Utilities: Cures for what ails you
- By Earl Greer
- May 23, 1999
In an ideal world, your operating system would never crash, would be secure from viruses and hackers and would take care of every possible glitch in the background, from corrupt files to disk defragmentation.
Of course, we don't live in an ideal world. Fortunately, utility developers have stepped in to fill the gaps left in operating systems. Anti-virus programs, encryption and backup programs, disk defragmenters, diagnostic and repair tools—there are dozens of utilities on the market that promise to protect your computer, detect and repair problems and fine-tune your system.
Here we look at a baker's dozen of the highest-profile utility packages for Microsoft Corp. Windows desktops. We did not include anti-virus programs or network diagnostic and backup utilities because these will be addressed in future roundups.
We found that utilities suites, such as Norton Utilities and McAfee Office, offer high value, although if you have special needs, you may have to turn to stand-alone utilities for some tasks, such as disk defragmentation and partition management.
Crash Defender Deluxe, Version 2.0
Since Symantec Corp. bought out Quarterdeck Corp. in March, the future of Quarterdeck's excellent Crash Defender Deluxe is in doubt because the product is a direct competitor to Symantec's Norton CrashGuard, Version 4.01. Crash Defender was the crash-protection component of the discontinued Quarterdeck RealHelp utility package.
We liked the fact that Crash Defender is initiated at bootup by an entry in the Startup subdirectory rather than by the Windows Registry, the way CrashGuard is, because it's easier to modify Startup than Registry. Sadly, by itself Crash Defender has no direct Internet connection, such as Norton LiveUpdate, to keep the version updated. Because CrashGuard does come with LiveUpdate—and because it has more features—our recommendation must be for CrashGuard, not Crash Defender.
Diskeeper Workstation, Version 4.1
Executive Software Inc.'s Diskeeper is the file defragmenter par excellence for Windows NT. The first utility to clean up the file fragmentation that Microsoft neglected to fix in Windows NT, Diskeeper has kept getting better with time. The latest version speeds system performance by defragmenting and consolidating directory and paging files and by running as a background job. Through the scheduling feature, it lives up to its claim to be a "set it and forget it" utility. The server version performs defragmentation remotely on workstations across the network. Because of the company's marketing strategy, the workstation version will not install on a server.
But as Diskeeper has remained a single-purpose utility, it has been eclipsed by Mijenix Corp.'s Fix-It Utilities 99 and by Norton Utilities 2.0 for Windows NT 4.0. These are collections of utilities, including competent hard drive defragmenters, with many other features and a lower cost. Our recommendation: Buy Fix-It Utilities instead, unless your administration strategy is to defragment workstations from the file server.
Although Diskeeper's days as a stand-alone utility may be numbered, it may yet have a second life. The beta version of Windows 2000 incorporates a scaled-down version of Diskeeper as a snap-in of the Microsoft Management Console.
Fix-It Utilities 99, Version 1.031
Mijenix Corp.'s Fix-It Utilities 99 is a new contender on the utilities scene, squaring off against mature system diagnostics and repair utility collections such as Norton Utilities and Network Associates Inc.'s Nuts&Bolts 98. We took an instant liking to Fix-It when it had no problems with our large hard drives mounted with Micro House International Inc. software. But the big news is that Fix-It Utilities 99 runs on Windows NT just as well as it does on Windows 95/98.
Users will find it easy to scan their systems and drives for problems, to defragment drives, recover lost files and do all the other tasks that make it easier to use a PC. Every task is integrated into one menu. One caution: When you install Fix-It on Windows NT, it cannot install into every user's profile the way Norton Utilities can.
After you install Fix-It Utilities 99, by default there are no processes running in the background that slow you down excessively in the foreground. But you can add proc-esses into memory to check the health of your PC, if you wish.
Do take time to perform the automated download of updates from the Internet to make sure that you don't have minor bugs found in an early release.
Norton Utilities and Nuts&Bolts 98, watch out. Fix-It Utilities 99 is a worthy competitor.
FolderBolt, Version 3.02
Citadel Technology Inc.'s FolderBolt has solved a problem we've had for a long time: how to let co-workers use a particular PC without the possibility of them getting into our virus collection by accident. As a bonus, our anti-virus program won't accidentally delete the collection.
FolderBolt is an encryption program that is easy to install and use. After installation, just right-click on the folder or file you want to encrypt and select options from the menu. Each item you encrypt has its individual password, so you can let different users into different items. All folders under the folder that you are encrypting will share the encryption. Our only beef is that you can't encrypt whole partitions.
You get to choose your encryption method. Probably none of the encryption methods will stop the CIA, but they will keep out the average hacker.
There is one back door. At installation, you can create an emergency diskette with a universal key. Guard that diskette with your life because if you forget your passwords, it is the only portal to your secured data.
Also, be aware that some of your hard drive utilities, such as Norton Utilities, may not work while security programs such as FolderBolt are running in memory.
Overall, ease of use, solid design and useful features make this security program a winner.
McAfee Office, Version 1.05
For value, you can't beat Network Associates' McAfee Office. It has all the diagnostic and repair features we could ask for and then some. It integrates 10 utilities, including Nuts&Bolts 98, Guard Dog and UnInstaller. The anti-virus program VirusScan now contains the world-class Dr. Solomon's scanning and cleaning engine as the result of a recent major acquisition.
One new gem resulting from Network Associates' acquisition of CyberMedia Inc. is First Aid 2000. This invaluable tool compares your system files and many application files against a database to ensure that you have the correct and uncorrupted files in place. Oil Change, also a former CyberMedia product, keeps McAfee Office up to date by downloading file updates from a World Wide Web site.
As a sign of the times, McAfee Office now includes McAfee Virtual Office to assist you in setting up a Web site. And PGP is included to provide encryption for your e-mail messages. (PGP was a product of Pretty Good Privacy Inc., which Network Associates acquired in 1997.)
Although Symantec's Norton SystemWorks has better file recovery and hard drive repair, with First Aid 2000 McAfee Office has better overall system diagnostics. It's a close call judging between the two, but the extra utilities in McAfee Office make it our choice.
Norton CrashGuard, Version 4.01
Symantec's Norton CrashGuard is an integrated part of Norton SystemWorks, but you can't blame the company for also selling it as a separate product. CrashGuard is the most feature-rich of all crash-monitoring programs on the market. Computer experts will like the amount of technical detail given about the state of the system when a crash is detected. Everyone will like the ability of CrashGuard to save a copy of the original file used at the time of the crash.
One of our favorite features is Quick Reload, which lets you close your Web browser when a crash occurs and then restart it with the page last visited.
Remember that CrashGuard is an evergreen product, so after you install it, use Norton LiveUpdate to get the latest version.
Norton SystemWorks, Version 2.0
In Symantec's Norton SystemWorks you get a collection of updated old standbys along with polished versions of Symantec's new acquisitions: Norton Utilities, Norton Anti-Virus, Norton CleanSweep, Norton CrashGuard and Norton Web Services. These and more are combined in one integrated package, installed together, updated together via LiveUpdate Pro and accessible from a single menu.
As a whole, SystemWorks beats McAfee Office in hard drive repair and file recovery. CrashGuard has more features than Crash Defender, and likewise CleanSweep has more options for freeing space and removing programs than Network Associates' UnInstaller. But Norton Utilities is still a bit of a resource hog, and you will spend time after installation turning off annoying features that slow your PC while they run in the background. While SystemWorks will be the choice of many power users, most users will be a little more comfortable with McAfee Office.
If you choose SystemWorks, get the Professional Edition with Norton 2000 and Norton Ghost.
Norton Utilities for Windows 95/98, Version 4.0
The original hard drive diagnostics and repair utility package is still the best for finding and fixing those mysterious problems with file systems. For retrieving lost data or repairing a file allocation table, Symantec's Norton Utilities is your best bet. It has the best crash protection and drive defragmentation, and it is the only utilities package saving rescue information on Iomega Corp. Zip and Jaz drives. There also is a unique new feature that lets you boot from the CD-ROM in emergencies. Then you can retrieve deleted files without writing to the hard drive, or you can diagnose and repair Windows files that keep you from booting, or you can even unformat your hard drive.
Power users and trouble-shooters will prefer Norton Utilities to other utility packages. However, users with older and slower PCs who do a typical install may find that the system-monitoring components in memory will slow their PCs down appreciably.
Nuts&Bolts Deluxe 98
True to its name, Network Associates' Nuts&Bolts delivers a diverse collection of software parts to keep your PC running smoothly. Most users will like Nuts&Bolts because the installation defaults are not very intrusive. There are no annoying pop-up messages, and the system monitor window can be turned off with a single click. In the battle between convenience and security, convenience will always win.
Nuts&Bolts now comes with a file encryption option. It encrypts files, and not folders or partitions, and it is secure enough to trigger export restrictions.
Be sure to use Nuts&Bolts to create an emergency rescue diskette because unlike Norton Utilities and Fix-It Utilities 99, Nuts&Bolts still does not come with a rescue diskette in the box. Network Associates also has been slow to add some other features, such as retrieval of deleted files not already saved in a recycle bin and handling of third-party hard drive mounting software.
Because of Network Associates' recent purchase of Dr. Solomon's anti-virus program, which is found in the Deluxe version, Nuts&Bolts has pulled slightly ahead of Norton Utilities in virus detection and cleaning. The Deluxe version also offers Oil Change, now being challenged by GreenTree Technologies Inc.'s Update AnyWare, which currently has the advantage of being free. (Get Update AnyWare at www.green-tree.
com.) VirusScan and Oil Change both entail maintenance costs after purchase. But Hurricane, a feature to speed up Windows, alone makes the Deluxe version worthwhile.
For convenience and speed, Nuts&Bolts is our recommended utilities package.
PartitionMagic, Version 4.0
Let's face it: The FDISK utility we've been using to create partitions is antiquated, inflexible, destructive and dangerous. PowerQuest Corp.'s PartitionMagic is a great leap forward that lets you create partitions and delete, move or resize them. Why would you want to do that? Say you inherit a drive with two partitions and you want to combine them into one partition. PartitionMagic enables you not only to combine the two partitions effortlessly but also to convert to a FAT32 file system, thereby saving a large amount of drive space.
Unfortunately, not all operations are possible. For example, you can convert from the familiar FAT16 to Windows NT's NT File System, but you can't go back the other direction to FAT16.
The partition operations are supposed to be safe, but the manual says to do a backup before changing partitions. The rules for sizing and creating file systems are complicated, but they are built into the user interface so that you won't go wrong. If you change drive letters, a routine will go through your system to ensure that the applications will not get lost. There is even an attached program to let you move an application from one partition to another. There's also a BootMagic utility that lets you run more than one operating system on the same PC.
Seagate Backup Exec Desktop 98, Version 3.1a
For an MIS manager, happiness is knowing you have a good backup of your data.
If you use Windows 98, then Seagate Technology Inc.'s Seagate Backup Exec Desktop 98 will look familiar because it is a souped-up version of the backup utility included with Windows 98. The most important advantage of Backup Exec is the range of backup media available. The software automatically discovers a wide range of backup devices, including Zip and Jaz drives, and the most popular CD-R and CD-RW devices. But before buying, check first at www.tech.seagatesoftware.com to be sure your hardware is supported.
Backup Exec correctly identifies the dates of Year 2000 files and does not overwrite them when they are restored with older files, as some older backup programs do. But the user interface is not particularly easy to use. And we'd like to see a convenient option to display the header on a tape along with a list of files it contains. The product has the required password feature, but data is not encrypted, so be wary if you are backing up uncompressed confidential data to a non-tape medium.
Undelete for Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, Version 1.2.043
Just as Executive Software's Diskeeper has been the standard for Windows NT defragmentation, the company's Undelete utility has been the standard for recovering lost files. And similarly, instead of the workstation version of Undelete, we would recommend Mijenix's Fix-It Utilities 99—except for one situation. If you must recover a file and you have not yet installed a file recovery program, then get Undelete and execute it directly from the CD-ROM. That way, you won't accidentally overwrite the file where it resides on the hard drive.
Look before you buy because the install program won't let you put the workstation version of Undelete on your server. But the Administrator version of Undelete has the ability to reach out over the network from the server and perform emergency rescue of files on remote workstations. Our recommendation: If you need file recovery on each workstation but don't want to put a complete utilities package on each PC, then the Administrator version is a good buy.
WinShield, Version 2.15
Any computer that different people share needs some sort of software protection. Properly administered, the users will be grateful that no one else can delete their files or lock them out with a new screen saver password. Citadel's WinShield provides all the protection needed to let users share a PC without stepping on each other's toes.
It takes only a few minutes to install and configure WinShield. The only trick is remembering to password-protect the ability to turn WinShield off. You can easily give different users an amazing variety of rights, down to the ability to see individual CD-ROMs. You can hide individual drives or make an entire network invisible.
Unfortunately, there is no encrypting feature, so you'll need to turn to some other utility to scramble data. And never forget the administrator's password because there is no back door to WinShield.
If you allow booting from a diskette, then a user can get access to secret files via DOS. The only other flaw we saw is that you can remove a drive and put it in another computer to look at the files. If you buy WinShield, buy FolderBolt too and encrypt your files.
—Greer is a senior network analyst at a large Texas state agency. He can be reached at [email protected]