Business-like, isn't he?


 

 



Microsoft's Plus Pack.. the first add on for Win95

by Alan Zisman (c) 1995. First published in Our Computer Player, September 1995

While the focus of activity at Microsoft, these past months, has been to get Windows 95 ready for the general public, that hasn't been all that's been occupying those busy little gnomes of Redmond. In other corners of Bill Gates' workshop, teams have been working on the next version of Microsoft Office, on bringing Win95's new features to Windows NT, and in yet another corner of the Microsoft campus, on the Windows 95 Plus Pack-- a collection of enhancements for the Windows 95 environment.

The $49 Plus Pack includes features that range from the practical to the whimsical. Here's what you get (at least as of early July... features of pre-release software aren't fixed in stone, and may be somewhat different by the time you read this... especially if US Government edicts force Microsoft to remove the Microsoft Network or other features from the main Win95 release):
 

THE SERIOUS STUFF

-- System Agent appears as a tiny icon in the 'tray' on the right-hand end of the Win95 Taskbar, along with the time of day, and speaker mini-icon. It's a scheduler for all those tasks that really ought to be done regularly, but you never really get around to it. Set it to optimize your hard disk with ScanDisk or Defrag late at night. Backup to tape every Friday. Run a virus checker regularly. Of course, the implication is that you never turn off your computer!

-- DriveSpace enhancements. Even with hard drive prices tumbling, many people still welcome disk compression as a free (or at least cheap) way of squeezing more data onto their existing hardware. Recent versions of DOS have come with DblSpace or DrvSpace compression-- both are supported by Win95. The Plus Pack includes DriveSpace 3, which permits better compression ratios and compressed volumes as big as 2 gigabytes, up from the 512 meg limit of the existing DriveSpace compression.

As well, the Plus Pack includes a Compression Agent-- this runs in the background to monitor disk use, and when the computer is unoccupied, can compress rarely-used files even more.

-- Internet features. Microsoft is adding Internet access to the Microsoft Network (isn't everyone?-- but Plus Pack purchasers can get one month free Internet access this way). The Plus Pack includes a Web browser. On the other hand, Web browsers are getting almost embarrassingly common these days. Perhaps more useful is the Internet Setup Wizard. While the basic Win95 package includes everything you need to connect to an Internet Service Provider (ISP), with built-in TCP-IP and Dial-Up-Networking, beta-testers often found these difficult to set up. The Wizard does a good job of walking users through the process, whether they're wanting to connect using the Microsoft Network, or with an independent ISP.

Internet Mail features for Microsoft Exchange were removed from the standard Windows 95 product but added to the Plus Pack.

In addition, the Plus Pack includes Dial-Up-Server, which allows user to access their home or office computer from a remote location.
 

CAN WE BE SILLY, TOO?
 

A full install of the Plus Pack also gives you about 20 meg worth of less serious stuff. For instance:

-- Desktop Themes. Many users have spent a lot of time playing with wallpaper, sounds, colour schemes, and other ways of customizing their Windows 3 environment. Desktop Themes bring it all together. The Plus Pack comes with a collection of themes, ranging from Sports to Dangerous Creatures to Leonardo da Vinci to Travel to The 60s. Each features wallpaper and colour scheme, along with a customized collection of sounds, animated cursors, and even icons-- a medieval straw basket for Leonardo's Recycle Bin, hippie flowers and peace signs for The 60s.

-- One of the claims to fame of Steve Jobs' NeXT operating system has been Full Window Drag... instead of getting an empty outline when you move a window, you move the actual contents as well. (In case you've never dragged a window, you can do it my putting your cursor on the title bar, hold down the left mouse-button, and well... drag).

This was a big hit when it was included as an undocumented feature in the pre-release Preview version of Win95... word quickly spread through the grapevine that by adding a line like ILoveBunny32=1 to startup files, users could add Full Window Drag. (I'm not making this up-- it shows how little it takes to amuse computer users). That feature was removed from later betas, and moved to the Plus Pack... where you don't need to type references to animals to make it work-- just right-click on the desktop, and look in the Properties tabbed dialogue box. The same dialogue box includes font smoothing, for those large screen fonts that can sometimes look like something produced by an old version of PrintShop, and wallpaper stretching, to make your wallpaper picture grow to fit your screen.

-- Windows 95 includes 3D graphics capabilities, and an enhanced gaming environment compared to Windows 3... to show it off, the Plus Pack includes 3D Pinball... a cute version of the arcade game, complete with flashing lights and sound effects.

You can choose to install only those features that you want-- or even choose individual desktop themes. One of the features of Windows 95 is that programs designed for that operating system need to add an standard Uninstall feature to Control Panel-- with this, you can easily add or remove individual Plus Pack items.

The Plus Pack isn't vital-- Windows 95 will run just fine without it. Some may argue that some of the features (my favorite is the Internet Wizard) should have been included in the basic Win95 package. At $49 list, however, it is a collection that many users will find useful or fun.
 



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan