By BRIT HUME and T.R. REID

TweakDUN is the name of a handy little Windows 95/98 utility program that can speed up your travels on the Web by adjusting some obscure settings that govern the way Windows connects to the Internet by modem. That's what the name means it "tweaks" your DUN (Dial-Up Networking.)

You can download it free from the Internet (try pattersondesigns.com). If you decide to keep it, it costs $15 to become a registered user. You could do what TweakDUN does, but you would need to know how to edit a file called the Windows Registry, a tricky business, since if you make a mistake, you could render Windows inoperative. TweakDUN makes it easy, by giving you a graphical screen from which you choose some options (there are recommendations). TweakDUN then makes the changes for you.

TweakDUN is an example of a kind of software that Microsoft's operating systems, from the original MS-DOS through all versions of Windows, have made possible, and at the same time have made vulnerable to extinction. These programs enhance the operating system's performance, or add features and functions Microsoft did not.

Other examples include such things as disk defragmenters, which speed your hard drive by physically reorganizing the data so that all files are contiguous and your drive need not look in several places to load (or save) a file. A small software company can make a tidy profit supplying such enhancements, but if Microsoft decides to include the function in its next upgrade of the operating system, the market can vanish overnight.

In some instances, Microsoft has bought out companies that supplied enhancements, or licensed their technology. In other cases, it has simply developed its own versions. Understandably, Microsoft is not popular with a number of software developers who have thrived in its wake only to wake up one day and find their market gone.

Most of the software in this category falls neatly under the heading of "utilities," that is, software whose purpose is to enhance the performance of the computer itself, or of other software. These programs are not "applications." But with the advent of Windows, the line between applications and utilities began to blur.

For example, from its first edition, Windows has always included a modest word processor and a modem communications program. Later editions included e-mail software and fax software. These Windows programs have not wiped out the market for such programs from other companies, but they haven't helped it.

Before Windows, for example, the market supported a vast array of word processing programs, most of them smaller and less feature-crammed than such industrial-strength behemoths as Microsoft Word and WordPerfect. Since Microsoft began including Windows Write, and in Windows 95 and 98, WordPad, smaller, third-party word processors have all but vanished.

All of this went forward without any complaint from the Department of Justice until Microsoft began including its Web browser, Internet Explorer, with later versions of Windows 95 and in Windows 98. The government decided this was a violation of the antitrust laws because Microsoft was trying to force customers who wanted Windows 95/98 to accept "another" product, i.e. Internet Explorer.

At a glance the government's argument makes sense. After all, Internet Explorer, while it comes with later versions of Windows 95 and with Windows 98, can also be obtained as a separate product. And how can a company like Netscape continue to thrive if every buyer of a new PC finds a full-featured Web browser sitting there on the opening screen, free of charge?

And how can Microsoft, which did not include Internet Explorer in the first run of Windows 95 three years ago, suddenly claim that it is an integral and indispensable part of its operating system? Good question. But there is an answer. Desktop computing is still in its infancy and it changes with breathtaking speed. Thus what is not a major use of computers in August 1995, can, in a year or so, become absolutely central.

This is what happened with the Internet. Web surfing went from being an interesting new thing to the main thing, almost overnight. It is similar to what occurred earlier with the spread of fax modems, and with the explosion of e-mail. Suddenly, they were central to computing.

That is the heart of Microsoft's argument, that it is simply keeping its operating system up to date with what users are doing, as it has always done and has every right to do, whether Netscape and other competitors like it or not. The problem for Microsoft is that Netscape doesn't like it and has the government on its side.

T.R. Reid is London bureau chief of the Washington Post. Brit Hume is managing editor of Fox News in Washington. You can reach them in care of the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St., Washington D.C. 20071-9200, or you can e-mail T.R. Reid at trreid@twp.com and Brit Hume at 72737.357@compuserve.com.

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