Ontrack’s SystemSuite is well integrated

As PCs become more powerful and complex, comprehensive utility suites become increasingly useful for diagnosing problems, preventing crashes, and recovering from disasters. Network Associates Inc.’s McAfee Office 2000 and Symantec Corp.’s Norton SystemWorks 2000 are the best-known packages, but Ontrack SystemSuite 2000 is an impressive newcomer.

Priced competitively at $60, Ontrack does not eclipse its rivals, but it boasts some unique and useful features that should appeal to a wide range of users.

Ontrack Data International Inc. acquired Mijenix last year and has basically combined the company’s stand-alone utilities – Fix-It, Easy-Uninstall and ZipMagic – plus an antivirus program. Mijenix consistently produced clever and powerful packages that, in my experience, seldom exhibited the system incompatibilities that can often plague its competitors.

Aside from a few small tweaks, most of the components that make up SystemSuite have not changed since their last releases. But Ontrack integrates its components better than competing packages do, so you never get the feeling (especially common with McAfee’s suite) that the package is just a bunch of disparate utilities baled together with a common interface. SystemSuite 2000 has a unified look and feel, including one-click access to Internet-based updates for the entire suite.

Experienced users will appreciate SystemSuite 2000 because several of its features – notably system diagnostics – go farther under the hood than its competitors do. It’s also the only suite that supports Windows 2000, as well as Windows 95, 98, and NT (however, Norton and McAfee are expected to add Win 2000 support shortly). The Crisis Center offers different levels of help, depending on experience level. And the NT Lifeline feature lets users boot into a command line to diagnose and recover from problems. I particularly liked WinCustomizer, which lets you tailor Windows’ appearance and settings a la TweakUI. Another unusual and welcome feature is a global undo that turns back the clock on system changes.

My one big complaint about SystemSuite: unlike competing suites that automatically activate most key features during setup, SystemSuite 2000 requires some manual intervention. For example, you must enable full-time virus protection at startup.

I tested SystemSuite 2000 on three different PCs and didn’t encounter any problems. If you are a first-time utility-suite buyer or an advanced user who is seeking the most sophisticated tools, it could be an excellent choice for you. But if you’re already a happy McAfee or Norton user, switching may not be worth the trouble, especially since those suites can often be difficult to uninstall.