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2 New Utility Programs Make Life Much Easier

Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for The Times

Sometimes it’s the little things that make computer life more enjoyable.

New versions of Norton Utilities from Peter Norton Computing and TopDos from FrontRunner Development prove that once again.

Santa Monica’s Peter Norton, the company’s namesake, earned his place in the annals of IBM and compatible PC computing with the “Unerase” function in his main utility program. Unerase brings back files that mistakenly have been erased from disks.

Now Norton Utilities Version 4.0 ($100) and Advanced Edition ($150) have added a program, Quick Unerase, that is less thorough but easier to use than Unerase. The new utilities programs are expanded and improved in other ways, too.

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Unerase, which itself is improved, allows you to restore any material that hasn’t been written over, if you are patient enough to follow the required steps.

It is complemented by Quick Unerase, which is intended to restore files only when no others have been created or revised since the erasure. It is very easy to use. You simply type QU and the name of the erased file.

Advanced Edition carries the Unerase concept a major step further by letting you get back all the files on a hard disk that have been erased by reformatting. The program is called Format Recover, and it must be run each time you start your computer so that it can create an up-to-date log of the contents of your hard disk.

In addition to Format Recover, the Advanced Edition of Norton Utilities also has something called Speed Disk. It reorganizes the files on a heavily used disk so they are stored contiguously, thus enabling the computer to find them faster.

Unerase and Quick Unerase work because DOS doesn’t physically erase the contents of a file when you instruct it to delete or erase that file. Instead, it merely replaces the first letter of the file name and allows the computer to use the space occupied by the file to store new files. If you realize that you erased something mistakenly before you create new files or add to existing ones, you’re assured that Norton’s Unerase will get your file back intact.

Even if you do create new files in the interim, it’s likely that you’ll still get some of the old file back.

Format Recover works because most versions of DOS do not remove the contents of a hard disk when they reformat it. But restoring the data is complicated, which is why the log file must be created each time you run your machine.

Norton Utilities programs also can be used to permanently remove confidential data. They include Wipefile and Wipedisk, which truly erase files and disks by physically replacing the data with blank information. There is even a “government” mode in which the programs make three passes through the file to meet federal security standards. Not only are files themselves eradicated, but every indication of their existence is removed from the disk directory.

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A nice feature of the new Version 4.0 and Advanced Edition is something called the Norton Integrator. It unites the 20-odd separate utility programs into a single menu, complete with instructions for each utility.

Another good utility is a substitute for the DOS PRINT program that allows you to format pages when you print files, even adding line numbers if you want them, as well as margins at the top and bottom of the page.

Text Search is valuable, too. You tell it what word, phrase or sentence you want to find, and it shows you which file it is found in. The new version runs faster than the old.

TopDos, with a suggested retail price of $69.95, is something you’ll use all the time, yet you’ll soon take its features so much for granted you won’t even notice it’s there. It’s kind of like moving from a standard transmission to an automatic.

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TopDos improves the way MS-DOS or PC-DOS work and adds some great new features. It loads into your computer’s memory when you start up and hides there while you’re running programs. But as soon as you return to the DOS prompt (usually C: on a hard-disk PC), TopDos goes to work.

It remembers all the DOS commands you have typed during a given computing session and lets you scroll through them by simply pressing the up-cursor key. If you want to give the same command again, just press the Enter key when it appears, and it’s done. Or edit it by moving the cursor to the point you want to change and type in the change.

Speaking of editing DOS commands, TopDos lets you insert missed characters as you type new commands. Regular DOS doesn’t.

As for general text editing, TopDos provides welcome relief from the difficulty of using the DOS EDLIN editor. Just type EDIT followed by a file name at the DOS prompt and you are instantly using a simple, full-file word processing program. It’s meant for writing DOS BATCH program files that help automate the use of your computer, but it works well for memos or letters and even computer columns.

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We all use the DIR command to see directories of our files. TopDos enhances DIR by displaying the entries in alphabetical order and showing the total number of bytes used in that directory plus the number of bytes left on the disk. Standard DOS lists files in an order that makes sense only to the computer, unless you run a time-consuming SORT routine.

Automatic completion of DOS commands can make your life a lot easier. Type the first letter or two of a command, such as CO. . . Press the Tab key, and TopDos instantly adds the “PY” to complete the word as COPY.

Then you can type the first letter or two of a file name, and it will display all files within the directory that begin with those letters. Not only does it do much of the typing for you, it does it accurately so you make fewer mistakes.

The COPY command itself has been enhanced. You can specify that if the disk being copied to is full before all the files specified have been copied, the computer will pause and let you put in a new disk.

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This is just a small sampling of the features of TopDos. It makes DOS a lot nicer to use. It’s entirely safe, too, because it doesn’t change any of your original DOS files. You can even instruct it with a single keystroke to give you the old DOS command instead of the TopDos version.

This is a software package that you’ll soon wonder how you did without.

Either of these programs should be easy to find on dealers’ shelves, but if you have problems, you can reach Peter Norton Computing at 2210 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 186, Santa Monica, Calif., 90403, (213) 453-2361. Front-Runner Development Corp. is at 14656 Oxnard St., Van Nuys, Calif., 91411, (818) 376-1322.


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