ISSUE 421: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan
New utility software packages help users
lower the cost of keeping computers healthy - Nov 18 1997
Over the last year or two, there's been a lot
of discussion in computer circles of what it actually costs to own and
operate a computer. And while even getting two experts to agree on a
figure can be an impossible task, it seems clear that new technology is
simply too complicated and too unreliable for many users.
One result is over 200 million phone calls a year
asking computer vendors for help, at a cost to the industry of about $4
billion annually, an expense that's rising by 20 per cent a year.
Several innovative companies are now producing
products aiming at helping end users configure their computers, update
their software or protect their systems. I've been particularly
impressed with the product lines from two small but growing software
Santa Monica-based CyberMedia (www.
cybermedia.com) has produced several titles that keep appearing on
PC software best-seller lists, such as FirstAid-97. As the name
suggests, that program aims to automatically recognize and fix
thousands of common computer problems -- from software and hardware
conflicts to faulty configurations. Like all of CyberMedia's products,
it's designed for the vast majority of users who don't want to fiddle
endlessly with options, but who are looking for software that will do
the job quietly in the background.
CyberMedia's Oil Change builds up a list of the user's
installed software and hardware, then checks whether the latest
versions are installed. If desired, users can automatically download
and install newer versions with a single mouse click, while backing up
the older versions in case of problems. The program will even
automatically update itself to the just-released version 2.0.
The newest release in the company's software lineup is
Guard Dog. It aims to provide home and small office users who access
the Internet the sort of protection corporate networks get from a
firewall -- the ability to limit what comes in across the Net, and what
personal information goes out.
The program starts, like many other programs, with
antivirus protection, but also blocks potentially hostile Java and
ActiveX applets, which run programs on the user's computer. Web surfers
can limit 'cookies' (bits of information written on the hard drives,
noting where they've been) and can ban unauthorized access to personal
or financial information. Like all the CyberMedia line, it uses a
limited version of Oil Change to keep itself up-to-date -- a
particularly welcome feature in an antivirus and security program.
Costing about $75, this one looks very useful.
Unlike CyberMedia's products, the utility programs
from Oram, Utah's PowerQuest (www.powerquest.com),
are aimed at more technically sophisticated users -- perhaps 'power
users,' who want tools to help them get the most out of their hardware,
or who are supporting a number of users in a large organization.
Their best-known product, Partition Magic, lets users
stretch, shrink, and rearrange hard disk partitions. This can make it
possible to run multiple operating systems, to store and back up data
more efficiently, or to let multiple users share a single computer.
Using multiple, smaller partitions can free up 30 - 40 per cent more
space on a drive compared to a single large partition. And while
DOS/Windows 95 includes a free partitioning utility, FDISK, using it
destroys the data on the drive. Partition Magic is nondestructive, and
features an easy-to-use graphical interface.
With big hard drives dropping in price, many users are
wanting to upgrade the drives on their current systems. Power-Quest's
DriveCopy simplifies the process of copying the contents of your old,
small drive onto the new, more spacious replacement. And their latest
product, DriveImage, takes that idea one step further.
With DriveImage, it's quick and simple to copy an
entire system to a compressed image file across the network, or onto
another drive such as a removable ZIP or JAZ drive. While this can be
used by an individual user to upgrade a hard drive, it can be a real
time saver for setting up a large number of identical, networked
A few weeks ago, this column looked at the new
generation of digital PCS portable telephones. While mentioning three
companies competing in this market, the column neglected to mention
that BC Tel Mobility and Clearnet are also active in
that growing field, with BC Tel claiming the largest area coverage in
the province and Clearnet claiming low prices for its service. And
reader Guido Lepore responded to that column's wish for a unit
that combined a digital phone with the ability to write a memo or
browse the Internet; he used his PalmPilot Professional
handheld computer, combined with a PCSI Pal phone, to e-mail me --
showing that with the right hardware, that capability is available