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ISSUE 522: The high tech office- Oct 26 1999

ALAN ZISMAN

There are useful solutions to Microsoft's limitations

Last time around, we looked at a couple of software products that allow Mac users to survive in a Windows world. This week, we examine a bevy of utilities to beef up what Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom and mercy, chooses to give to the millions of Windows faithful.

Windows comes with a collection of basic utilities. Some, such as the disk checker ScanDisk, are installed by default. Others, such as the basic backup program or the QuickView document viewer are not, although users can add them later using
the Control Panel's Add Programs option.

But these basic utilities are, well, basic. Take the little-known QuickView. Once installed, right-clicking on a document gives the option to view it quickly without first loading it into some heavy-duty application such as Word or Excel. If you're trying to find one of a couple dozen reports or check a mys-
terious e-mail attachment without risking catching a virus, it can be very handy.

The problem is that QuickView only supports a handful of file formats.

If you really want to be able to view documents, check out Quick View Plus, now with a new version 5. Developed by Inso, which de-
veloped the basic product for Microsoft, it's now sold by Jasc (www.jasc.com). QVP allows you to view and print more than 200 PC and Mac file formats without needing to own the application that created them. You can even copy from a viewed file or activate Web hyperlinks. It costs about $89 and comes in versions for Windows 3.1 or for 95/98/NT.

Backing up is tedious but important. However, the anemic application bundled with Win95/98 doesn't help.

One alternative is Backup Exec Desktop Edition, a product now sold by Veritas (www.veritas.com), with a new version 4 for Windows 95/98 and NT Workstation users. The $150 product supports a huge list of backup devices, ranging from archaic floppy drives to Zip and other removable disk drives.

Users can create a boot floppy that will allow them to restore their system in one operation without having to first install Windows, then install the backup software and, finally, restore their backup. I know it works because I had to resort to an earlier version when my hard drive crashed about a year ago. It offers a variety of interfaces including one-click wizards and automated scheduling. Your data is vital to your business and this will make it easier to ensure that you can access it in an emergency.

Calgary's Chuan Yung Int'l (www.cyic.com) has a different take on disaster protection for PCs. While most such products are software-based, its Watchdog Recovery System is a card that plugs into your computer.

The company claims that the $80 card will minimize the danger of virus infection, software tampering or even formatting the hard drive. After rebooting, the system will be restored to normal. The company offers versions for Windows 95/98 users and for the NT operating system.

(The company has sent me one of the cards, but I've been afraid to put it to the test. I'm not ready to format the hard drive on my work machine to see if the Watchdog works as advertised!)

I have used a number of products from PowerQuest (www.powerquest.
com
), such as its Partition Magic utility, which is designed to change the size and type of hard disk partitions without destroying the data. Unlike the destructive Fdisk holdover from DOS that Microsoft bundles with Windows, PowerQuest's Drive Image products aren't aimed at the average user (pricing starts at about $135 for the basic version and goes up to $900 for a licence for 50 stations of the Pro version), although you can use the standard version as a kind of backup program.

What it does, as the name suggests, is make an image of an entire hard drive. The compressed file can be stored on another drive, across a network, on a CD (or a series of CDs) or wherever. So an individual user could restore the image in the event of theft or drive crash.

The new version 3 offers what PowerQuest calls PowerCast -- the ability to use your network to shoot drive images to multiple comput-
ers at once, thereby vastly speeding up the chore of setting up a bunch of machines. The product works with the usual assortment of Windows versions, but also supports Unix, Linux and Netware drive
partitions.

While users could easily work Quick View Plus into their daily computing routines, the other products aren't something most of us will need to use every day. But when you need them -- whether in the case of computer disaster or if your company is trying to install its software packages onto 300 new computers all at once -- utility software can seem like a lifesaver. *



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan