Extras to add fun to Win 98

June 29, 1998|By Phillip Robinson | Phillip Robinson,knight ridder tribune

Windows 98 Plus is a $35 CD-ROM full of extras for Windows 98.

No, it's a marketing decision based on the assumption that truly excitable Windows owners will part with more money if Microsoft Corp.'s latest operating system upgrade is divided into two, separately priced pieces.

Or maybe it's both.

The balance must have been delicate. Like, "What can we take out of the main disc that won't hurt too much, but will make the second disc look like a good investment?"

Like Microsoft's similar collection of options for Windows 95, the latest version of Plus contains both serious utilities as well as fun goodies.

Installing all of them takes about 180 megabytes of hard drive space. But if you don't have that much to spare, you can pick and choose which you want.

Leading the serious category is VirusScan, an anti-virus utility from McAfee. This is one of the best anti-virus tools, able to search memory, regular disk files, compressed files, Internet downloads and macros for noxious virus programs. The six months of free updates should keep it in top fighting form for a while.

I just wish Microsoft would get around to making anti-virus fighters part of the basic Windows. We've needed that a lot longer than we've needed Internet access and on-screen TV, features now part of basic Windows.

Another serious extra is improvements to the Maintenance Wizard. That new feature of Windows 98 is supposed to keep your hard disk better organized and your computer running faster.

If you add Plus, it will add a Start Menu Cleaner that can remove nonworking menu items and empty folders from your Start Menu. A nice touch, but I'm not sure how many people will care.

Plus also adds a File Cleaner to the Maintenance Wizard, so you can schedule regular deletion of temp and downloaded files from your hard drive. That I'm glad to see, because such files can quickly cram and jam the hard drive of anyone with a serious World Wide Web addiction for work or play.

For things you don't want to delete, but don't need right on hand, archiving is the ticket. Many people already depend upon utility programs that can compress their nonessential information so it uses less disk space but is still available when needed. Similar compression utilities help in transmitting files through the Internet. Once the files are smaller, they go through faster.

The Compressed Folders feature in Plus 98 lets you create new folders that will automatically compress anything you put in them. You can also encrypt the contents with a password. These compressed folders can be stored on any drive or sent through the Internet. This matches the easiest compression and encryption I've seen. It doesn't have the flexibility of most independent compression and encryption programs, but it's a great start.

A little less serious, depending on how you use it, is PictureIt Express, a "lite" version of Microsoft's photo editing program. You'll need 800 by 600 resolution and 16-bit color to do this program justice. Then you can cut and paste, crop and stretch, adjust the contrast and brightness, and otherwise mess around with pictures from digital cameras, scanners or the Internet. There are obvious pitches in the program to upgrade to the full PictureIt, without telling you the price.

Deluxe CD Player will play music CDs in your PC's CD-ROM drive, and music files downloaded from the Internet on to your hard disk. It has a command to reach out through your Net connection to Web sites such as Tunes.com and Music Boulevard. You can also download information from those sites about your albums - such as artist, title and track names - and view this data while playing a disc.

Deeply into frivolous territory now, Plus 98 comes with more than a dozen desktop Themes to give you more variety in wallpaper, screen savers, cursors and sounds. These have names such as Architecture, Falling Leaves, Fashion, Horror Channel and Jazz. There are several cartoon themes including Cathy, Garfield, Doonesbury, FoxTrot and Peanuts. These include links to the cartoon creators' Web sites.

And finally, there are the games. Spider Solitaire brings some new complexity to that Windows time-wasting classic. Lose Your Marbles is from Sega, and I couldn't figure out how it worked, but the graphics and sounds were cute. Microsoft Golf 1998 Lite has the Harbor Preserve course for your indoor, no-walking-at-all golfing pleasure.

Both Marbles and Golf are fun in themselves but make a point of pushing you to upgrade to the full shebang. I don't like to be caught coming and going, paying for the right to view someone's ad.

My advice: Don't buy Plus 98 or you'll encourage this behavior.

Pub Date: 6/29/98

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