New on the desktop: PC Tools for Win 2.0

by Alan Zisman (c) 1994. First published in Our Computer Player, April 15, 1994

PC Tools for Windows ver 2.0
 $179.95 (US list), $49.95 upgrade and competitive upgrade
 Central Point Software
 Ever used Windows version 1 or 2?
 No? Then you never had the questionable pleasure of the MS DOS
 Executive... Microsoft's first attempt at 'making it easier'.
 When this minimalist DOS shell was replaced by Windows 3.0's
 Program Manager, complete with (gasp!) icons, PC users found an
 interface they could actually use.
 But were they satisfied? Well, ever since, there's been a
 thriving industry for Windows replacement shells, to overcome
 Program Manager's percieved inadequacies, especially compared to
 the original and still standard-bearing Apple Macintosh.
 Want to nest one Program Group inside another? Easy. Get a Mac.
 Or a replacement shell for Windows. Want to have icons
 automatically appear on your desktop whenever you create a
 document file? Same answers.
 The latest of these Program Manager replacements to cross our desktop is Central Point
 Software's PC Tools for Windows, version 2... in hot competition
 with Symantec's recent Norton Desktop for Windows, version 3.
 This is also the first version of PC Tools since Central Point's
 purchase of X-Tree, another long-time DOS shell-maker with a
 powerful Windows product.
 Like Central Point's packages for DOS, (the Swiss Army Knives of
 software), this loads a lot of value into a single product.
 You get a replacement Desktop, which automatically starts off
 with clones of your existing Program Manager groups. But you can
 nest folders... as a teacher, I've wanted a group called
 Spreadsheets, and would like to be able to nest a group called
 Classes, for my grades, and another called Budgets. In plain
 Windows, I'm out of luck. I can also customize the icons for each
 folder, choosing icons from a large collection, or creating my
 AutoSync Folders are connected to hard drive directories... when
 any files appear in those directories, with extensions of my
 choice, icons automatically appear in the folder. If you choose,
 deleting the icon can also remove the actual file.
 The PC Tools desktop also supports MultiDesk... a well
 implimented virtual desktop manager. You can easily set up
 different desktops with different sets of applications, and
 quickly switch from one to the other. Similarly, you can create
 different desktops for different users.
 Like most modern Windows applications, clicking with the right
 mouse button brings up a mini-menu, tailored to the needs of the
 object at hand.
 CrashGuard gives you a series of automobile-like gauges, for
 memory and resources, along with hard drive space. Audible
 warnings let you know when you're running low.
 And a click on a drive icon brings up the PC Tools File Manager,
 viewing that drive.
 Windows 3.1 finally got a workable file manager, but PC Tools'
 replacement has lots more useful features. A customizable button
 bar (though I found the small icons hard to decipher at 800x600
 resolution). Like the newest Microsoft applications, leave your
 mouse cursor over an icon for a few seconds, and a label pops up.
 Compression and de-compression for zip (including the new PKZIP 2.
 x) and other formats. Over 100 file viewers... view your data without having
 to open an application. In an especially nice touch, document
 files get little versions of the icon of the applications that
 created them. Virus check right from the file manager.
 You also get file management features, right in the standard
 dialogue boxes of your applications, if they support Windows'
 common dialogue box standard. Ironically, some of Microsoft's
 latest and greatest don't support their own standards.
 In addition, you get new Windows versions of many of PC Tools DOS
 utilities. Optimizer, their hard drive defragmenter, and DiskFix
 now work under Windows, and Optimizer can even work in the
 background. But watch out... run under Windows, it will not move
 any open files, so it won't do as thorough a job as its single-
 tasking DOS counterpart. The new versions of these utilities
 support drives compressed with Microsoft's DoubleSpace, but not
 with Stacker or SuperStor.
 Similarly, the sophisticated Undelete features will not work for
 user of Windows for Workgroups 3.11, if they're using that product's
 32-bit File Access feature. (Microsoft's Undelete won't work in
 that case, either).
 BackUp supports disk, standard tape, and now SCSI tape backup,
 and runs faster as well. It also comes with a DOS Recovery disk,
 a feature that is lacking in some of its Windows competitors (who
 seem to assume that in case of a disk disaster that you can install DOS,
 install Windows, install their product, and THEN restore the rest
 of your disk).
 The System Consultant scans your Windows and DOS setups, and
 makes recommendations to improve performance. Unlike the older
 version of this product, if you choose, it will make changes for
 you. (Again, it's recommendations may not work properly for
 Windows for Workgroups users... luckily it creates backups of any
 files it changes).
 And there's we're still not through. There's a copy of Central
 Point's virus scanner, a batch language, a screen saver, an event
 scheduler, and a rescue disk creator. Oh, a screen capture
 utility, a DOS TSR manager, a disk of DOS utilities in case you
 have a problem before installing PC Tools, and probably a few more.
 You get to select what features to install, and can run the
 Install program at any time to add or remove features or even the
 whole program. The classy installation program also checks for
 viruses before doing anything else. The installation is much more
 well-behaved than is typical for Windows programs, adding only a
 few files into the main Windows directories, and making hardly
 any changes to the main initialization files. I wish all the
 programs I install (and I try out lots!) were so polite.
 If you're already using a product like Norton Desktop, you may
 find this too similar to want to switch. They're both pretty much
 even on features, both providing replacement desktops and disk
 protection and recovery tools. As well, I suspect that many users
 are waiting to see whether Windows 4 will significantly improve
 the desktop interface.
 Still, if you're working with straight-ahead Windows 3.something,
 this product provides a wealth of features, making Windows easier
 to use, and providing added safety for anyone working with
 important data.

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1994, as a review. A decade or so later, I've gotten a series of emails from  fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs. PC Tools fans may want to check out the XTree Fans website-- having purchased XTree, PC Tools inherited a lot of its features, and the XTree Fan site has downlaod links for a number of modern programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)


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