and the self-repairing utility.

Notable extras

The redesigned Explorer Bar interface -- which no longer includes the Channels tab -- now includes a tab called Page Holder that copies pages and stores them much like Favourites and lets you change the page view to show only links within the page.

Web browsers notoriously print Web pages badly, often chopping off parts at each side of the page and splitting graphics between pages. Explorer's new Print Preview function automatically scales Web pages and offers a variety printing options: I could choose to crop or print wide pages -- a feature currently unique to this product.

The AutoComplete feature is particularly helpful when entering URLs in the address bar. This version extends this idea to fields within Web pages via a Forms AutoFill feature, which let me create a profile for quickly filling in common form fields, such as user data.

I could also store common entries in the AutoComplete preferences -- a feature currently not available in the Windows version.

Upgrade gaps

Microsoft nixed the Personal Web Server for Mac and no longer includes the NetShow client. In addition, this version no longer supports Microsoft's Java Development Kit, requiring that you use Apple Macintosh Run Time for Java.

Plus, Communicator's Composer Web authoring application is a nice extra that Internet Explorer still lacks. I would like to see Microsoft integrate a Mac OS version of FrontPage Express, which is included with the Windows version of Explorer.

Overall, the performance enhancements, nifty extras, and general improvements in this release are well worth the free download.

Senior Analyst Jeff Senna can be reached at jeff_senna@infoworld.com.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

Internet Explorer 4.5, Macintosh EditionThis version sports improved performance, interesting extras, and surpasses Netscape Communicator by providing better integration with Mac OS.

Pros: Excellent performance; enhanced Explorer Bar; better integration with Mac; superb print features.

Cons: No XML and VBScript support; does not include Microsoft Java Development Kit, NetShow, and Personal Web Server.www.microsoft.com.

Price: Free download.

Platform: Mac OS 7.5.5 and later (Mac OS 8.5 recommended).

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