By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
I once had a car that had a big red light in front of the driver. When something went wrong, the word "STOP" lit up in big red letters. I thought it was great.
My PC has a red light, too. It lives in the corner of the screen in the Tray area of the Taskbar. It changes from green to red, just like a traffic light, when something is amiss.
I don't like it at all. It's false security. If you've been around PCs long enough, you know they are inhabited by little creatures that munch on memory for breakfast and dine on hard disks for dinner. Worst of all, they have very good ears and a very bad sense of humor. They know when you're grouchy or tired and choose those times to make a key stick or pull the plug on your Internet connection.
Red lights never faze them. My red light is on right now and I can hear them laughing.
But I suppose a red light is better than nothing. The one on my screen is put there by Norton Utilities, a set of programs designed to fix problems with Windows and speed up various things. It's a tiny stoplight with a red light on top and a green light below it. When you click on the stoplight in the Tray, up pops a panel of gauges with more stoplights and a lot of dials.
Symantec, the company that makes the Norton programs, sent Norton Utilities 3.0 for me to try out. I stuck the CD in a drawer and forgot about it for a month. I already have an excellent set of Windows fixit utilities—Nuts & Bolts 98, from McAfee (and its parent company, Network Associates)—and I didn't want to mix too many ingredients in the pot-luck supper I call Windows 98.
But taking a vacation on a rainy week can do wonders for your curiosity, so I installed the little stoplights and all the other functions in the Norton Utilities. There are a lot—a Windows checkup program that fixes minor problems, a disk tune-up module, a basic anti-virus program, a nifty system-file editor, a reporting tool so you can brag about (or cry over) your PC's performance, a monitoring system that optimizes the way programs launch so they will run faster, a crash-protection thingamabob, a file-recovery utility and much more.
As far as I can tell, everything in the Norton Utilities is also available in Nuts & Bolts 98 in one way or another. NU has a better Registry editor and N&B has a better disk defragmenter, but otherwise they're pretty much the same.
Except for one thing—that red light.
The light sits I the corner of the screen all the time because Norton Utilities is what the tech-heads call a "real-time" problem solver. With Nuts & Bolts, you run the fix-up stuff after you have a problem or after you decide Windows needs a little behavior modification. With Norton Utilities, you just keep an eye on the little traffic light and do your own thing.
In other words, while you are writing that report or hunting down Garfield cartoons on the Web, Norton Utilities does all its stuff in the background. It runs a virus check, looks through your Registry for things that don't belong, rearranges the bits and bytes on your drive to make its job easier, watches your Internet connection for bottlenecks and does about a dozen other things, all at the same time—and all while you're doing something else.
This is both good and bad. I don't need to tell you why it's good. Multitasking is swell—when it's done right. That's the bad part. Here I am at the helm of a 300 MHz Pentium II computer with more RAM than a field full of sheep, and Norton Utilities has turned my normally speedy typing style into an imitation of molecular physics at Absolute Zero. Plunk-pause-sputter-plunk!
Symantec needs to look at the competition. In Nuts & Bolts 98, you can pull a Norton and run the disk defragger in the background. If you choose to run it that way—I don't, usually—you can click a slider all the way to the left to tell Nuts & Bolts to be kind to your typing and to everything else you're doing. The slider gives a low priority to the disk operation and a high priority to you. I like that.
If you like the idea of having all this stuff done for you while you're working, give Norton Utilities a try. Otherwise, you can't go wrong with Nuts & Bolts.