Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 167 / AUGUST 1994 / PAGE 78

The Norton Utilities 8.0. (disk/file management software) (Productivity Choice) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Tom Campbell

If you left The Norton Utilities behind when you left DOS and opened Windows, it's time to renew an old acquaintance. Symantec's evergreen Norton Utilities--a PC disk repair standard for a decade or so--is making a graceful transition into the Windows world.

Reviewing The Norton Utilities 8.0 came at an opportune time for me. I was writing a program that uses three similar animated icons, all based on the same picture. DOS was confused about the location of one of the files. The installation process, normally speedy, halted itself almost before it started, explaining correctly that the DOS file allocation table on drive C was damaged. It suggested I use Norton Disk Doctor on the aptly named Emergency disk to diagnose and correct the problem. I did so, and NDD quickly found the culprits--two TMP files that I knew I could safely delete. I was then able to continue the installation, this time passing the rigorous hard disk check. I gratefully loaded all 9MB of The Norton Utilities, although I could've installed only those I selected.

The Windows utilities include Norton Disk Doctor, the centerpiece of the collection; Speed Disk, a hard disk efficiency expert; System Watch, a stay-on-top utility that allows you to monitor everything from available drive space to free graphics resources; File Compare, which shows graphically the differences between two text files (for example, the differences between AUTOEXEC.BAK and AUTOEXEC.BAT); INI Tracker, which lets you keep track of changes to Windows INI files; INI Tuner, which gives you an amazingly easy way to view and learn about a wide variety of those mysterious INI files that proliferate so abundantly; INI editor, a vast improvement on the benighted SysEdit; and INI Advisor, a dynamite help program that coordinates the other Norton INI applications and gives you tons of handy Windows tips. Those are just the Windows utilities.

The DOS tool set is wonder-fully familiar to grizzled vets. It includes Disk Doctor; System Info, which gives pages and pages of information about your computer system; Change Directory, a supercharged replacement for DOS's opaque CD command; the ever-handy FileFind, which lets you locate a file or files on the hard disk, find out how much disk space they consume (and how efficiently the disk uses that space), and even search for text within those files; Diskreet, a disk security program; DUPDISK, a great disk-duplicating utility that lets you copy a disk on the same drive without disk swapping; File Fix, which tries to repair corrupted Excel, dBASE, WordPerfect, and other files; NDOS, an infinitely superior replacement for COMMAND.COM; Batch Enhancer, which gives batch files a streamlined, professional finish; and more. They're all tied together with Norton Integrator, but they work equally well on their own.

Speed Disk performs a task that's far more complicated to describe than it is to execute. Seldom having room on a hard disk to put an entire file in one location, DOS can be forced to move all over the disk when accessing a single file--a process that can cause noticeable lags as your files become more and more fragmented.

Speed Disk analyzes the disk and figures out how to reshuffle the fragments so they're closer together, speeding up your hard disk and--an important fringe benefit--helping protect against data loss. This used to take hours and was paradoxically dangerous: The very act of rearranging your disk meant that if your computer lost power or you accidentally rebooted during defragmentation, the disk could be rendered unusable.

Speed Disk for Windows analyzed my 200MB drive in just a few minutes; a complete defragmentation took only about an hour. Better, it worked its magic as I used Windows and DOS in the background. Speed Disk can be safely interrupted, and despite its blinding speed, it allowed me to write this review as it did its job.

DUPDISK is a classic Norton utility, performing a single, apparently simple task so well that you're almost surprised that it's not already part of DOS. If you have two identical floppy drives, DOS makes copying a floppy disk fairly painless. The problem is that most machines have either a single 3 1/2-inch drive or a 3 1/2-inch drive and a 5 1/4-inch drive--and Diskcopy won't work across dissimilar media. If your machine is thus configured and you want to make a copy of a 3 1/2-inch disk, you have to employ an old DOS hack in which the single drive literal-mindedly does the work of two, forcing you into innumerable disk swaps.

DUPDISK takes a much more straightforward approach. It copies the entire disk image into RAM, asks you to insert the destination disk, and then creates a copy in one pass. Depending on how much you rely on floppies, DUPDISK alone could be worth the price of admission. It eliminates the tedious, time-consuming disk swapping that can really bog down your copying time.

The NDOS replacement for COMMAND.COM boasts a staggering 200 commands, but it mercifully loads itself into high memory, making its DOS footprint smaller than COMMAND.COM's. If you're an infrequent visitor to the DOS command line, you'll probably get by just fine without NDOS. But NDOS will be a dream come true if you're a Luddite like me, who wonders why DOS has never provided commands to accept input in batch files or let you change both disk and directory in a single command, use subroutines in batch files, move a file to a different directory, and so on. I took to NDOS instantly, disappointed only when I used machines at work that didn't have it.

Batch Enhancer is unrelated to NDOS, but it offers some of the same features to users who are running only COMMAND.COM, not NDOS. It lets you create interactive, flashing, beeping batch files with a minimum of fuss--and it can do a great deal with just a few commands. Some of the sample scripts are elaborate and quite handy to use. Batch Enhancer was developed separately from NDOS, so some of their functions overlap; this can be a source of confusion to the novice.

The Norton Utilities is a class act, well worth the $179 list price if your job depends on PCs. From the superlative installation program to the manuals to the online help and the programs themselves, The Norton Utilities exudes skill, reliability, and craftsmanship. The utilities are fast where they need to be, conservative where they need to be, and insistent where they should be.

The online help and screen prompts still have the preternatural lucidity that made Peter Norton a player, but they do miss a few tricks. There are many places in the DOS utilities documentation in which short batch files illustrate a particular tool at work. It seems like missed marketing opportunities that these batch files don't use Batch Enhancer to display a dialog if a file is missing, for example, and that they aren't written in the vastly extended batch language NDOS provides. My pet peeve is that NDOS is only documented online--you have to pay extra for a manual. Granted, only a small number of Norton users rely on NDOS, but if it comes with the product, it ought to be adequately documented.

In all, however, you'll find you simply can't go wrong if you buy The Norton Utilities 8.0. And you may very well go wrong if you don't.