Hobby 95/98 - Part 2

by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, June 1999
This is the second installment in my series of columns about the hobby that many people have (usually unwillingly) these days. That is, keeping Windows 95 and 98 systems running. In particular, it continues with coverage of additional programs within one of my favorite stability-enhancing tools, McAfee Office, from Network Associates.

Nuts & Bolts is a major component of McAfee Office. It is a conglomeration of individual utility programs collected within a menu system equipped with an incredibly annoying sound scheme (which I would dearly love to disable). The menu divides the programs into four categories, Repair/Recover, Clean/Optimize, Prevent/Protect, and Secure/Manage. It’s obvious that this menu is simply a front end to a bunch of unrelated tools, but the underlying programs are good enough that you are willing to put up with this minor disadvantage. While Nuts & Bolts has 23 different programs within it, I’ll just be covering the most valuable of the stability-related ones.

The first interesting program within Nuts & Bolts is PC Checkup. As its name suggests, it performs a diagnostic check of your PC’s hardware and software. In theory, this action duplicates the main function of First Aid, one of the other components of McAfee Office (covered in last month’s column), however, PC Checkup is just different enough that its strengths and weaknesses in both diagnosis and repair complement rather than compete with First Aid’s capabilities. The idea here is that if one program can’t either find or fix the problem, sometimes the other can.

PC Checkup will run either in normal or advanced mode, the choice of which determines just how thorough (and time-consuming) the tests will be. It also presents the various categories of tests and allows you to enable or disable each. This is a great way to narrow down the tests when you already have some idea of what’s wrong. As with any of this type of program, it isn’t perfect at either diagnosing or repair, but it does catch and fix a lot of problems, including some that First Aid misses. Note that the same could be said for First Aid. It sometimes succeeds in cases where PC Checkup fails.

Discover Pro is a Nuts & Bolts program that provides extensive, detailed information about your PC that could be valuable to technical types when analyzing problems. It also includes a limited testing feature. Sadly, this program is somewhat of a troublemaker in that it has a nasty habit of either destabilizing Windows 95/98 or completely locking up the whole system. Because of this, I seldom use it, and when I do, I make sure that nothing is running that I wouldn’t mind crashing.

There is a handy little Undelete program. It’s simple and it works. If your problem is related to a missing file, it’s there to help.

The Cleanup function isn’t as good as the one in Uninstaller, another Nuts & Bolts component, so I usually don’t bother with it.

The Registry Wizard is an important troubleshooting and safety tool within Nuts & Bolts. It allows you to backup and restore the Registry, clean up unneeded Registry data, repair the Registry, and optimize the Registry. It often finds and fixes Registry problems that other programs miss. Its only weakness is that it frequently reports false errors when it encounters Registry items which contain perfectly legitimate sub-parameters. It is somewhat unnerving to see, for instance, more than 300 errors reported and only a dozen fixed, until you recognize this weakness.

Shortcut Wizard finds and attempts to fix any Windows shortcuts that no longer work. If it doesn’t succeed in fixing a shortcut, it assists you in manually fixing it.

Bomb Shelter is made to hide in the background and intercept upcoming crashes. First Aid’s Guardian feature is superior and far less likely to cause problems, so I don’t use Bomb Shelter.

WinGuage dynamically monitors and displays several critical internal Windows statistics. It occasionally crashes, and its information usually isn’t vital, so I seldom use it.

EZ Setup is a detailed control panel for many Windows 95/98 settings. The most valuable information it presents is in its Run/Add/Remove screen. It displays all programs that run automatically at Windows startup, including those programs stashed in various obscure corners of the Registry. For each program, it allows you to add, remove, or edit the command that executes that program. It gives the same information and options for programs in Window’s Add/Remove Program Menu. EZ Setup also contains a lot of other options for various aspects of the system, though none as valuable as its Run/Add/Remove screen.

As you can see, Network Associates McAfee Office (Yikes! What a mouthful.) is a valuable troubleshooting and stability-enhancing tool. I sell it with every computer (usually as part of a site license) and I offer it as an add-on to existing systems.

Next month, I’ll cover some of the free things that you can do to help keep Windows 95/98 alive and ticking. (Threatening the PC with a hammer doesn’t seem to help at all.)

�1999, Wayne M. Krakau