Your PC’s little helpers – review of 15 software utility programs – Software Review

Your PC’s little helpers – review of 15 software utility programs – Software Review – Evaluation

Lynn Ginsburg

LITTLE TH1NGS COUNT. YOU CAN’T RUN YOUR BUSINESS without your mission-critical applications–word processor, spreadsheet, accounting package, Web browser but you won’t get far without your trusted software utilities as well. Think about it: Could you last an entire month without your antivirus program? Could you compress and decompress documents sent over electronic mail without a “zipping” utility? Do you love the sight of the Windows hourglass because your RAM utility no longer ekes out the last bit of available memory?

In a world of huge, feature-bloated software packages, sometimes the most helpful programs are the smallest and simplest. Utilities perform a single, important function and they do it extremely well. In many cases, a utility compensates for the shortcomings of an operating system (such as Windows’s vast memory appetite) or adds a finishing touch to an important task (such as file compression).

Unlike other software categories, it’s perfectly reasonable to have more than one utility on your computer. Since the programs are either available on the Internet as shareware downloads or are usually priced under $50 (making it a virtual impulse purchase at computer stores), utilities often outsell full-blown applications. For our review, we evaluated the top five best-selling utilities in the Windows and Macintosh marketplace, according to sales figures from PC Data, a Reston, Virginia, computer industry analysis firm, and the top five utility shareware downloads (either Mac or Windows), according to c/net, a Web-based computer information site.

But no matter how much you pay, you want an application that’s going to work for–and not against– you. That means it should install quickly, run instantly, and not require a thick manual to use it. Some of the utilities we looked at were competing products in the same category: compression, virus scanning, and system-optimization software. For these rivals, we did head-to-head comparisons, evaluating the pros and cons of each product. For the other applications, we performed standalone reviews.

The utilities we tested run the gamut of software tools: First Aid and Conflict Catcher try to prevent some problems before they happen. QEMM, RAM Doubler, and Speed Doubler try to reclaim precious memory. Norton AntiVirus, Symantec AntiVirus for Macintosh (SAM), and McAfee VirusScan search and destroy debilitating system viruses. PKZIP, Stuffit Expander, and WinZip are all excellent choices for compressing and decorepressing files.

UnInstaller for Windows lets you keep your PC tidy by eradicating all traces of a deleted program. WinHacker 95 gives you the tools to get down and dirty under the hood of your Win 95 operating system and configure hidden options. QuickTime Movie Player for Windows is a simple tool for playing QuickTime movies under Windows, and Norton Utilities for Macintosh provides an entire toolbox of fix-it applications.

SYSTEM ENHANCEMENTS

First Aid 95 Deluxe

Rating: *** 1/2

WIN 95/ WIN

When a computer emergency arises, technical support can be expensive and inconvenient (unless you’re “lucky” enough to crash during business hours). To handle emergencies when they happen, consider First Aid 95 Deluxe from CyberMedia. If an application crashes or a multimedia device refuses to install, First Aid prompts you to save your work and automatically fixes the problem.

The First Aid control panel offers a variety of tools for fixing software, multimedia, or online connection problems. For instance, the program automatically analyzes all of the software on your system so it can suggest fixes for problems and even make the changes.

Desktop PCs …………………..October

Databases …………………….October

Multifunction Devices …………November

Business Plan Software ………..November

PDAs and Organizers …………. December

Business CDs …………………December

Quicklime Movie Player

Rating: ** 1/2

WIN 95/ WIN

Viewing movies on your PC will never replace the big screen, but it can be much cheaper. You can watch QuickTime movies on your monitor using the shareware program QuickTime Movie Player for Windows, and it’ll only cost you a onetime flexible registration fee. (A flexible registration fee means you choose how much you’d like to send, sort of like a flexible donation).

The QuickTime Movie format, created by Apple Computer and now licensed for both Windows and Macs, lets you create animation sequences and digital video footage in a format that’s been compressed to run smoothly on a desktop computer. The QuickTime Movie Player makes it possible to play back these QuickTime movies with a simple, reliable program.

Installation takes seconds; just unzip the program and double-click on the Movie Player icon to launch it. Then open a QuickTime MOV or an AVI file, and use the VCR-like controls (play, forward, rewind, sound) to play it. You can also view statistics if you’d like more information about the movie’s video, audio, or file data. You can paste any frame from the movie onto the clipboard for use in other programs.

The QuickTime Movie Player can also make a handy helper application for playing QuickTime movies downloaded from the Web. Costing a whole lot less than either a video player or a trip to the movies for two, the QuickTime Movie Player brings movies to a PC near you. Contact Johnny Long at Johnny@InfAve.Net;flexible fee

COMPRESSION TOOLS

PKZIP

Rating: ***

DOS

WinZip for Windows

Rating: * ** 1/2

WIN 95/ WIN

In common computer usage, to “zip” a file is often synonymous with PKZIP, the granddaddy of all PC compression programs. PKZlP 2.04G, a DOS shareware program, is still the standard by which all other compression programs are judged. If you’re going to zip a file, make sure it’s compatible with PKZIP.

At the heart of PKZIP is a compression algorithm that compacts data so it occupies less disk space. Zipping and unzipping files with PKZIP is a breeze. At the DOS prompt, simply type the command PKZIP followed by the name of the new zip file you’ll be creating, then the name of the file that you’d like zipped. For example: pkzip c:compressed.zip c:fullfile.txt. Just reverse the command to decompress the file.

PKZIP lets you copy groups of files or all the files in a directory into a combined zip archive, copy subdirectories intact, specify a sort order for how files are extracted from a compressed zip, and create a single zip file on more than one floppy. Be prepared, however, to read the 115-page manual. Although the DOS commands are simple, they’re not as intuitive as using a Windows point-and-click interface.

If point and click is what you’re after, WinZip puts a friendly Windows interface on the basic zip functions, allowing you to perform some of PKZIP’s more complex tasks through simple menu and toolbar choices. Unzipping in WinZip involves choosing Open from the toolbar. If more than one file has been combined in the zip archive, WinZip displays the files in the window. If you’d like to unzip any of these individually (rather than decompressing the entire zipped archive), double-click on the file of your choice.

WinZip also offers another great bonus: If you’re unzipping compressed programs, such as shareware that needs to be installed, WinZip will install the program and optionally delete the entire install if you don’t want to keep it. If you check out a lot of shareware, WinZip is a must.

Which zip program is better for your needs? If you just want a lightning fast, down-and-dirty application to accomplish the zip basics, PKZlP is elegant simplicity itself. Alternatively, WinZip offers an accessible Windows interface with some of the more complex zip commands. Using either program, the process of zipping and unzipping data will become second nature. PKZIP 2.04G for DOS; PKWARE, 414-354-8699, fax: 414-354-8559, http:// www.pkware.com; $47. WinZip 6.0 for Windows; contact Nico Mak Computing Inc. at sales@winzip.com or http://www.winzip. com/winzip; $29, free upgrade

Stuffit Expander for Mac

Rating: ** 1/2

MAC

On the Mac side, the most popular compression program has a name that says it all: Stuffit Deluxe. Like PKZIP, Stuffit employs a compression algorithm that shrinks your files to a smaller size. The Stuffit Expander, one of the top five shareware downloads, is the part of the program that unzips compressed files.

Opening a compressed file using the Expander is a no-brainer–just drag and drop the file onto the Expander icon, and a dialog box informs you of its progress as it quickly expands the file and returns it to full size. Expander can open many kinds of compressed files beyond its native Stuffit (SIT) format, including Compact Pro, BinHex, and MacBinary on the Mac side, and ZIP and ARC files on the PC side.

Stuffit Expander is in a special category of shareware called freeware, which is just like it sounds: no-cost software. If you would like to purchase the part of the program that actually does the compression, you’ll need to buy Stuffit Deluxe for $59.95 (which also includes Expander). Stuffit Expander is one of those nice little bonuses in life–free and completely intuitive to use, so enjoy. Aladdin Systems, 408-761-6200, fax: 408-761-6206, http://www.aladdinsys. com/; free

QEMM for Windows

Rating: *** 1/2

WIN 95/ WIN

You don’t just want your software to run, you want it to fly. If you want a faster system, you could invest in more memory or you could just buy a software memory maximizer. QEMM analyzes how your system is using memory under both DOS and Windows (it works under both Win 95 and Windows 3.1 ), and it wrangles the optimum system memory you have available.

Upon installation, QEMM runs several test software routines to check for the best memory configuration for your system. After Windows or DOS launches, QEMM automatically configures your memory usage for the fastest, most efficient employment of your resources.

We tested QEMM on a 33MHz 486 PC running Win 95 with 8MB of RAM, an underpowered configuration. After installation, QEMM was able to reclaim 56K of conventional memory. However, there was no discernible improvement in speed. Both before and after installing QEMM, we opened several applications and files that are slow to load (including a communications application, Quarterdeck CleanSweep, and several large BMP files). None of these programs or files loaded any faster with QEMM. However, since every system’s configuration is unique, your mileage may vary. Quarterdeck, 310-309-3700, 800-354-3222, http:// www.quarterdeck.com; $69.95 (list)

RAM Doubler

Rating: ***

MAC

Speed Doubler For the Macintosh

Rating: ****

On the Macintosh platform, the best-selling software solution for increasing RAM is Connectix RAM Doubler. Like QEMM, RAM Doubler increases your system’s RAM by optimizing your memory and system resources. However, RAM Doubler is different from QEMM in one major respect: It genuinely doubles your system’s RAM, regardless of your system’s configuration.

Installing RAM Doubler couldn’t be easier–it literally took under a minute. When we rebooted the system and checked the amount of available RAM, we found that it had increased from 24.5MB to 49.2MB.

But in our real-world testing where we attempted to quantify how twice as much RAM would improve our lives and workflow, we were rather surprised. We tested the system both before and after installing RAM Doubler, checking how fast it opened such documents as DTP files with graphics, and how fast it performed such tasks as a virus scan under Symantec AntiVirus for Macintosh. Despite the clear presence of twice as much available RAM, none of these tasks performed at all faster–most took exactly the same amount of time.

On the other hand, we got noticeable speed increases after installing another best-selling Connectix program, Speed Doubler. Speed Doubler works by speeding up a variety of common functions on your system, such as maximizing disk caching (the process a system uses to read and write data) and providing faster file copying and deleting.

When we tried the same tasks using Speed Doubler that we tested under RAM Doubler, the results were impressive. The Disk Doctor checkup was a minute and 10 seconds faster than without Speed Doubler. The virus scan went from 11 seconds to eight seconds, and the DTP files took only half as long to load.

RAM Doubler is probably most effective if you need to run software that requires more minimum RAM than you have installed on your system. For instance, if a program requires a minimum of 12MB and you only have eight, RAM Doubler should push you over the edge. But for sheer raw speed, Speed Doubler gets the job done. Connectix, 415-571-5100, 800-950-5880, http://www.connectix.com; RAM Doubler, $99 (list); Speed Doubler, $99 (list)

VIRUS DETECTORS

McAfee VirusScan

Rating: ***

WIN 95/ WIN

Norton AntiVirus For Windows 95

Rating: *** 1/2

WIN 95

It’s hard to understand what drives sociopathic technonerds to invent a computer virus and set it loose on unsuspecting users. But motivation is the last thing on your mind when a virus strikes–you need help fast.

The two leading virus utility programs on the Windows market, McAfee VirusScan and Norton AntiVirus, are both capable choices for preventing and curing virus outbreaks. Both run in the background checking for viruses, which if detected can be immediately removed. Both are designed for Win 95, but McAfee includes a Windows 3.1 version (Norton makes a separate AntiVirus for Windows 3.1 ).

McAfee VirusScan is the more basic of the two programs, resembling the Win 95 Find File applet with the familiar tabbed file folder design. VirusScan scans your system to manually search for viruses, providing minimal options on what to scan– program files only or all files. Once VirusScan finds a virus, it gives you the option of scanning for other viruses, cleaning the infected file immediately, or deleting the file altogether. VirusScan’s VShield feature runs in the background, alerting you instantly should it encounter a virus.

Symantec, on the other hand, offers many different configuration options within Norton AntiVirus. Although McAfee VirusScan can run in the background, Norton AntiVirus offers a wide variety of options for how you’d like it to run in the background. For instance, Norton AntiVirus lets you choose precisely what to scan on startup. Unlike VirusScan, Symantec includes a Scheduler so you can set up times for scans. (McAfee doesn’t include backup capabilities but suggests you use Microsoft Plus to run scheduled virus scans.)

A good virus utility will have regular fixes of current viruses floating about and Symantec offers a definite edge. Although both McAfee and Symantec sell disks of these updates for an additional fee, Symantec offers these updates for free if you download them from CompuServe, AOL, or the Internet. McAfee also lets you download a onetime, free 30-day update, but expects you to pay the subscription fee if you continue to download the updates.

Both VirusScan and Norton AntiVirus do an excellent job of preventing and removing viruses. VirusScan offers both the advantage and disadvantage of simplicity, making it easy to use and configure but lacking options. Norton AntiVirus offers more options and gives you more control. McAfee, 408-988-3832, fax: 408-970-9727, http://www.mcafee. com/; VirusScan, $65 (list). Symantec, 541-334-6054, 800-441-7234, http:// www.symantec.com; AntiVirus; $79 (list)

Download some of these useful utilities from our Software Library on America Online (keyword: soho) or from the Tech Support section of our Web site (http://www.smalloffice.com).

Symantec AntiVirus For Macintosh

Rating: * * * 1/2

Symantec AntiVirus for Macintosh, otherwise known as SAM, offers all the same features as Norton AntiVirus for Windows 95 with a few extras. SAM is a bit more graphically enhanced than Norton AntiVirus. Rather than using the tabbed file appearance of the Win 95 version, SAM is much more icon driven with a layout full of information at a glance.

SAM also offers a few small features that Norton AntiVirus doesn’t. For instance, SAM gives you a variety of options for handling floppies when inserted–including never scan, always scan, or prohibit floppy insertion altogether.

SAM also updates virus definitions from the Norton BBS directly through the program. Using the Update Virus Definitions tool, the program automatically loads and dials the number and transfers the files to the appropriate place on your hard drive. You can also schedule it to obtain virus updates at designated times.

Offering all the same benefits as its Windows cousin, with some genuinely useful extras, SAM is an excellent choice for vigilant antivirus protection for the Macintosh market. Symantec, 541-334-6054, 800-441-7234, http://www.symantec.com; $69 (list)

PHILIP SAYS: Keep a Windows boot disk near your PC at all times in case a computer virus strikes. Most antivirus software will prompt you to restart your PC with a bootable disk in the floppy drive. Instead of launching into Windows or DOS, you’ll be brought directly to the PC’s A drive so that you can then insert the emergency disks that ship with the antivirus programs.

Creating a Windows 95 boot disk is easy: Click the Start button on the Windows 95 Taskbar, choose Settings, select Control Panel, and double-click on the Add/Remove Programs icon. Click on the Startup Disk tab and select the Create Disk button. Keep the Win 95 boot disk handy by your desktop PC and another bootable disk in your notebook carrying case while you’re on the road. Don’t leave home without it!

–Philip Albinus

Software Editor

LYNN GINSBURG, a computer journalist based in Boulder, Colorado, reviewed Freelance Graphics 96 in the June issue.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group