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8.3. Using the Active Desktop

Although the Active Desktop component was heralded as a breakthrough feature when it made its debut in Internet Explorer 4.0 and Windows 98, Microsoft has somewhat downplayed it in Windows Me. What makes the desktop "active" is a combination of three features of Internet Explorer:

  • You can turn your desktop into one big web page, optionally hiding all desktop icons. Double-click the Display icon in Control Panel, choose the Background tab, click Browse, and select any HTML file (or image file) to be displayed as the backdrop. The file can be a static file on your hard disk or an address on the Web.

  • You can add "Active Desktop items" to your desktop, which are small, movable, resizable boxes that contain web pages. They're very similar to ordinary IE windows, except that they have thinner borders, can't float on top of normal windows, and automatically appear when you start Windows.

    To add a new Active Desktop item, double-click the Display icon in Control Panel, choose the Web tab, and click New. Click No to skip Microsoft's web site, and then either type a URL of a web site or point to an HTML file or Internet shortcut on your hard disk.

  • You can "subscribe" to various web sites. This is essentially an extension of the Scheduled Tasks feature, whereby your computer could be configured to automatically connect to the Internet at predetermined intervals and retrieve updates from any web sites you wish.[11]

    [11] Similarly, "Push" technology, once a hot topic in the industry, has all but vanished from sight. "Push" allowed a web site to initiate communication with subscribers, rather than waiting for visitors to request information. The implementation was a passive TV-like interface, which thankfully was killed in time for the release of Windows Me.


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