FixIt Utilities

Microsoft Corp. operating systems tend to be a bit thin on system maintenance and repair. Like the utility packages from Network Associates Inc. (McAfee) and Symantec Corp. (Norton), Ontrack Data International Inc.’s Fix-It Utilities 3.0 is intended to fill the gap. Overall, we found the Fix-It package a mixed bag, with some first-class features and others that are just run-of-the-mill.

Fix-It Utilities 3.0 is a compact collection of disk maintenance and system protection utilities that run under Windows 95, 98, NT4, Me, and 2000; it costs $38.30. As a bonus, Ontrack throws in PowerDesk 4.0 Professional, an expanded file manager that ordinarily sells as a separate product. (PowerDesk includes an FTP client, a Zip archive manager, and an image viewer that works with more than a hundred file formats; it also opens e-mail attachments, such as those encoded in the Mac-based BinHex format.)

The six modules within FixIt are Disk & Files, System Registry, System Diagnostics, System Protection, Crisis Center, and Fix Wizard. With them you can check, repair, and defragment a hard disk; scan for viruses; optimize the Windows registry; and back up critical system files–or you can do all of it in a single operation via the Fix Wizard. In addition, you can run an emergency file recovery utility and a complete set of PC hardware diagnostics separately, or you can set up continuous system monitoring.

Compact, but Lacks Norton’s Muscle

All this requires only 35MB of hard disk space (and another 25MB if you choose to install PowerDesk). Symantec’s Norton Utilities and Network Associates’ McAfee Utilities each need twice as much space for similar features–and you’d still need to spend another $10 to $20 for an antivirus program. The fly in the ointment is that, compared with Norton’s system maintenance programs, Fix-It’s corresponding utilities deliver less-than-industrial-strength performance.

To test Disk Fixer, Fix-It’s enhanced version of Windows’ built-in ScanDisk, we deliberately corrupted the File Allocation Table of one of our hard disk partitions and destroyed the directory table of a floppy disk to see whether we could rescue our data. Disk Fixer repaired the partition and the disk by creating 0-byte versions of all of the files that it found had mismatched directory entries. By contrast, Norton Disk Doctor restored full access to all the “damaged” files when it repaired the disk partition and floppy disk.

In addition, Fix-It’s CrashProof system crash interceptor didn’t allow us to rescue a Microsoft Word document when we exploited a known bug that makes Word crash. McAfee’s Crash Guardian was able to rescue the changes to that document.

Fix-It’s floppy disk rescue feature falls short of Norton Utilities’ Zip Rescue. Norton’s Zip Rescue disk boots directly to Windows 95, 98, and Me, and it runs repair utilities (or the Windows Backup application) from removable media–regardless of the condition of the user’s hard disk. Fix-It offers only a DOS-based floppy rescue option. And while Fix-It’s JetDefrag disk optimizer does as good a job as Microsoft’s Defrag, it offers fewer file-organization options than Norton’s Speed Disk.

That said, some real gems can be found in the Fix-It package. In addition to the useful and well-designed PowerDesk file manager and the dependable Antivirus scanner and virus interceptor, the PC hardware diagnostics are quite thorough, providing extensive tests of the motherboard, CPU, memory, disk drives, modems, and sound card. Under Windows NT and 2000, the System Protection section provides an “Emergency Lifeline” that allows you to boot your computer to a C prompt without an NT Rescue diskette.

But the real prize is the limited version of the file recovery utility EasyRecovery Professional. Similar to PowerQuest’s Lost and Found, it performs a thorough analysis of selected hard disk partitions without writing to the disk and endangering the rescue process. EasyRecovery can bypass corrupted FAT tables and directory entries, allowing you to copy files directly from a damaged partition to another drive. The limited version lets you recover up to 50 files in a session and reads the FAT and FAT32 file systems used in Windows 95, 98, and Me, as well as the NT file system used in Windows NT 4 and Windows 2000. The Norton and McAfee utility suites have nothing to match this feature.

The Fix-It Utilities are most successful in areas where they don’t compete head-to-head with Norton and McAfee equivalents. However, the disk repair and registry optimization features are functional–as are the system rescue features–and they take up less disk space than the competition. But the enhanced file manager, antivirus program, and EasyRecovery Pro are the real reasons to buy Fix-It 3.0.

Prices listed are in Cdn currency.