You can't beat the price of these helpful tools

Nobody likes being offered something for free only to find a hidden catch. In the jungle of free software, many pitfalls await an unaware downloader. At the outset, a vendor offers everything completely free. However, after you scratch the surface, you discover the offering is actually trialware, shareware, or most dangerous, snareware or spamware—programs that infiltrate your pocketbook or your email.

If you know where to look, you can find a handful of free Windows NT utilities that make your job a little easier and solve common problems. However, don't expect miracles from freeware, and be aware that network-deployable freeware products are hard to find. After a grueling week of hunting, downloading, and testing freeware, I found the following NT-compatible utilities the most useful.

1. ANTIVIRUS
Earlier this year, the Melissa virus infected 19 percent of large US corporations and caused $300 million in data loss within a few days. Shortly thereafter, Worm.ExploreZip wreaked havoc on a similar scale. To combat widespread viruses like these, antivirus software has become a standard part of every desktop.

In a surprisingly large selection of antivirus freeware, I found Computer Associates' (CA's) InoculateIT the most useful. An established vendor produces this freeware, which comes with full technical support and free virus signature updates.

When you download InoculateIT, CA twice shows you license statements specifying that this freeware is trialware that expires after 30 days. However, don't be confused; these agreements are obsolete, and a later notice tells you that InoculateIT has no time constraints, no costs, and no significant restrictions.

This antivirus product is a 2MB download for NT and Windows 9x. InoculateIT is easy to install, schedule, and run and handles old and new viruses and macros, and boot-sector infections. An incremental update service gives you regular updates attached to existing signature files. The product's GUI is Windows Explorer-based and comes with startup, on-demand, and realtime scanning capabilities. In addition, an extensive virus encyclopedia supplements the easy-to-maneuver Help menu.

InoculateIT isn't a corporate edition, so you miss out on comforts such as the ability to monitor viral activity across a network. Also, I'd prefer a program scheduler that lets me specify a weekly interval when the product checks my entire system. Instead, after every startup, InoculateIT runs a progressive scan that defaults to 100 files.

In addition, I don't recommend InoculateIT's realtime scanning mode, which completely shut me out of Windows Explorer. When I clicked the Windows Explorer icon, the system gave me a virus-scan message. To get around this nuisance, I had to right-click Windows Explorer, then click Open. Figuring out how to shut off the realtime scanning option took me a while. To deactivate the option, go to Options, Real-Time Protection. On the Enabling tab, clear the Enable real-time floppy disk boot sector protection and Enable real-time file monitor check boxes and reboot the system. Despite these imperfections, InoculateIT is more than adequate to protect the average workstation.

2. UNDELETE
You can compare undelete utilities to safety belts and insurance policies rolled into one. The problem is that most NT motorists are driving without comprehensive coverage against user-error data loss. The New York Times recently estimated that accidental deletions are costing the corporate world as much as $15 billion annually.

I found the following scenario on an NT newsgroup: "I just lost a week's worth of work. I was using PKZIP 2.04g in a DOS window on a system running NT 4.0 Service Pack 3 (SP3). I was in a directory called D:\projects\cca\source, and I typed the following command:

pkzip-s1234567 source 980615.zip-m

This command erased my entire directory. Please don't send comments about backups because I was backing up my system when it crashed."

In this case, the Recycle Bin was no help because it doesn't catch deletions from File Manager, the command prompt, or non-Windows applications. More significant, the Recycle Bin doesn't capture deletions from a network-mounted drive.

Executive Software's Emergency Undelete freeware isn't networkable, but it beats rummaging for hours trying to find data that might or might not be on a backup tape. The utility's undelete-from-disk approach recovers various file deletions, including those from command prompt windows.

To obtain Emergency Undelete, you must hand over your email address. Executive Software added me to a mailing list for a surprisingly informative and non-self-serving monthly email newsletter. No other conditions or time restraints exist.

In most cases, erased data is still on the hard disk, but the OS marks the space that the deleted file occupied as free space. Emergency Undelete scans NTFS and FAT partitions and provides a list of lost and deleted files that are still on the hard disk, so you can recover them almost instantly. For security reasons, you need Administrator privileges to use this freeware.

I suggest that you load the smaller-than-1MB utility onto a 3.5" disk. Otherwise, you run the risk of overwriting the file you're trying to recover. I tested Emergency Undelete on a 29MB JPEG subdirectory. After I deleted my graphics files, I opened the undelete program. The GUI contains a file-specification field and a drive-specification field. After I provided this information, I clicked Undelete Files. Within a few seconds, a list of the deleted files appeared. I highlighted which files I wanted to recover and clicked Undelete Files, and the software restored each item.

The freeware version of Emergency Undelete lacks one very important feature. The full, networkable version of the product, which isn't available as freeware, adds extra digits to filenames to minimize the possibility of overwriting existing files. Using the freeware version, if you highlight a file and click Undelete Files without changing the filename, you run the risk of overwriting some of the data you're recovering. To eliminate this possibility, I recommend that you install the recovered file in a different partition from the original.

3. DEFRAGMENT
With more than 2 million downloads to date, Executive Software's Diskeeper Lite is one of the most popular freeware utilities. As evidence of its popularity, Microsoft is incorporating a scaled-down version of this utility into Windows 2000 (Win2K).

Diskeeper Lite runs only on NT 4.0 build 1381 and later, and you must have Administrator privileges to install and operate the freeware. This product is free of charges and restrictions, but Executive Software requires your email address to download Diskeeper Lite. After you download the software, uncompress the dklite_*.zip file into a temporary directory and double-click setup.exe. A wizard walks you through the rest of the installation process.

Before you use Diskeeper Lite, first analyze the state of fragmentation on your system by double-clicking the Analyze icon for the partition you want to look at. After you run the analysis, the system produces a graphic report similar to the report that Screen 1 shows. To begin defragmentation, double-click the Defragment icon. Diskeeper Lite will produce another graphic report that shows your defragmented partition, as Screen 2 shows.

I found Diskeeper Lite to be too lightweight. It lacks the network capabilities and powerful engines of the non-freeware version of Diskeeper and can be sluggish on a badly fragmented system. In addition, the freeware version can't defragment the Master File Table (MFT) or directories.

However, you can use a trick to defragment the temporary paging file. First, create a new paging file on another disk partition, then reduce the minimum and maximum size of the original paging file to zero kilobits. Next, reboot your computer, which forces the system to use the new temporary paging file. Run Diskeeper Lite on the original disk partition, and recreate the paging file on the original partition. You can significantly reduce or eliminate fragmentation by reducing the temporary paging file's parameters to zero and rebooting.

A trick to speed defragmentation is to temporarily move large files from a partition to create sufficient free space for Diskeeper Lite to quickly defragment the partition. When you place these files back onto the partition, you have a better chance of the files fitting into one contiguous space. However, if you leave a partition with less than 20 percent free space, the I/O performance will degrade noticeably regardless of fragmentation. If this performance drop occurs, you might need to clean out and archive the partition.

4. REGISTRY
Registry clutter can result in NT performance degradation, especially when you subject the Registry to a large volume of new entries. When you make changes to Control Panel, File Associations, and System Policies, these changes show up in the Registry. Similarly, when you install or uninstall programs, the system creates, modifies, or deletes Registry keys. Gradually, Registry keys can become corrupt, and unnecessary keys can accumulate. This accumulation can result in long delays at program startup and during a reboot.

Microsoft's RegClean 4.1a is a useful tool that analyzes the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT Registry keys and cleans out unnecessary entries. After you download this tool, copy RegClean 4.1a to any folder on your workstation and double-click the RegClean icon to display the Progress dialog box. RegClean will begin scanning your Registry. If your Registry is clogged with unnecessary entries, the utility might appear to stop. However, the software isn't finished scanning until the progress meters disappear.

If the software detects errors, it will prompt you about how to handle the problems. When you're fixing errors, the program activates an undo.reg file. If you run into problems running RegClean, you can undo changes to the Registry by double-clicking the last undo.reg file in the folder in which you ran RegClean. As a precaution, keep your last undo.reg file on hand for a few days.

If the undo.reg file doesn't work, your problem probably lies with the associated program for .reg files. To resolve this problem, click the View menu in Windows Explorer and select Options, File Types. Then, double-click Registration Entries and double-click the Merge entry. The Editing action for type: Registration Entries dialog box will pop up. Type the following text into the Application used to perform action field:

regedit.exe"%1"

RegClean is a useful tool, but it won't solve all your Registry woes. This utility clears the Registry of excess baggage but doesn't handle corrupt entries or Registry fragmentation. In addition, using RegClean incorrectly can cause serious problems that might require you to reinstall your OS.

The Price Is Right
Don't expect bells and whistles from freeware—you can find better utilities and enhanced versions of the utilities I discussed, but not for free. The tools I've chosen are the best of the freeware that I downloaded and tested, but this list isn't comprehensive. Dozens of freeware tools remain undiscovered, so do some exploring and see what useful utilities grab your attention.

Contact Information
InoculateIT
Computer Associates * 800-225-5224
http://www.cai.com
Emergency Undelete
Executive Software * 818-547-2050
http://www.executive.com
Diskeeper Lite
Executive Software * 818-547-2050
http://www.executive.com
RegClean 4.1a
Microsoft * 425-882-8080
http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/Q172/5/75.ASP
Corrections to this Article:
  • The URL listed in the December 1999 print magazine for RegClean 4.1a is incorrect. The correct URL is http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/Q172/5/75.ASP. We apologize for any inconvenience this error might have caused.