Law Office Computing
Fixing Flats on the Information Highway
Microsoft Windows98 has been out for a few weeks now and I am sure that many of you have installed it on your machine. You probably have also discovered that like its predecessors, Windows98 is not crash-proof. Indeed, the more applications you have on your machine the more likely it is that Windows98 will do weird things. Installation of Windows98 does not fix errors in the Registry or correct damaged files. It does not remove the kinds of conflicts that necessarily occur in a system as complex as Windows98. The result is that occasionally your machine will freeze up or worse you will get the hated "Blue Screen" indicating that your operating system has just dived off a high cliff into the murky water below. The causes these kinds of crashes are many, but they share a single characteristic: they are extraordinarily hard to find and eradicate. Every time you add or remove an application you create the potential for adding to the problem. Even if you are careful to use the uninstaller program that came with your software, you may find that it leaves behind little pieces of code that ultimately come back to haunt you. The problem is that errors of this kind are very, very elusive.
The only way that I know of finding and eradicating the little devils is through the use of a software program designed to find and fix these problems. Most of the time these special repair programs work very well, but there are sometimes glitches that cannot be repaired and require a complete reinstallation of your operating system. Reinstalling the Windows operating system requires that you reinstall all of the applications that run on that system and that, I can tell you from sad experience, is very time consuming. It makes a lot of sense then to take good care of your operating system and to use the greatest of care when you install and uninstall programs. Over the last few months I have been using several programs that are designed to work with Windows98 and provide you with a simple and easy way of performing basic maintenance chores that will keep your operating system in tune. The programs that I have used with Windows98 are RegClean from Microsoft, Uninstaller98 from Cybermedia, Inc., First-Aid98 from Cybermedia, Inc., and the old standby Norton Utilities.
RegClean from Microsoft can be downloaded for free from the Microsoft site at http://www.microsoft.com. RegClean's only purpose in life is to check out the entries in the registry of Windows98 and remove obvious problems. Since the Registry in Windows is in a constant state of flux, it is highly probable that errors will occur on a regular basis. RegClean is designed to find and fix those errors quickly. I run it every few days, it takes only a few minutes and it seems to have helped a lot.
Uninstaller98 is a tool that is designed primarily to avoid creating problems with the registry by doing a very thorough job of removing all files that are related to an application that you are taking off of your machine. I believe that in general it does a much better job of uninstalling software than does the uninstaller provided with Windows or the uninstallers that come with particular pieces of software. If you frequently add or remove software from your machine it is something that you must have. While its primary purpose is to allow you to safely uninstall products that you have placed on your machine, Uninstaller98 also does some modest repair of invalid registry entries and useless files. That is not its primary purpose, however. Fixing flat tires is the bailiwick of First-Aid98 and Norton Utilities.
For the last six months or so, I have been getting the ominous Blue Screen on a frequent basis. I have been getting other random glitches on a pretty regular basis as well. For a while my monitor would shut down for no apparent reason and I traced that to a faulty video card which Dell promptly replaced. Even with the new video card, however, my problems continued and in fact got so severe that I was about ready to reformat my hard drive and start all over again. Then, Norton Utilities and First-Aid98 released their Windows98-compliant products and I have had the opportunity over the last few weeks to use them. I can say at the outset that my Blue Screen problems have disappeared and my computer is running better than it has in many a moon. I wish I could tell you which of the two products actually found the particular errors that caused my problems, but there is no way I can do that. What I can tell you is that they fixed the problems. I can also tell you which features of the programs liked the best and the ones that I like the least. First, let's start with Norton Utilities. Compared to First-Aid98 the Norton WinDoctor utility runs very, very fast. The first time I ran it on one of my machines, it found more than 300 errors. A single click of a button repaired all of those errors and that particular computer seemed to run enormously better. Norton also has a component to it that is designed to protect against crashes by catching them in the act and suspending the operation of the computer until the offending program is shut down. I found the crash-guard feature to be not useful and in fact annoying. Indeed, Norton Utilities has an annoying characteristic which you will want to disable if you purchase this product. Every time the product senses something funny in your computer's operation, a screen pops up allowing you to select various solutions to the perceived problem. I found that I had to disable the screen because its warnings were so disruptive. Disarming the automatic features of Norton Utilities is not difficult and it allows you to avoid much too much of an otherwise good thing. In short, I like Norton Utilities, it seems to work and it is very easy to use. You can't go wrong if that is your choice.
On the other hand, I liked First-Aid98 better. I found it much easier to use and I had the sense that it did a more thorough job of checking my computer. Whereas Norton Utilities took only a few minutes to evaluate and identify the problems in the computers that I used it on, First-Aid98 took well over an hour the first time I ran it. The machine that I ran it on had already been cleaned up by Norton Utilities. First-Aid98 found several problems that Norton Utilities had not. It turned out, I think, that the problems First-Aid98 found were in fact the problems that had been bedeviling me. Ever since I cleaned things up with First-Aid98 my Blue Screens have disappeared and the number of times that I have to reboot my computer is dramatically lowered. First-Aid98 contains a database of potential PC problems that contains more than 10,000 different software and hardware conflicts, configuration issues, multimedia glitches, web connection hassles and buggy components. The thing that I like most about the product is that it gives you precise information about what the problems are and proposes specific solutions. If you buy First-Aid Deluxe, you get not only a software cleaning process but a physical PC cleaning kit that includes a CD-ROM cleaner that solved a bedeviling, intermittent failure in my CD-ROM drive.
Both of these programs have an automatic update feature that allows you to go onto the company website and download new solutions to problems as they appear. One area in which that is particularly important is in regard to virus protection because new viruses are constantly appearing. Any static virus protection program will miss the new viruses and it thus becomes important to allow for updating.
Both of these products deliver. Both are available at Price Club and Best Buy and CompUSA, and both are supported by stable companies who are competing intensely with each other to make their products better. Both of these products are inexpensive and easy to use. I like First-Aid98 better but I know that Norton Utilities has its die-hard fans. Frankly, because I think this kind of PC maintenance is so critical to the process of computing, I that you ought to buy and run and use both products. It is hard for me to identify another area of computing practice in which your dollars would be better spent.