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August 19, 1996

Microsoft's Internet Starter Kit eases transition to Web

Moving in the direction of simplifying Internet browsing, Microsoft Corp. plans to sell its latest release of Internet Explorer 3.0 through retail computer stores in new packaging marketed as Internet Starter Kit as early as Aug. 30, according to insiders at the company.

Besides the Explorer software, Internet Starter Kit will include a set of bundled add-ons called the Web Gallery. These add-ons, or plug-ins, will work with Internet Explorer to extend its capability for handling a variety of file types found on the World Wide Web, such as audio, video, and 3-D content.

Many of the add-ons in the Web Gallery have been developed by third parties and will also work with other browsers, such as Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator. But users usually must obtain these accessory programs by slowly downloading them across the Internet one at a time.

Microsoft hopes to gain a market penetration advantage over Netscape by bundling its collection of add-ons in the same package as its browser. Internet Starter Kit, list-priced at less than $30, is aimed squarely at "newbies" -- the kind of novice surfers who might not easily locate and download from cyberspace all the useful plug-ins they need.

One of the add-ons in the Web Gallery illustrates the powers that documents on the Internet are beginning to gain. This add-on, called Hip Viewer (for HotMetal Intranet Publisher Viewer), gives a Web document a chameleonlike quality. The document can automatically display different levels of detail depending on who views the information.

Users can manually select this capability, or it can operate automatically.

In the first case, a user might right-click a Web page and select one of several views from a context menu. These views include choices such as Executive Summary, Outline View, Monthly Results, and Daily Details.

In the second case, the plug-in itself might make the initial selection of the appropriate view by detecting the log-in password or some other electronic signature that identifies the user.

For example, a software engineer might see a document containing technical details from a scientific journal article. An upper-management type in the same company might see only a short abstract written in lay terms. I'd call this the vice president's view.

With the automatic selection capability enabled, users have the option of right-clicking the document and switching to another view.

The creation of a document with distinct views does not require any special software, although the developer of the Hip Viewer, SoftQuad Inc., in Toronto, makes HotMetal Pro, an authoring tool for HTML documents. The Hip Viewer can pick up its information about the content of a document from ordinary tags found in every Web page.

A complex document viewed by a browser without Hip Viewer technology would look in all respects like an ordinary Web page. But with the plug-in enabled, the same document could take on multiple personalities, making it a quick read for some and a wealth of information for others.

In my Aug. 5 column, I wrote about IntelliServ, server software that automatically sends notification of changed documents to users by a variety of means, such as pagers, e-mail, etc. (See "`Webcasting' comes of age with new application".)

Some of the tools in the Web Gallery can make those documents sensitive to the information needs of each recipient, resulting in several different types of documents, as appropriate.

Brian Livingston is the coauthor of the new Windows 95 Secrets and author of three other Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to or fax: (206) 282-1248.

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Copyright © 1996 by InfoWorld Publishing Company


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