Norton Utilities boosts Windows NT performance

Since the early days of MS-DOS, Symantec's Norton Utilities has remained a favorite of PC users and systems administrators. The good news is that Norton Utilities is now available for Windows NT 4.0. The better news is that today's Norton Utilities replaces its old command-line utilities and single-function programs with more advanced features--features only dreamed of in its DOS ancestor. Bearing the Designed For Microsoft BackOffice logo, Symantec's Norton Utilities 2.0 for Windows NT is fully integrated into the Windows environment.

Installing Norton Utilities is effortless. You insert the CD-ROM, and (assuming you have the AutoPlay feature enabled) the installation program automatically starts. You answer some simple questions, such as how you want the software to install and whether you want components to start automatically when your system starts, and the copy process begins. Once the program completes the copy process, you must reboot. The programs take only 20MB of disk space, so a complete installation takes less than a minute when you select all the default options.

Norton Utilities for NT consists of six programs.

  1. Norton System Doctor monitors and alerts you to problems with your system's key components.
  2. Norton Disk Doctor diagnoses and repairs common hard disk problems.
  3. Norton Speed Disk defragments your hard disk and improves its performance.
  4. Norton System Information provides an overview of your computer's guts.
  5. Norton Protection/UnErase aids in recovering lost or deleted files.
  6. Live Update regularly updates all the Norton components on your system (over the Internet or through a telephone connection).

Ask the Doctor
Norton's core programs are Norton System Doctor and Norton Disk Doctor. These programs help you manage your system's performance.

Norton System Doctor employs sensors to monitor your system. For instance, they monitor the hard disk for viruses, fragmentation, and other problems. System Doctor categorizes sensors

into six classifications: memory, disks, system, Internet/network, performance, and information.

On startup, System Doctor opens a window displaying interactive charts and indicators. You select which indicators to view interactively by clicking Sensors on the Menu bar. Each sensor classification has four or more subclassifications. Selecting a subclassification opens an additional chart to monitor. Paging file is a subclassification of memory, for example, and it monitors your paging file usage.

System Doctor alleviates problems by taking basic corrective action when it detects a problem (as shown in Screen 1). For example, when it detects that a disk is too fragmented, the software automatically runs Norton Speed Disk.

If your CPU utilization exceeds a preset limit, System Doctor displays an alarm on the console and displays information about corrective actions that you can manually implement to alleviate the problem. While working, you can minimize the System Doctor window and continue to monitor your system's performance in the background.

The Disk Specialist
Just as System Doctor diagnoses CPU problems, Disk Doctor diagnoses and repairs common hard disk problems. Running Disk Doctor checks the partition table, file structure indexes, and security descriptors of all your hard disk's files. When Disk Doctor encounters a problem, the software automatically repairs it (if possible) and alerts you that corrective measures were necessary.

The software will also optionally perform a comprehensive surface test of your hard disk to ensure that bad sectors aren't waiting to crash your system. Running Disk Doctor on a regular basis helps correct minor problems before they become major issues.

Speed Disk Paramedic
A system's performance problems stem from one of three sources--network degradation, CPU-intensive applications, and I/O bottlenecks. Norton Utilities makes your disk subsystems more efficient by monitoring these three areas, but it automatically performs corrective actions only on the I/O bottlenecks.

Norton Speed Disk defragments the file system. (See Screen 2 for an example of defragmenting.) It takes noncontiguous files and rearranges them into one large, contiguous file. Because defragmentation reduces the movement of your read/write heads, the disk's performance improves.

Norton Speed Disk performs several other simultaneous functions. While defragmenting, you can compress your files with NTFS's built-in compression, which lets your hard disk store more data. Compression results in only a small decrease in performance when the system has to read and decompress the data to provide it to a user program.

You can consolidate free space, or unused space, on your hard disk into one large contiguous chunk. On an NT system, the NTFS file system leaves a small amount of space after each file to allow for growth. This NTFS feature results in megabytes of fragmented disk free space, which can severely reduce your system's performance--especially if you have a full hard disk.

Getting the Info
Norton System Information is an excellent reporting tool that details the hardware and software installed on your computer. Launching System Information opens a window with eight tabs: System, Display, Memory, Printer, Drive, Input, Multimedia, and Network. Clicking any of the tabs provides you with comprehensive information about hardware and, in some cases, software. You can file the reports for future reference, or mail them to tech-support personnel who need detailed configuration information.

UnBelievable UnErase
How often do users call you asking for help with accidentally deleted files? Restoring files is time consuming, not to mention problematic. Users often want to retrieve files with recent changes. Norton Utilities' deleted file protection feature helps with this frustrating issue.

Norton's file protection replaces the NT 4.0 Recycle Bin. The feature also augments Windows' usual file protection by monitoring all disk activity and taking proactive steps to prevent data loss. For instance, the Windows Recycle Bin does not protect against overwritten files, nor does it protect files you delete in DOS. Norton Utilities provides protection in both cases.

When you install the software, Norton replaces the Recycle Bin program with its UnErase wizard. To recover a deleted or overwritten file, click the Recycle Bin. The UnErase wizard prompts you for information (i.e., a filename, which can include wildcards), processes your information, and displays a restorable files list. You merely select the files you want to restore, and click Restore.

A drawback of Norton Utilities NT is that it excludes undelete capabilities for client systems that share files. You cannot let users undelete if you install Norton Utilities on an NT server, nor if users store files in their home directory on the server. System administrators must perform the undelete. It would be nice if Norton provided a client program to interact with the appropriate Norton directories and undelete files.

Using the Unerase wizard takes fine-tuning to get it working properly. If you simply set up Norton Utilities with its default settings on a typical BackOffice server and tell the software to monitor all your drives, you collect hundreds of unwanted deleted files.

These files include temporary files created by BackOffice components such as Exchange Server, work files created by Systems Management Server (SMS), and user files created when you establish user profiles. In other words, if you don't properly configure the Unprotect feature, the software protects a lot of useless temporary files.

To configure the software, click the Recycle Bin and then click Properties. A dialog box appears, showing the disk drives on which you enabled Norton Protection. Tabs designate the number of drives. On a drive-by-drive basis, you can control the deleted files' retention period. If you have a system drive and a user drive, for example, you can set the system drive's retention to two days, but set the user drive's to five days.

Also on a drive-by-drive basis, you can tell the software the maximum amount of disk space to allocate toward recovering deleted files. On a busy file server, you might allocate 10 percent to 20 percent of the disk to this function. However, if you're short on space, you might allocate only 5 percent and reduce the deleted file retention period to two days.

When you make changes to Norton Protection, do not panic when you see the message "Initializing drive X:". The first time I saw this message, my heart almost stopped. Even though I knew (or hoped I knew) that Norton wouldn't be performing a format on the drive, I couldn't understand why Symantec picked that particular phrase. Perhaps the phrase "Initializing Protection on Drive X:" is more appropriate?

Interactive Updates
Live Update is new technology that lets you automatically update Symantec's products. It tracks the software and warns you when certain components expire. For example, virus definition files expire every 35 days. When the components are about to expire, the software automatically connects to the Web, or to the Live Update servers, and installs the updates. (Although Norton Utilities isn't a virus protection program, it includes a basic virus scan sensor.)

To use Live Update, you must have either a direct Internet connection or a modem and a phone line to directly contact the Symantec update site. When you use the Internet, the software establishes a connection to a remote FTP site. When you use a phone line, the software automatically dials out on your modem to one of several centralized global update facilities.

Unfortunately, the technology that Live Update uses to make a connection performs erratically. While I was testing the feature, for example, my NT server had a modem available only for dial out. Luckily, I opted to preview the preset telephone number. It was a telephone number in the Netherlands, even though I live in the United States. At 2 p.m. on a weekday, the update's cost would have exceeded the cost of the original software!

Inexpensive Protection
Symantec produces a winner with Norton Utilities for Windows NT 4.0. The time saved simply by using file protection quickly pays for the software. For additional information, and a free trial of the Speed Disk component of Norton Utilities, visit Symantec's Web site.

Norton Utilities 2.0 for Windows NT
Contact: Symantec * 541 334-6054 or 800-441-7234
Web: http://www.symantec.com
Price: $99