Author: Joe Duroux
Date: December 1992
Keywords: software utility review suitcase program
Text: Good things are coming in larger and larger packages these days. Major applications include more features, occupy more storage, and use more RAM. A variation of Parkinson's law: software expands to fill the available space. Utilities are expanding in a different way. Their major developers are writing more utilities, merging, and buying the works of independent devel-opers. The utilities are being sold in larger and larger collections. One collection of seven utilities that I bought recently is AlSoft Power Utilities. I bought it in lieu of upgrading both DiskExpress II and Suitcase II. AlSoft Power Utilities includes DiskExpress II and MasterJuggler, which is roughly equivalent to Suitcase II. Some reviewers prefer MasterJuggler and some prefer Suitcase II. I find them about equal for my purposes. I expected to find some of the other utilities useful as well, and I wasn't disappointed. The utilities are all consistent with the Mac interface. Most of them are useful only with a hard disk. As far as I can tell, all of the utilities are fully compatible with System 7. They support all System 7 features that are meaningful for the tasks that they perform. They have no need for features like Publish/Subscribe and Inter-Application Communication, but they support balloon help and they always operate in the background, even with earlier system versions. MenuExtend works only with System 7. 1. DiskExpress II (v 2.11) DiskExpress was the original disk optimizer, about as old as Mac hard disks. It has been upgraded many times, at one point having "II" added to its name. I have been using one version or another for more than five years. The most important part of optimizing a disk is defragmentation. When a file is written to a disk, it occupies a number of whole sectors that do not necessarily form a contiguous block. In general, it occupies the lowest numbered sectors that are unused at the time. As files are deleted, unused sectors become available amid the current files. As new files are written, or existing files are expanded, they may occupy sectors that are widely separated from each other. The disk directory keeps track of all the fragments of a file and tells the read-write head where to go to find them all. As the files on a disk are changed in repeated use, many of them become very fragmented. The read-write head has to seek repeatedly to read or modify a single file. The obvious result is increasingly slower disk operation. Defragmentation rearranges files into contiguous blocks. This process can take a long time, especially if the disk is almost full. Beyond defragmentation, DiskExpress II can monitor the use of files and arrange them into larger blocks according to their frequency of use. The more frequently used blocks are placed together at the front of the disk space. Thus the read-write head doesn't have very far to move among them, even when some of them become fragmented. The less frequently used files are at the other end of the disk, and the free space is in between. If you want the free space to be at the back of the disk, just turn off monitoring before you optimize. There are other optimizers, but I don't know of any that have the flexibility of DiskExpress II. You can have it optimize auto-matically in the background, choosing an optimization index (level of optimization) that will trigger it, but not more than once a day. You can block out times of day when it can and can't start. You can even set it to operate only when the battery charger is connected (If you have a Portable or a PowerBook). Most users, including me, prefer not to use the automatic feature, but you may want to try it and decide for yourself. One of the nice features of DiskExpress II is Volume Info, which provides graphic and numerical fragmentation information about any mounted disk. I check my disks occasionally and optimize manually when I think it is needed. I just pick a time when I want to take a break. Manual optimization is not done in the background; the progress is displayed in large numbers and the process may be stopped at any stage. A disk optimizer is something that every hard disk user should have. There are others, included in other utility packages, and I've tried a couple. They are simpler and faster but less thorough. DiskExpress II has every feature you could want, and it has proven to be very reliable. I recommend it. 2. MasterJuggler (v 1.57c) For most users of System 6 (or earlier), MasterJuggler is extremely useful. It enables the user to activate and deactivate sets of four types of resources (fonts, DAs, sounds, or Fkeys) without installing them in the system file. (If you don't know what an Fkey is, you don't need to know.) The Font/DA Mover must still be used to group the fonts and DAs into "suitcase files" (named after their icons). An Fkey/Sound Mover (included) does the same for the other two resource types. But once the resource files are assembled, the Movers aren't needed except to change the files or to make new ones. MasterJuggler itself is a Desk Accessory that is used to activate and deactivate the resource files. It can also do things like viewing the lists of resources and seeing what the fonts look like. It can even compress and decompress the resource files that are not active. And it includes additional utilities that can rename and renumber resources, resolve resource ID number conflicts, and do other esoteric manipulations. MasterJuggler is less useful under System 7. DAs act like applications, and either can be installed in the Apple Menu by simply dragging them into the Apple Menu Items folder. And the other resources can be activated (deactivated) by simply dragging them into (out of) the system file. The Movers aren't needed in System 7. But MasterJuggler is still convenient for activating fonts or sounds in groups without putting them into the system file, which keeps the system file relatively small. In particular, if you use bit mapped fonts in specified sizes for screen display, each font will be a group of sizes (plus outline versions for printing). Selecting and dragging groups is a nuisance. The MasterJuggler interface is convenient for viewing and manipulating groups of fonts. For System 6 users, I definitely recommend it (or Suitcase II). For System 7 users, I don't necessarily recommend buying it by itself, but I do recommend using it if you buy the whole Power Utilities package. 3. MultiDisk (v 1.28) MultiDisk is a soft partitioner. Some hard disk users feel that hard partitioning is the only way to go. Hard partitions act like separate drives in almost every respect. But changing them, except in very limited ways, requires reinitial-izing the entire disk. The partitioning is part of the initialization. Soft partitions act like separate drives in some ways and like folders in other ways. They do not require reinitialization. MultiDisk is about as flexible as one has a right to expect. Partitions can be created and deleted almost as folders are, except that (changeable) sizes must be specified. Deletion erases all information within the partition. A partition can be enlarged to the extent that free space is available or reduced to the extent that no information is erased. Partitions can be created within other partitions. The interface is very friendly as a desk accessory. The partitions act like drives in most important ways. They display disk icons on the desktop, and files or folders dragged from one to another are duplicated rather than just being moved. They are also treated as drives by most applications and utilities, and in the Open and Save-As dialog boxes. They can be mounted (opened) and dismounted (closed), locked, and password protected without additional software. Fragmentation (and optimization) of files in a partition occurs only within that partition. But a partition's space is also shown as part of the parent disk. The space is anchored in a particular location on the parent disk when the partition is open, but it can be moved by DiskExpress II when it is closed. This property is useful because a partition's space can be fragmented when it is created. If it is then closed before optimization, it will be defragmented and repositioned by DiskExpress II. This is one occasion for manual optimization of the parent disk, even if you normally use automatic optimization. But there are some ways in which a MultiDisk partition is not treated as a separate drive. For curiosity, I tried to install virtual memory on a MultiDisk partition. The Memory control panel recognizes the partition as a drive and allows virtual space to be assigned to it "After restart," but restarting the computer does not install the virtual memory. The Memory dialog box remains unchanged with the memory still assigned "After restart." I have heard that a hard partition can be used for virtual memory. Apparently a MultiDisk partition can't. I am tentatively using MultiDisk on my new external (170M) drive instead of reinitializing it with hard partitions. I have also created a small MultiDisk partition for data files on the internal (40M) drive in my IIsi (5M RAM). So far they have been working well, and MultiDisk and DiskExpress II seem to work well together. I think that MultiDisk is about as good a soft partition utility as you will find. 4. MenuExtend (v 1.00) This little gem makes the System 7 Apple menu hierarchical. When you drag down to an Apple menu item, if it is a folder, a list of the items in the folder will appear to the right of the Apple menu. If you then drag over to a folder in that list, a list of that folder's items will appear further to the right, and so on. When you release the mouse button on any item, that item is opened, whether it is a folder or an individual file. If any list in the sequence is too long to fit below its parent item, part of it appears above the parent item. If the entire list is too long for the screen, a scroll triangle appears at the bottom. If there is not enough room for a list to the right of its parent list, it appears to the left. You have the option of having all folders in a list appear at the top, or all at the bottom, or intermixed with individual files (alphabetically). MenuExtend is similar to utilities in other packages like HAND-Off II, or under other names like HAM. It is a very popular item. I like it. 5. DiskCheck (v 1.10) Two important kinds of disk damage are software damage to the directory and hardware damage to the magnetic surface. DiskCheck can check a floppy or hard disk or a partition to determine whether either type of error is present. It can also repair certain types of damage. Similar functions are performed by other utilities like Apple's Disk First Aid and within Norton Utilities and Central Point MacTools. I have tried DiskCheck. I like its interface, and its diagnostics seem to work well. It's difficult for an individual to evaluate repair capabilities. Repairs aren't needed very often, and not all disks can be repaired. Most users like to have several repair utilities to hedge their bets. If one doesn't work, another might. Disk First Aid comes with the Mac, and every Mac user should have at least one other. 6. ScreenEclipse (v 1.0.1) ScreenEclipse is a screen saver. It is not a toy. No swimming fish. No Star bursts. No bouncing balls. No distractions at all. The screen just dims to a user-selected level which can be completely dark. That's the setting that I use. There are plenty of indications that the computer is still on. Yes, I know that I could use the contrast control on my monitor, but that isn't automatic, doesn't make the screen completely dark, and would eventually wear out the control. ScreenEclipse has the usual selectable time before dimming and corner positions for the cursor to dim the screen immediately or to make it stay on. It doesn't occupy a lot of space on the disk and uses very little RAM. And it doesn't interfere with any other software. I got rid of After Dark. 7. DiskFlash (v 1.0.1) DiskFlash is a disk activity indicator. When any disk is being accessed, a small disk icon can be made to flash at the very end of the menu bar. Either end may be chosen, or different ends chosen for reading and for writing activity. I guess there are times when some users need to know how much time their disks are taking to do things. I have it installed, but I don't find it really useful. But it doesn't take up much storage or use much memory or slow down the computer. Maybe some of you will find it useful. As a total package, I give AlSoft Power Utilities a high grade. I find all but one of the utilities very useful, and some are among the best of their kinds on the market. One manual covers all the utilities. It is well organized and reasonably easy to follow. I have version 1.0.1. Version 1.0.2 is now available at a street price around $62 (suggested retail $129). At that price I definitely recommend it. AlSoft, Inc., P.O. Box 927, Spring TX 77383-0927.
Copyright © December 1992 by Joe Duroux