ISSUE 473: The high-tech office- Nov 17 1998


Upgrading can be a pain in the hard drive
but sometimes the payoff is worth the trouble

Software upgrading is a dilemma for many of us. To do or not to do, that is the question.

All too often, it feels as if we've just learned to use a program when the company puts out a new version, with new features, and a new way of working. And, all too often, it seems as if
the company has fixed a bunch of bugs in its product, but taken the opportunity to put out a whole new crop of the critters.

Despite this, there are times when it's worthwhile upgrading -- especially if the new versions offer some real improvements and are free. Here are a few that may make the grade:

* Netscape Navigator Web browser moves up to version 4.5 for Windows and Macintosh. They've been busy at Netscape, putting out new versions every couple of weeks -- versions 4.04, 4.05, 4.06 and 4.07 all in quick succession. And, less than a month after releasing 4.07, a big jump to 4.50. That means added features, and not just a quick bug fix or security patch. It also means that this should be their standard version for long enough for the rest of us to catch our breath.

The basic browser isn't dramatically different from its version 4 predecessors. New is a feature called Smart Browsing. Enter words in actual English, and it will try to bring you to an appropriate Web site, or display a list that might match what you're looking for. Sort of like a search engine without going to a search site.

Once you go somewhere, you've got a What's Related button, which will display a list of similar sites. It doesn't always come through, but it's worth checking out.

The biggest improvements are in the e-mail component known as Messenger. It offers more power to customize its look and feel, and can import mail from Eudora or Microsoft Outlook. A nice touch is the ability to find e-mail addresses, using a number of popular
e-mail directories, putting the results right into your address book. The Smart Update feature does a better job of painlessly keeping you up-to-date on future releases.

Free from

* There are good reasons to move up from a free e-mail program such as Netscape's Messenger or Microsoft's Outlook Express. We've looked at the popular Qualcomm Eudora Pro in previous columns. (The company also gives away the free Eudora Light.)

If you're using Eudora Pro 4.0, you'll welcome the company's free upgrade to version 4.10. Like Netscape's new e-mail version, it allows users to import mail and settings from its competitors. But the biggest and best new feature is multi-threading.

This allows the program to carry out time-consuming tasks in the background. It can check or send mail while you're reading or writing, without forcing you to stop what you're doing.
I use e-mail a lot, and find this a great improvement. Version 4.1 is shipping for Windows users. Mac users can get the pre-release beta right now, with the official release available "real soon now."

Also free, from www.eudora.

* Some updates don't provide any new features, but do fix enough bugs to be worth having. Microsoft has recently released so-called service packs for its Office suites, both for Office 97 for Windows and Office 98 for the Macintosh platform. In fact, this is the second service pack for the Windows version, and you need to get and install the first one before using the new one.

(In fact, this is the second version of Service Pack 2. It was released earlier, then unreleased, after customers reported
problems installing it. Presumably this version gets it right.) You can download these, or order them for free on CD, from

* Back in April, we looked at New Deal Office, a software suite that offers older computers a new lease on life with a graphical interface that runs much faster than Windows.

The Montreal-based company is now offering New Deal Office 98, with im-
proved Internet and networking. The biggest news perhaps is cosmetic -- the program now offers the option to look and act like Windows 95, making it easier for people used to working in that near-universal environment. It looks good enough that it's important to remember that it's not, in fact, Windows 95.

Not a free upgrade from
previous versions, it's $49.95
as an upgrade, or $99.95 as
a new purchase. From www.

Finally, the oddly named
FerretSoft offers two useful free products for Windows users -- WebFerret and EmailFerret. Each adds itself to Windows' Start Menu's Find command, making it easy to search for Web sites and e-mail addresses. Either one automatically searches multiple search sites, presenting the results in a simple, easy-to-read format. There are other products that offer these features, but these plug nicely into the Windows interface and, again, they're at the right price. (FerretSoft hopes you'll want to upgrade to their more powerful, commercial versions.) From www.ferretsoft.
. *


Search WWW Search

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