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PC World

An easy fix for the software addict

October 26, 1999
Web posted at: 8:12 a.m. EDT (1212 GMT)

by Ethan Archer

(IDG) -- PROBLEM: Your download habit has become insatiable--and it's corrupting your computer.

SOLUTION: Use a disaster recovery utility to protect yourself from problem downloads.

Larry Tullos admits it: He's a download junkie. "I try out a lot of shareware, often installing and uninstalling at least one program a week," says the director of quality and reliability for a semiconductor firm in the Dallas area.

With all this software juggling, Tullos is no stranger to Windows' error messages and to occasional booting hang-ups due to failed installation attempts or incompatibilities between new programs and something already in his system. "I've reinstalled Windows more times than I care to remember," he says with a laugh.

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Fortunately, Tullos and software fiends like him don't have to kick the habit to save their computer. There are simple ways to revive your PC after a messy download binge. And if you're smart, you'll take precautions--like scanning for viruses and practicing good download habits--to ensure that your software fix doesn't become a monkey on your back.

As You Liked It

The biggest challenge for any download junkie is learning how to fix glitches created by the habit. When problem downloads do wreak havoc, you can use various utilities to restore key configuration files (such as the Windows Registry, autoexec.bat, and config.sys).

Tullos chose Wild File's $50 GoBack utility, which lets you undo software installations with only a few keystrokes. GoBack can restore not only configuration files, but any other files (including DLLs) that a program may overwrite.

Another option is ReSet Software's ReSet2000 (also $50), which saves a copy of the Registry and other key files each time you shut down. If new software later trashes your system, you can restore it from any of the prior five sets of copies. ReSet2000 also lets you save backups manually, so you can preserve configurations immediately before and after a new installation. Like GoBack, it also allows you to restore configurations each time you boot, permitting recovery even when Windows won't load.

You can achieve similar results with Windows 98's Registry Checker--after a fair amount of tinkering. Run scanreg from the DOS prompt, or see last December's Hardware Tips.

While GoBack's ability to restore files other than configuration ones gives it an advantage over the other two utilities, it has limitations. It fences off 10 percent of your drive to make backups, and it can paralyze your system if used with any software that alters your drive's master boot record (such as FDISK, Ontrack Disk Manager, or EZ-Drive). An upcoming version warns you before this happens and disables GoBack if you tell it to do so, but it doesn't really solve the incompatibility problem.

Playing It Safe

Besides recovery utilities, a good antivirus program is essential for importing foreign software. But be sure to update virus definitions regularly by downloading upgrades from the program's Web site, and choose a program that automatically scans downloaded files (not all do). Symantec's Norton AntiVirus 5 and Network Associates' McAfee VirusScan 4 are two that do a good job; each sells for about $50.

Getting the Fat Out

If you download a lot of software, your hard drive can fill up quickly. But good downloading habits can prevent your software test runs from eating up storage. Download files into a separate subdirectory--such as c:\temp--created for that purpose, and install the software from that same directory. Make sure you empty this directory before installing additional software from it, though, to prevent new programs from using incorrect files during installation. If you think you may need to reinstall a program later, you can copy it to yet another subdirectory.

Deleting programs after you've sampled them is easy if they conform to Windows standards: Simply run Add/Remove Programs within the Windows Control Panel, and you should be able to discard most (if not all) of the program's files. Uninstallers such as Symantec's excellent Norton CleanSweep 4.5 often perform a more thorough removal and can handle programs that the Windows applet cannot.

Give It a Try

Larry Tullos estimates that GoBack has bailed him out 20 times already, and he's happy with his arsenal of GoBack, McAfee VirusScan, and PowerQuest's Drive Image, which he uses to create a full backup. But the best solution for you will depend on your particular needs.

With just a few prudent steps, you can make your software habit safe, and be on the road to downloading with impunity.

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