Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 135 / NOVEMBER 1991 / PAGE 132

The Norton Utilities 6.0. (file management software) (evaluation)
by Charles Idol

A longtime favotie of personal computer users, The Norton Utilities has earned public approval and even fame through its usefulness and reliability. Version 6.0 continues the tradition by adding many valuable features and expanding and improving on the capabilities of earlier versions. Now with categories of data recovery and disk repair, speed and performance enhancement, and security tools, the utilities will consume almost three megabytes of your hard disk space--a price warranted by the improvements.

The Norton Disk Doctor runs numerous tests on your hard disk to verify the integrity of the partition table, the boot record, the file allocation table, and the directory and file structure. Further, it checks the free space for lost chains and cross-linked files. Norton Disk Doctor calls any errors to your attention and gives you the opportunity to correct them.

Powerful and sophisticated, the Disk Editor tool offers far more than the name implies. Use it to work on files or directories, the partition table, the file allocation table, and the bot record. You can even rescue sectors from a bad cluster.

Perhaps you forgot to use the system switch when you formatted a disk, but you'd like to make it bootable. Invoke Disk Tools. One utility will insert the system files while preserving the data on the disk. Another utility lets you recover from the mess often created by the DOS Recover program. Another revives a defective floppy disk, reformatting without loss of data, while others provide a rescue feature for your hard disk by creating a floppy which contains the vital information for the hard disk.

Calibrate optimizes your hard disk interleave to maximize data transfer speed and performs nondestructive low-level formatting of the disk. Pattern testing takes place at the level which you specify; it can be superficial or very deep. The prudent user will low-level format the disk about once every three months.

DOS has an unfortunate tendency to fragment files, splattering them over the disk with a consequent increase in read and write times. Speed Disk lets you optimize the use of disk space by collecting the fragmented files and consolidating the unused space on the disk. In version 6.0, this function requires significantly less time to perform than in earlier versions. Along with defragmentation, you might choose to reorder your directory structure and place often-used directories at the head of the search path.

If you have extended or expanded memory, the use of a disk cache can provide remarkable improvement in performance. If you're not already using another cache program like Windows' Smartdrive, for instance, you could find the Norton Cache quite helpful. On an 80286 or 80386 machine, the cache will perform both read and write operations, make guesses at what file you will call next, and, with the help of a memory manager, occupy less than a kilobyte of DOS RAM. Norton Cache works with Windows 3.0.

Speaking of Windows, Norton Utilities 6.0 works efficiently from the Windows Program Manager. Complete with icons, the utilities make keeping up with files a matter of pointing and clicking, though some modules, like Speed Disk, won't perform in a multiasking environment.

Want protection of your files not only from unauthorized persons but also from viruses, programming errors, and yourself? Disk Monitor allows you to prevent any write operations to specified files from taking place without your permission. You may specify just the system files, system and all executable files, or even the entire disk. When a write operation is attempted to a protected file, a message appears on the screen, and you must accept or deny the operation.

When prevented from writing to a system of executable file, many forms of viruses fail in their corruption duties. Closer to home, most C programmers have lost control of a pointer at one time or another and created havoc in the system files. Even closer to home, since Delete is a write operation, Disk Monitor prevents inadvertent erasure of a vital file.

The security utility Diskret protects your confidential files from snoopers by encrypting the files and requiring a password for access. Two encryption schemes come with Diskreet. The first, a proprietary encryptor, is sufficient protection from amateur data thieves. The other meets the secure Data Encryption Standard approved by the U.S. Government.

The difference in time required for encryption and decryption is significant. You may encryp individual files requiring individual passwords, or you may create an entity called an NDisk, which behaves like a hidden directory, requires password access, and contains encrypted files. A convenient feature closes this directory after a user-defined interval of no keyboard activity. In the simplest form of machine security, you can block the keyboard and blank the screen. Access then requires the entry of a password.

The tools category contains the utilities familiar to users of previous editions of the program, with a System Information utility greatly improved over the old SI. It now provides many screens of information about your computer, including one detailing the performance of your CPU and another concerning the performance of your hard disk. The performance indices have improved; rather than some mysterious number, you now see a bar chart which compares your computer with an XT, an AT, and a Compaq 386.

Does DOS still get you down, even after you've installed Norton Utilities? Try Norton's NDOS, a slick, intuitive DOS replacement. Improved commands include Color (sets foreground and background colors) and CD (climbs directory trees when you add multiple periods to this command). Entirely new commands such as Describe (attaches file descriptions up to 40 characters in length) and List (displays a file with the option to scroll forward and back) should draw applause from DOS users everywhere. If you've already moved up to DOS 5.0, Norton Utilities will meet you there with support for DOS 5.0's LOADHI command and task-switching capabilities, among other things.

The utilities of Norton Utilities 6.0 run fast and without a snag; menus support mouse or keyboard input. Disk Explorer, a companion volume to the User's Guide, tells you more about your disks than you knew you wanted to know, but if you care about the maintenance and performance of your disks, Norton Utilities 6.0 belongs in your toolkit.