PC Tools 7.0. (computer software utilities) (evaluation)
by Tony Roberts
A few versions back, PC Tools was a compact set of utilities - an easy-to-handle tool belt of programs to make computing smoother. Today it would take a pickup truck to hold everything that's packed into robust PC Tools 7.0.
If you've been computing for any length of time, you've no doubt assembled a collection of programs that do many of the things PC Tools does. If you're in the market for any one utility - say a backup program, a disk cache, a DOS shell, hard disk diagnostics, a disk optimizer, or a virus detector - you can get that and a whole lot more in PC Tools. While an impressive collection of utilities, PC Tools 7.0 falls a bit short of perfection. There are some apparent incompatibilities between elements of this software and some memory managers, some versions of DOS, some hardware, and some other software. Part of this problem, though, stems from the fact that much of this software must be or can be run memory resident, and memory-resident software causes conflicts by its very nature. Some users will have difficulty installing and using PC Tools. With so many TSRs running loose, there's a good probability of conflict. It will take experimentation and monitoring to set up a PC Tools system that's stable and safe.
The difficulty starts during the PC Tools installation processes. Although it's possible to install individual elements of PC Tools, the tendency to want to install it all - all 7.2 megabytes of it - to see what everything does will override most users' intentions to save hard drive space. This can be like letting a baby organize your button box. Suddenly, your carefully tuned system is choking on a plethora of new TSRs; you're fiddling with command line switches and kicking the dog as crash follows lockup and you don't know what to blame. You can't learn how to run 15 or 20 programs at once, so when you install PC Tools, proceed methodically.
PC Tools come packed with seven books of documentation, each dedicated to a different facet of the software. Despite this segregation, finding information is sometimes difficult because some programs are covered in more than one manual and the indices are not cross-referenced.
The hypertext-style, online help files provide excellent guidance while you're learning the programs, but since the help files occupy 1.2MB, they didn't last long on my overcrowded hard disk.
PC Tools' installation and configuration programs help set things up for you, and they will take care of rewriting your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC. BAT files if you like. This is fine with plain vanilla setup files, but PC Tools unraveled my AUTOEXEC.BAT, which includes several questions and ERRORLEVEL tests regarding the software I want to load. Still, I put these inconveniences out of mind once I got a handle on what this most recent version of PC Tools offers. PC Tools 7.0 provides a backup program, an undelete utility, and a program launcher that are bona fide Windows applications. The Windows backup can run in the background and can be scheduled to perform unattended backups at a specified time, i you have a tape drive. The rest of the package, including PC Shell, can be run under Windows as DOS applications.
Central Point Backup - a solid disk-backup utility that is also sold as a stand-alone program - is aging nicely. This incarnation comes with a DOS version and a Windows version that are compatible. You can make a backup in Windows and restore it in DOS. Configuration options are myriad. You can save named setup files so it's easy to do a full backup one day, an incremental backup another day, and a backup of only PageMaker documents on a third day.
Like Central Point Backup, Commute is also offered as a stand-alone program and is just as welcome in this bundle of utilities. A remote computing utility, Commute permits connection of two systems across a network, via modem, or by direct link. With this software you can control your computer at work from your laptop or home computer; you can transfer files and run applications from afar.
Don't dread the day your PC contracts a virus any longer. VDefend, PC Tools' memory-resident virus detection utility, scans for hundreds of known viruses. However, running VDefend slows performance noticeably, and VDefend can only detect, not eradicate, viruses. Central Point Anti-Virus (sold separately) takes care of that chore. PC Tools' DiskFix and Backup programs scan for viruses while they work, so you'll have some measure of protection even if you ignore VDefend.
Enhancements made to the DiskFix utility include interleave tuning and low-level reformatting for those hard drive controllers that will permit it. During repair, you're allowed to save crucial disk information to a floppy so you can undo to repair if you want. Unformat will help recover an accidentally formatted disk. Compress, the defragmenter and disk organizer, has some useful new options for compression technique and file sorting.
PC Tools 7.0's FileFix program adds the ability to repair damaged dBASE, Lotus, or Symphony files. Undelete allows recovery of files that have been accidentally erased. This program works similarly to DOS 5.0's Undelete command. In fact, Central Point Software licensed versions of its Mirror and Undetele utilities to Microsoft for use in DOS 5.0. An added feature of the PC Tools version, however, is Delete Sentry. Delete Sentry works by moving deleted files to a hidden subdirectory on your disk rather than actually erasing them. The system then can be set to purge erased files after a specified number of days. All of the memory-resident parts of the PC Tools package can be loaded into high memory, if available on your system, leaving acres of conventional memory available for application programs. In addition, much of the software in this package has been made compatible with Netware networks.
PC Tools 7.0 also includes a new Windows-like graphical interface for all its components. A new Application Menu System lets you run PC Tools utilities and other DOS applications from a configurable cascading menu. PC Shell, a DOS-based file management system, now permits viewing of files in more than 35 different formats. Desktop Manager offers a suite of functions including appointment scheduling, telecommunications and fax board support, notepad, outliner, autodialer, dBASE-compatible database, calculators, and macro editor. The many options offered by PC Tools mean flexibility for you. If you like working from a shell, you can use PC Shell as your base and launch programs from there. On the other hand, if the command line suits you, you can execute any program from the DOS prompt. Although few will use every program in this package, I can't imagine anyone who couldn't find almost daily use for some of this software.
While I encountered no major problems with PC Tools, I did manage to lock the system up several times. I found that the Find Duplicates portion of the Find File program hung up every time under DR DOS 5.0, but it works fine under MS-DOS.
You could buy several products to handle the chores PC Tools handles, or you could just but PC Tools. No other package bundles so much in one box. Despite the minor problems mentioned here, PC Tools never comes up short in the usefulness department.