Shared Interests II (Part 2)
Shareware & Public Domain software
Continuing our investigation into what's happening in the public domain, Ian Waugh proves that good software is even better when it's shared.
Continuing his trawl through the shoals of Shareware and Public Domain software ready to be netted by anyone with a few quid in their pocket, Ian Waugh takes a timely look at a few utilities that could save you a lot of time...
Treading the Shareware trail is an addictive adventure. You never know what gem you'll find in the next program you download or on the next disk you receive. For more information and a full introduction to the world of Shareware and Public Domain software, check out the feature in last month's MT - if you haven't already done so. If you have, there's just a couple more things you need to know about - viruses and file compression.
Most computer users will be aware that viruses exist, although the chances are very few will have actually experienced one. A computer virus is nothing organic but a program designed to attach itself to your disks and run when you start another program.
Some can be very destructive and delete files or even reformat your disk. Others are more benign and may simply cause a message to pop up on your screen. All, however, are written by cretins and constitute a real nuisance which needs to be avoided if at all possible.
Viruses spread by attaching themselves to files so when you copy a disk or download an infected file from a bulletin board you also get the virus. To avoid viruses you need an anti-virus utility. These will scan disks and file for viruses, report any they recognise and offer to remove it.
There are several virus checkers for most computers and any Shareware library or bulletin board service will have a list and recommend some to you. There are also commercial virus checkers, some of which are included in disk utility packages (which we'll be looking at very soon), but for the average user a Shareware checker should be adequate.
If you do detect a virus, do the decent thing and report it to the source of the file or disk immediately to prevent it spreading further. All reputable Shareware libraries and bulletin boards check files for viruses before they release them.
I must, however, put things into perspective here: I install dozens of files on my computers every week and I'm only aware of having caught one virus. That was a benign one on the ST some four or five years ago. However, it doesn't take long to scan each new disk or file you receive and it will give you peace of mind. But be sure to update your virus checker regularly.
Transferring files by phone takes time and as time is money, computer users developed file compression utilities to reduce the size of the data they transfer. Archivers, as they are known, can also wrap up several files in one compressed file or archive, simplifying the transfer process even more.
File compression has now become such a part of everyday computer use that commercial utilities have appeared which compress data 'on-the-fly', allowing you to store forty or fifty percent more data on your hard disk. Although this kind of compression probably works fine for most people, if your machine goes down at an inopportune moment it could do something nasty to your data or application. Personally, I'd rather spend money on a larger hard disk than skimp and use on-the-fly compression. Such utilities are bound to slow your machine down, too.
That said, I do often use compression utils to archive data I hope I'm not going to need, but don't want to wipe just in case. (Incidentally, the compression routine built into DOS 6, DoubleSpace, has been widely reported to be bugged so use it at your peril.)
There are several file compression programs. The most popular for the PC are PKZip, LHarc and ARJ. For the Mac there are Compactor, Stuffit and the commercial Disk Doubler. There is also a Mac version of PKZip called ZipIt. The ST uses ARC and LHarc, and also has a version of PKZip called STZip.
Most compressors can produce self-extracting archives; you simply run the archive program and the files it contains are regurgitated onto your disk. However, self-extracting archives are slightly larger than non-extracting ones and many bulletin boards and libraries simply use non-extracting archives on the assumption that most users will have the necessary utilities. So the moral of the story is to make sure you have the decompression utilities you need.
Anyway, let's see what sort of stuff is out there. I'm going to kick off with some oldies but goodies, proggies which you really should get if you don't have them already, which will make your computing life easier.
I couldn't live without Super Boot on my ST. It lets you configure your system during the boot procedure. For example, it's possible to select which accessories to load and which Auto programs to run, and to choose from a number of different Desktop.Inf files. If you're really into customisation you can select a Welcome screen and make your ST play a digitised sound. It also has a password option.
One particularly nice feature is the ability to select one of several different configurations by pressing a function key. Use this when you change from one resolution to another, to select different accessories for different programs and to boot up with no accessories loaded to save memory or to test a program which seems to be conflicting with a DA.
Another essential ST util is the Little Green Selector. It's an alternative file selector to Atari's rather minimal affair. It lets you sort files by name, extension, size or date and you can enter a number of preset pathnames and extensions common to the applications you regularly use. It also gives you the ability to change the extension quickly. When you attempt to load a Standard MIDI File, for example, the Atari file selector will show *.MID at the end of the path and only files with a MID extension will appear in the selector box. LGS lets you quickly substitute another extension making it easy to check if there are any SNG, SON, PAT or DRM files there.
Another util I can't do without is Mouse Accelerator. This increases the 'sensitivity' of the mouse, effectively making it faster, and reducing the amount of hand movement required to move the cursor a certain distance on screen.
There are hundreds of Shareware utilities for the Mac. However, you have to be careful not to overload your system because not only do they consume RAM, they can also have an adverse reaction with applications. In other words, they can cause crashes!
Super Clock simply puts a clock in the top right of the menu bar. Well, it shows me the time when I look up at the screen without having to look at my watch [...must save you minutes over a lifetime - Ed], It includes a stopwatch facility and an alarm so you need never be late for an appointment again. Another small-but-goody is Disk Light which flashes a small disk icon in the left or right of the menu bar when reading and writing to a disk. If you have a Mac which doesn't always show when it's accessing a disk, Disk Light will let you know what it's up to and reassure you that it hasn't gone to sleep.
SCSI Probe is another essential utility if you have any SCSI devices such as an external hard disk or a CD-ROM. It checks the SCSI bus and will mount a device, saving you the trouble of having to switch off and reboot. It also serves as a useful check that the devices you think are connected really are connected.
I must admit I don't use so many utilities with my PC. With installing and removing so much hardware and software - and being left with gigabytes of obscure files clogging up my system - I don't want to give the thing any more chance of crashing than it already has. I do occasionally run a few TSRs and I do, of course, use none-TSR utilities, so I'll mention a few which you may find useful...
Hot Spot lets you select a corner of the screen which will instantly activate your screen saver and a corner which will prevent it. No password, though. FreeMem, on the other hand, puts up a little window showing the amount of free memory you have - never would have guessed, would you? - which is useful for checking if any application is hogging more than its share.
File DeDuplicator is a brilliant program which searches for duplicate files on your hard disk and offers you the chance to delete them. It not only searches for files with the same name but also files which are the same size or which have identical contents. It can help free up some disk space and unclog your system.
Anyway, that's all for now. Next month we'll look at a few of the music programs out there.
Feature by Ian Waugh
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