Norton Utilities: Ready for Windows 95

by Alan Zisman (c) 1995. First published in Our Computer Player July 1995

Windows 95 isn't on sale in stores yet, but it already has almost half a million registered users-- 50,000 beta testers, and 400,000 people who paid Microsoft $30 each for the priviledge to try out a Preview version. And since both sorts of users can legally try out the software on several machines, there are easily a million machines using this operating system, before it's even been officially released.

Win95 carries on a tradition, started by Microsoft with DOS 5, of including a number of vital disk-safety utilities. The System Tools menu includes updated versions of the Defragmenter and ScanDisk utilities that have been included in recent versions of MS DOS. These new versions do a good job, and as 32-bit Win32 programs, work quite happily in the background. As well, the Recycle Bin lets users easily recover files deleted from Win95's Explorer.

Still, like the utilities included in earlier versions of DOS, these provide fewer features than are typically available in commercial utilities packages... for example, the Recycle Bin isn't aware of files that are deleted in DOS or by other Windows applications.

While packages like the Norton Utilities or PC Tools provide users with much more power, the currently available versions of these utilities shouldn't be used with Win95; they're not aware of Win95's long file names, and can cause damage to these.

Shortly after Microsoft began distributing the 400,000 Preview copies of Windows 95, Symantec, the company that now produces both the Norton Utilities and PC Tools, announced a similar program. For $30 (US), Win95 users can get a fully functional Norton Utilities Preview. This sets up the interesting situation of running a beta-copy of this application on a beta-copy of the operating system... certainly a situation with the potential for real problems.

Despite this potential, the Norton Utilities Preview seems both full-featured and solid. It makes use of the Windows 95 Control Panel's 'Add/Remove New Software' feature-- doing so lets Win95 keep track of the installation, making it a one-button uninstall possible. A full install requires 13 megs, divided between DOS and Windows 95 versions of the key utilities. As well, two emergency disks are provided, in case of problems that prevent access to the hard disk.

Symantec suggests running an included pre-installation TuneUp program, before installing either Windows 95 or the Norton utilities... this runs DOS-versions of Norton Disk Doctor, Norton Diagnostics, and Speed Disk, and a new Space Wizard program to clean up your system before installation.

With Windows 95 being touted as a DOS-less operating system, users may wonder why 4 megs of DOS-based utilities are installed. Symantec suggests that these can be used in case of problems where the computer can be booted to a DOS prompt, but not to the Windows 95 user interface; thus utilities such as Disk Doctor, and Rescue Disk Recover are included. As well, a few of the utilities, such as the classic Disk Editor and Norton Diagnostics only exist in DOS versions... if you attempt to run them from the Win95 interface, you're told that your computer must be run in Single Session MS-DOS mode. When you quit the programs, you are automatically returned to Win95.

The new Windows versions of the classic Norton Utilities, Norton Disk Doctor and SpeedDisk, resemble the previous version, but now they support Win95's long file names. As well, they do a better job working in the background, and as 32-bit programs, seem to run a bit faster.

System Information uses a new interface similar to Win95's Registry to show a tremedous amount of information about your hardware, as well as providing benchmarking, comparing your system to several standards, ranging from a 386SX16 to a Pentium-90. My 486-66, for example, tested as half as powerful as the Pentium-90, but about 11 times as powerful as the 386SX... I think I prefer the old DOS version, which rated it as 110 times as powerful as an original IBM-PC!

As well, there are several new utilities. System Doctor gives a small panel, resembling Dashboard. A set of dials report on your computer: disk and CPU usage, disk integrity, and so forth-- it's easily customized to show the information you want to see. If it detects a problem, it can alert you, or be preset to try to fix it automatically, using other Norton tools.

Space Wizard looks for unneeded files: temporary or duplicate files, or files that haven't been accessed for a user-determined period of time. It provides a list, suggesting these be deleted, compressed, or archived.

Info Desk uses the enhanced Win95 Help system to provide ondisk information about the utilities... with the Preview, it's virtually the only documentation provided, though I suspect Symantec will include more comprehensive manuals with the release version.

As well, these utilities enhance the Win95 Recycle Bin, with two tools, the Norton Protected Recycle Bin, and an UnErase Wizard. Together, these can be set up to provide several features missing in the standard Recycle Bin. For example, now files deleted at the DOS prompt, or by other Windows programs can now be recovered. As well, users can choose to have the enhanced Recycle Bin automatically purge files after a set number of days.

In addition, there are several more minor utilities (at least until you need them!)-- Image saves extra copies of your drives' FAT tables, making it easier to repair problems. Rescue Disk creates a bootable disk with backup copies of critical files... this disk can be used to restore these files in an emergency. In both cases, Norton System Doctor will warn you if the Image or Rescue Disks need to be updated.

Many computer users have been relying on either the Norton Utilities or PC Tools for years; both programs have grown from limited DOS origins. With both packages now owned by Syamantec, I suspect that only a single package will be released for Win95; the Norton Utilities. PC Tools fans will find, however, that it has more influence over an upcoming replacement for both the Norton Desktop and Central Point Desktop... a separate package, to enhance Win95's desktop interface.

As well, while PC Tools has always had a reputation for including virtually every imaginable utility in a single package, the Norton peopel have tended to prefer to market several separate programs. You won't find any anti-virus software here... a big lack, since none is provided by Microsoft, either. Symantec is currently beginning beta-testing of a Win95 version of the Norton Anti-Virus... a separate program. Similarly, there is no replacement for the Windows 95 Backup.

Even in its Preview version, the Norton Utilities work well, and provide enhancements that many Windows 95 users will welcome. These users will welcome the added security against disk disasters, and will be pleased that they can migrate to Windows 95 without losing the protection of the Norton Utilities.

However, the System Tools accessories built into Windows 95 have also matured... and other users will feel like these 'free' tools provide ample-enough protection.

But if you're one of those people who like the confidence provided by wearing both belt and suspenders, if you get Windows 95, you'll find the new Norton Utilities a must-get.

The Norton Utilities Preview Edition for the Windows 95 Preview Program is available for $30 through June 30, 1995 by calling 1-800-453-1190, extension NU95.

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