Utilities Are Like A Box Of Chocolates…

You never quite know what you're going to get, but its a sure bet you need at least one

As more people purchase personal computers, and invariably encounter difficulties, the utilities software market is becoming as cluttered as a fragmented hard drive. According to PC Data in Reston, Virginia, system utility software sales rose from over $152 million in 1993 million in 1996, with over 300 utility titles on the market. We’ve sifted through this assortment of applications for you and emerged with some of the most popular and well-respected utilities on the market.

Norton Utilities, introduced in 1982, has long been considered the best all-around utility software package. Whether you use Mac or Windows, Norton Utilities is the most comprehensive package you can get. The latest Windows version ($79) features the system genie that allows users to customize Windows. If you’ve been using Norton Utilities for years and have recently upgraded to Windows 95, you’ll be pleased with the new CrashGuard and Anti-Freeze programs, which guard against crashes and application lock-ups. The latest Mac version ($99) comes with a new Apple Guide that includes step-by-step instructions on how to use each utility. If you’re using anything less than a PowerMac, you won’t be able to take advantage of all of the new features. Norton, as well as all other Symantec utility packages, comes with live update in which you can access upgrades and patches via the Internet. Promoted as the package for all PC users, Norton Utilities really isn’t for novices. You should at least know your way around Windows and something about file management before investing in it.

When it comes to diagnostic software, Quarterdeck’s WINProbe95 ($49.95) is promoted as the Swiss army knife of utilities. WINProbe’s minimum system requirements are for a 386 DX with only 8 megs of RAM. However, on our first test, despite its CrashShield, WINProbe crashed a 150mhz Pentium with 24 megs of RAM. On a second machine (with 48 megs of RAM), WINProbe worked well. Its Status Panel, which looks like a stereo equalizer, provides real-time information about your system, such as the amount of RAM or disk space available. WINProbe’s advanced diagnostics options include running noninteractive, stress and custom tests. Our favorite feature was the Registry Guru, which helps you manage the registry, the database used by Windows 95, to hold configuration information about your system. With hard drives topping 3 gigabytes and more peripherals being added to computers these days, cleaning up the registry is a must.

Cybermedia’s First Aid 97 ($39.95) is simpler and probably better suited for beginners. You can access all its components from one screen and get reports on nearly every function you carry out. The program effectively finds problems with both Windows 95 32-bit and Windows 3.x 16-bit applications. Through its hardware troubleshooter, it detected a problem with a scanner’s configuration that had plagued this writer for months. Although the program couldn’t offer a specific fix, it at least identified the problem, which went a long way toward finding a solution.

Like most diagnostic software, First Aid 97 features a backup function that allows you to retrieve

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