Rx for your PC
May 18, 1998
posted at:02:05:00 PM
By Dean Andrews, Harry McCracken and Lincoln Spector
Ever notice how computing can sound hazardous to your health? We talk
of crashing, freezing, or even corrupting our FAT. Yecch. Which is why
Windows utilities are like health care for your PC.
It starts with "healthy habits" utilities--programs that promote high-efficiency,
low-stress computing. For example, keeping your files in good order
with a file manager means that you won't need to reach for the Maalox
next time you need that spreadsheet you created back in 1994. Or suppose
you simply must save a couple dozen screen shots from the way-cool Web
site you found last night. Avoid hard drive cramping by squashing those
JPEGs down to size with a file zipper. And what about that IS guy who
sends his reports in XyWrite? A handy file viewer will let you look
at almost any file that comes your way.
But sometimes even the healthiest PC needs a good MD. Diagnostic programs
are like general practitioners, giving your system an overall checkup
and pinpointing potential problems. Disk scanners are radiologists,
examining your hard drive for trouble. Uninstallers clean your system
of old applications and orphaned DLLs; call them the internists. And
disk defragmenters? The shrinks of the PC world, they do their best
to put your drive's scattered contents back in order.
Finally, there's the emergency room. When disaster strikes, crash recovery
programs can help your computer get back on its feet.
But like doctors, all utilities aren't created equal. To separate the
experts from the quacks, we reviewed 28 products--including Windows'
built-in tools and two do-it-alls, Norton Utilities and Nuts & Bolts.
The diagnosis? There are gems, but snake-oil salesmen still thrive.
Just as different HMOs offer different services, different operating
systems offer varied utilities. In "The Future of Utilities," we take
a look at those in Windows 98 and in a future version of Windows NT.
And because any PC surgery carries risks, "Bad Medicine" warns of dangers
these programs can present.
If you'd rather not buy a separate file manager, disk scanner, and
so on, go for a utilities suite. Of these, Nuts & Bolts sports a simple
interface and file management tools. If you need more robust utilities--and
better defragging and recovery--pick the slightly more expensive Norton
FILE MANAGER Mijenix's PowerDesk Utilities 98 is everything Windows
Explorer should have been, and more. You get the best of Explorer and
the Windows 3.1 File Manager, plus encryption and file synchronization.
FILE COMPRESSOR Mijenix's ZipMagic lets your zipped archives act like
standard Windows folders, so you can use the files without unzipping
FILE VIEWER There are many pluses in Inso's Quick View Plus 4.5: This
easy-to-use upgrade to Windows' Quick View adds support for dozens of
file formats. Built-in unzipping and other features help make oddball
files easier to manage.
DIAGNOSTICS Alas, no product stood out as a stand-alone diagnostic
program. But if you want a good crash recovery utility, see "Crash Prevention
and Recovery," below.
DISK SCANNER The Disk Minder utility included in Nuts & Bolts (from
Network Associates) is the best disk scanner around, repairing damaged
files that the other products we tested couldn't. It's also the fastest
of the bunch.
UNINSTALLER The best overall performer in our tests was CyberMedia's
Uninstaller 4.51. The program removes newly installed applications flawlessly,
and its interface and documentation are easy to understand.
DEFRAGMENTER Speed Disk, part of Symantec's Norton Utilities, is the
fastest and best at defragmenting.
CRASH PREVENTION AND RECOVERY With its familiar browserlike interface,
CyberMedia's First Aid 98 Deluxe is the best crash recovery utility.
Related CNN Interactive stories:
More about PC utilities at PC World
Watch Science & Technology
Week on CNN for more sci-tech stories.
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