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11/96 Features: Seven Utilities You Can't Live Without

Even an operating system can use a little help from its friends. These seven handy utilities give Windows 95 a boost with features that make your life easier

By John Woram

IT JUST MIGHT BE the most complete PC operating system ever-but you don't have to look too far to find the gaps in Windows 95.

Make no mistake, Windows has come a long way. Back in the "non-95" days of Windows, you could spend considerable time-and money-building your own toolkit to complement the operating system. With many of those tools built in-or tacked on-Win95 is a great improvement. But it still needs a little help from time to time.

This handful of utilities fills some of Windows 95's gaps. Each does a little something that Win95 itself doesn't do-or doesn't do as well-and none of them will break the bank. All of our seven heavenly utilities have more features than those described here, but this quick survey will give you a good idea of what they can do for you.

Agent 95

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Agent 95

If you've ever wondered what's chewing up your system's RAM, then take the mystery out of memory with Agent 95. As I wrote this story on a system with 12MB of RAM, Agent 95's Memory tab reported that Windows itself was sitting on about 8MB and the disk cache was a tad less than 2MB, leaving very little for everything else. Word had to make do with less than 1MB, so it compensated by picking up some 5.6MB of virtual memory (can you spell s-l-o-w?). A quick trip to the memory store improved the situation: The disk cache went up by almost 5MB, and Word readjusted itself to use more RAM and less hard disk. Of course, you don't need a special utility to know that more memory is better, but Agent 95's colorful pie chart makes it easy to monitor what's really going on in there.

The utility's Resources tab displays another pie chart that shows how open applications make use of User and GDI resources. It not only offers more detail than the Windows 95 Resource Monitor applet, it also disagrees with that applet's figures. For User and GDI resources, Agent 95 reported 80 percent and 87 percent free, respectively, while the Resource Monitor provided a rosier resource picture with 88 percent and 93 percent available. The Agent's report is more reliable, though, because it counts Windows itself among the open applications, while the Resource Monitor ignores its parent program.

Strangely, Agent 95 stumbled on the easy stuff: It incorrectly reported that two PCs each had 16MB of RAM. In fact, one had 28MB and the other had 32MB-both of which were reported accurately by Win95's System Properties General tab.

That minor glitch aside, Agent 95 is an excellent resource watcher that provides insight into system performance.


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This neat little utility puts the Windows 95 Explorer-and everything else-on the map. Disk Mapper takes the GUI concept a step beyond Explorer, with a set of six maps to guide you over Win95's hilly terrain. The Levels map looks at first like a trade-show floor plan, with aisles separating rows of booths. But on this map, each "booth" is actually a folder or file, with its size indicated by the amount of space it takes up on the map. Zoom buttons take you through seven levels so you can see what's in each folder.

The Levels map offers some visual interest, but the Age, Extension and Protected maps are of more value. For example, the Age map assigns a different color to files accessed, created or modified (your choice) within user-selectable time periods. The Extension map highlights every file that has a specified extension, and Protected indicates files that have a system, hidden or read-only attribute set. There's also a NeverUsed map that highlights files that haven't been touched since they were created. Perhaps it doesn't look at Registry files, though, because it showed that SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT were both untouched, despite recent revisions.


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This suite of SCSI applets includes a backup/restore utility, CD audio player, Photo CD viewer, SCSI Explorer, a benchmark test and a taskbar Drive Light. The backup utility should look familiar: It's essentially the same one included with Windows 95, but with a few minor tape-handling options added to its Tools menu. The CD support applets are nice extra attractions, too, but this suite's other features are likely to hold the most appeal for users. The SCSI Explorer's Interrogator tab offers a quick overview of all attached SCSI devices, along with detailed information for a selected device. You can dig up some of this information via Windows 95's Device Manager, but that's a harder row to hoe. For example, the Interrogator lists all SCSI devices sorted by ID number. To determine the ID number using Device Manager, you have to highlight the device, click on Properties and select the Settings tab-then repeat the steps for each SCSI device.

When you select a hard disk with Interrogator, the utility also offers a Defect List tab, which identifies all cylinder/head/sectors marked as bad by the manufacturer. Unfortunately, the list appears in a small window, a defect total is not given, and there is no print option. So you'll have to do a bit of scrolling and tallying to count the bad sectors.

The Disk Cache tab lists all devices that support write and read caching, and indicates the current status for the selected device. There are radio buttons that let you select the Enable or Disable mode (assuming the device supports it), but all attempts to change the mode on several systems produced the same message: "The Disk Cache Utility is unable to change the SCSI [write or read] cache settings on this device."

If the Drive Light applet is enabled, a green light on the taskbar blinks whenever a CD-ROM or hard disk is accessed.

For those awkward occasions when Windows 95 just won't behave, there's a removable media manager (RMVTOOL.EXE) that can be executed from within an MS-DOS window to extract a stubborn disk (or other media) from a removable-media device. However, the utility does not operate after exiting Windows unless a DOS ASPI manager is loaded (type mem/c in a DOS window to see if DOS ASPI is loaded).

Norton Utilities 2.0 for Windows 95

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Norton Utilities 2.0 for Windows 95

Norton Utilities 2.0 was not quite ready as we went to press, but judging from a late-beta copy, this is going to be a must-have. It has all the old Norton favorites tweaked and updated for Windows 95, in addition to a Norton Companion applet that offers a multimedia hardware and software tutorial for non-experts.

The Norton System Genie offers a list of system topics with each linked to appropriate how-to help text. The Genie may be a nice touch for a beginner, but a seasoned user will grow impatient with all the steps, which sometimes end in an unnecessary restart sequence. For example, if you want to change the name of Network Neighborhood, leave the Genie in its bottle, do it yourself and never mind restarting Windows. Norton's File Compare applet finds and highlights all the differences between two files, and does it better than most other methods. System Information presents all the information you think you know but haven't quite memorized, and offers a variety of useful benchmark tests. Unfortunately, System Information shows the results in 3-D, which makes for a pretty picture but difficult reading.

These are just some highlights of Norton Utilities 2.0-but even if you only use a few of its offerings, this collection is a keeper.

PC Care

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PC Care

PC Care packs an arsenal of potentially useful features-but, like other loaded weapons, it can be dangerous in the wrong hands. While an advanced user will find it handy for system tweaking and diagnostics, if you're a beginner, you can get into some fairly serious trouble.

The CleanUp option, for instance, finds duplicate files, defective shortcuts and backed-up files that can be deleted-maybe. But the duplicates it finds include the contents of the C:\WINDOWS\SYSBCKUP folder, which should not be deleted because Windows 95 may need them if some ill-behaved application overwrites a .DLL file with an older version during a setup process. And a shortcut that is marked as defective may actually indicate a CD-ROM application that is not currently in the drive. The backup search finds the contents of the Recycle Bin, and although the files can be selectively marked for deletion, a message advises, "This version of CleanUp does not support deletion of Recycle Bin files." Puzzling.

The System Board diagnostics feature turned up a few problems on my Pentium PC, such as "FPU FDIV instruction execution error" and "PCI test failed" messages, both listed in the User's Guide without any explanations. The first is, of course, the legendary Intel Pentium floating-point error from a couple of years ago. The PCI failure can be blamed on me: I had disabled the on-board SCSI/PCI adapter to see if PC Care would catch me. It did. Once I re-enabled it, all was well. And the first error condition was right, too-I must get that Pentium chip replaced one of these days. I tried a PCI test on another machine, but PC Care wasn't having any of it. The utility reported, "This is not a PCI system," and again, it was absolutely right.

The IRQ and DMA reports didn't fare as well, erroneously reporting that IRQs 5 (network card), 9 (modem), 10 and 11 (SCSI and PCMCIA controllers) were all free. It also missed both IRQ 15 and DMA 7 (sound card). The TuneUp section should probably be left to experts only. Take, for example, the check box labeled "Hard drive IRQ virtual IRQ is enabled?" The Information button leads to a "Hard disk virtual IRQ is false" message, and a warning that your hard disk might not work if you change its status. If you click on the Tune Up button, a message advises that SYSTEM.INI will be modified, but the modification (VirtualHDIrq=On in the [386Enh] section) is not specified.

Best bet for a Windows 95 tune-up-open Control Panel's System applet, click on the Performance tab's File System button and then on the Troubleshooting tab, and don't even try to guess how the settings are handled.

PC Care's strong suit is its diagnostics suite, which puts your hardware through a rigorous series of tests. When it's finished, it generates an ERROR.LOG file that you can view later. If you disable the "Wait and break on error" options you can let it cook overnight, but be careful not to get burned on some of the expert-only features.

TurboCom/95 Pro

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TurboCom/95 Pro

There are dozens of nice little optional utilities out there. But if you use an internal modem, TurboCom/95 isn't an option, it's an absolute necessity-especially for those seemingly endless download sessions when you're wondering what, if anything, is really happening.TurboCom/95 Pro replaces the Windows 95 serial port drivers with its own, which offer speeds up to 921.6 kilobaud per second-hardware permitting, of course. It also supports IRQ sharing and all the serial ports you can cram into a system.

So much for the official reasons for getting TurboCom/95 Pro, none of which may be very compelling if you have a small system and you're communicating in a 28.8Kbps world.

TurboCom's Re:Ports feature is what makes it a truly must-have item. Every time a communication session is initiated, Re:Ports wakes up and puts a "front panel" readout on screen that goes a few steps beyond even the fanciest external modem's LCD display. Re:Ports' dynamic display shows transmit and receive rates, either in bits per second or characters per second. The pop-up Help window advises, "Choosing bps gives you a throughput measure that relates directly to the baud rate settings for the port."

In a typical modem session, you'll no doubt notice frequent intervals during which the rate is zero, and other intervals at which it isn't even close to 28.8Kbps, or whatever rate your modem can handle. Even on an external modem, the LCD display reports only the rate at which the connection was made. To discover the rate at which data is really moving, you will need TurboCom/95 Pro-and then, perhaps, a few extra bucks for a faster modem.


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When was the last time you downloaded a .ZIP file? If your answer is, "What's a .ZIP file?" stop reading. Otherwise, download WINZIP95.EXE from WINDOWS Magazine's CompuServe site for a trial version of Nico Mak's 32-bit WinZip for Windows 95. Of the many file-compression and extraction utilities out there, this is one of the best-and the easiest to use. To view the files in a compressed file, use WinZip's Open Archive. This will display filenames, date and time, actual and compressed size, and compression ratio. Highlight a file, and WinZip's View button opens it in its associated program or with the QuickView utility.

WinZip can be configured to use just about any resident virus scanner. In a test, Norton AntiVirus found three infected files in a compressed archive and reported that it had repaired them all. However, a re-test showed the zipped file was still infected, and when AntiVirus was sub-sequently run outside WinZip, it reported, "Norton AntiVirus cannot repair or delete compressed files." So, play it safe and get rid of an infected archive ASAP. Use WinZip's Delete option to erase the infected file in the .ZIP file, or expand it into a temporary folder and then use your anti-virus software.

WinZip will, of course, compress files as easily as it extracts others. If you spend time dragging files through a modem, WinZip can pay for itself within a few months through reduced phone bills.

John Woram is a Senior Contributing Editor and regular columnist for WINDOWS Magazine. John Woram's e-mail ID is:

Utilitarian Facts

Agent 95
Price: $55
Connectix Corp.
800-950-5880, 415-571-5100

Price: $49.95
Micro Logic
800-342-5930, 201-342-6518

Price: $89
800-959-SCSI, 408-945-8600

Norton Utilities 2.0 for Windows 95
Price: $79.95; upgrade, $49
Symantec Corp.

PC Care
Price: $59.95
American Megatrends
800-892-6627, 770-246-8600

TurboCom/95 Pro
Price: $29.95; upgrade, $14.95
Pacific CommWare
800-856-3818, 541-482-2744

Price: $29 (shareware)
Nico Mak Computing
800-242-4775, 860-429-3539

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