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Windows 95 Users Will Find New Look, New Simplicity

You've bought that fancy new multimedia personal computer with Windows 95 installed. And you are less interested in exploring the ins and outs of configuration files and memory allocation than in writing that next letter, playing a game, or updating the family budget. What differences will you see between Windows 95 and its predecessor, Windows 3.1? If looks and simplicity count for anything, Windows 95 blows 3.1 out of the water. Starting your computer with 3.1 gives you a utilitarian program-manager window that displays icons identifying groups of programs, such as Main, Applications, or Games. To activate software, you first have to open a group window and then click on the program's icon. Out of the box, Windows 95's opening screen, or desktop, displays an image of a partly cloudy sky with four icons superimposed: My Computer, Inbox, Recycle Bin, The Microsoft Network, and Start button. The Start button gives you almost instant access to any program or file in your computer. Click on Start with your left mouse button and a pop-up menu appears that guides you to the program that you want. With Windows 95, icons on the desktop can be set up for a file (which automatically starts the program the file needs), a program itself, or a ''folder'' representing a directory. Shades of Apple's Macintosh. ''My Computer'' displays an icon for each drive available: CD-ROM, hard drive, and floppy drive, for example. Double-click on the hard drive and up pops another window with file folders, each representing a different directory. Open one of these folders and the next window displays individual files within the directory. Using this approach, you can open files or activate programs. But it's a bit like trying to peel layers of an onion to get to the program or file you want, particularly compared with 3.1's file manager. A Find command not only searches out files or programs, but also words in files. Microsoft included yet another way to wander through your computer. Click on the ''Start'' icon, and up pops a menu that includes the choice ''Explore.'' Selecting ''explore'' yields a display of directories and files that 3.1 users will readily recognize - with one exception. Now, other drives are included in the directory ''tree'' rather than across the top of the window. ''Inbox'' is a one-stop location for faxes and e-mail for use with Microsoft's network. Other fax software, as well as software packages for on-line services such as CompuServe and America Online (AOL), have their own self-contained filing systems for incoming fax and e-mail traffic. If you're a heavy user of other online services, dump the ''Inbox'' from your screen - less clutter. ''Recycle Bin'' is a near clone of Apple's desktop trash can. You can click and drag files to the bin for disposal. And disposed items can be retrieved if you discover you've made a mistake As for The Microsoft Network (MSN) icon, there isn't much to see yet. The network currently hosts 15 software vendors, for example, compared with dozens on CompuServe, AOL, and Prodigy. Try MSN, but make sure the other services are on your Windows 95 desktop if you want to remain fully connected. As you tour the desktop, one final thought: Set up an icon for the on-line Windows Help files, even though they also are accessible via Start. Some functions, particularly the ''wizards'' designed to speed you through a set-up process, do not give users ready access to on-line help. And if you have a program that opens as the machine begins, the F1 key will pull up that program's help menu, not Windows'. So what differences will you see in how your software runs? Much has been made of Windows 95's improved multitasking - the ability to run several programs simultaneously without any of them getting bogged down. But if you run programs one at a time, you won't see much change, except if you try to run a DOS program. When you start a DOS program on Windows 95, the application automatically appears in its own window, which can be sized to fill the screen. Instead of pull-down menus, the functions appear on a handy tool bar. Users no longer have to fiddle with separate (PIF) files in order to fine tune DOS applications for use with Windows. When running several programs at once, Windows 95 displays a bar across the bottom with ''buttons'' for each running application. These allow users to switch between applications without having to resize windows to uncover icons or use the Alt-Tab combination. A number of Shareware developers came up with such ''task bar'' utilities for Windows 3.1 - a convenience that Microsoft did well to emulate. Unless your curiosity gets the better of you, for casual computer users or low-intensity business users Windows 95 represents some helpful but mainly cosmetic changes from 3.1. For now, the cost of upgrading to Windows 95 might better be put toward adding more random-access memory, a computer's actual workspace. The time to buy into Windows 95 may well be when you get a notice from your favorite software manufacturer saying that after a certain date, it no longer will upgrade or support NeatStuff for Windows v.100.3.