WinProbe fails to look at enough

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

$99 (US) list
from Landmark Research
703 Grand Central St.,
Clearwater, FL 34616 USA
800-683-6696, 813-443-1331; fax, 813-443-6603.

One of the big ideas behind operating environment's like Microsoft
Windows is to put some distance between the computer user and the dirty
guts of how the machine operates.

So you don't need to type DOS commands. Or install drivers for every
new application.

And it's the same for your software-- it's supposed to be isolated
from the actual hardware by something called the Windows API.

But what about those times when you WANT to find out what's going on
inside the box? Like if something's going wrong. Or, in these pre-Plug
and Play days, you need to resolve a conflict between some of your
multimedia gadgets.

Well, here, you may find that Windows gets in the way. Its barrier
between the user and the machine makes it difficuly to get accurate
information about what's happening at those basic levels.

Take WinProbe, for example.

It's from Landmark Research, who have a well-respected line of Dos-
based computer analysis tools. Their free rating scale for CPU power and
speed has been a favorite download for the BBS set for ages.

It tries to perform two basic functions. First, it reports on your
computer system, from within Windows... checks the ram, the disk
drives, the keyboard, and so forth.

And it does many of these tests quite well... however, it slips up on
some of the finer points. Take IRQs, for example. Many peripheral
devices need some of these mysterious settings all to themselves, in
order to 'interrupt' the CPU when they need some attention.

Many of the problems installing sound cards, scanners, CD-ROM players
and so forth on PCs stem from IRQ conflicts. This is one of the big
advantages to the Macintosh, or IBM's PS/2 Microchannel bus, which don'
t have these conflicts. The Plug and Play architecture debuting with
Microsoft's Chicago project is another attempt to minimize these
problems for PC owners.

Unfortunately, I couldn't rely on WinProbe to help, if I was having an
IRQ conflict... it reported the IRQs occupied by both my sound card,
and my CD-ROM player as being free and available.

As well, any time I tried to test my video, my system crashed...
leaving me with a black screen with only the cursor showing, and no
way out except a reboot.

WinProbe's second task is to report on the setup of Windows itself,
and to make recommendations to improve Windows performance.

One of the ways it does that is to check your WIN.INI and SYSTEM.INI
files--  those two text files filled with mysterious parameters that
are read by Windows when it starts up.

It checks for references to programs that don't exist any longer on
your drives-- a nice touch if you've tried and deleted a lot of
software. Unfortunately, it seemed easily confused if there were
references to a filename followed by a comma and some text, it tended
to assume that it was refering to a non-existant file with a very long

As well, there was no easy way to follow up on its recommendations.
There is an INI EDIT function. This opened up a nice-looking editor
program, which ought to be able to let you make the desired changes to
your files.

This program, however, refused to be minimized, or to move behind the
main WinProbe window, so it was difficult to see WinProbe's
recommendations and change the INI file at the same time. I suppose I
could have printed out the recommendations, then used the INI Editor,
paper in hand, but that certainly isn't the way it was designed to
work, is it?

WinProbe ships in a big red box with a handle, I guess aiming to
resemble a toolbox. It's another example of my latest irritant...
software with too much packaging. Inside, is a few small manuals,
three low-density 3 1/2" disks, and a lot of cardboard and waste space.

In fact, WinProbe itself takes up only a single floppy-- almost a
miracle in these days of fatware. The other two disks are for two '
bonus' programs.

DosProbe is a sort of a DOS-based version of WinProbe... much the same
testing and reporting of system configuration, minus, of course, the
Windows optimization features.

Dos4Win is a Windows program that provides a DOS-like command line
screen. Like a number of shareware programs, this gives you a handy
way to run DOS commands (DIR, FORMAT, etc) without having to open File
Manager and fumble through its menus.

Why not simply open a DOS window, you may wonder.

Well, each DOS window takes up a meg of ram, even if you're only using
a few kilobytes of it. As well, if you try and quit Windows with an
open DOS window, you get an error message... and you can't simply
close a DOS window; you have to type 'EXIT'.

Dos4Win is a true Windows program, thus avoiding all those drawbacks.
It requires much less memory than a DOS window, and can be resized or
quit easily. And not only can you start DOS programs at its command
line, you can even start up Windows programs.

It's a nice replacement for a DOS window, if you like to use DOS
commands from time to time.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the main WinProbe program as
strongly. It had too many problems on my system... and virtually all
its features are duplicated (and with fewer errors and crashes!) in
utility packages such as the Norton Utilities, or PC Tools for Windows.

As well, if you are planning to upgrade to the next version of
Windows (when available), you should be aware that all these sorts of
low-level utilities are not expected to function properly with that
operating system.

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