Some Windows users like to buy all-in-one utility suites, but you can do better by choosing separate utilities for each job you want done.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Finding the best free utility software for Windows, Part 1

Jan. 6, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   The "poor relations" in the extended family of computer software are programs called utilities. This week and next we'll take a look at ways you can make Windows smarter by using utility programs you can get free on the Internet.
   A utility is a program that fills a special need. It might do only one thing, such as rename a lot of files all at once, or it might have many functions. A disk utility, for example, might get rid of unwanted files, clean up directories and place common files next to each other for faster access.
   Some Windows users like to buy all-in-one utility suites, but I believe you can do better by choosing separate utilities for each job you want done. A big advantage to this method is that you can put together a huge collection of utilities for free. Suites, on the other hand, are nearly always commercial software, costing as much as $100.
   We'll start with utilities you might not know about. All are free.
   ZIP extractor: 7-Zip from www.7-zip.org. You need a way to open ZIP files, the "containers" for most downloads of Windows software. While Windows sometimes has its own way of opening ZIPs, it's seldom as good as what you get with 7-Zip.
   File manager: Servant Salamander 1.52 from www.altap.cz/download.html. Servant Sal, as I've always called this utility, has been on every one of my Windows PCs since the mid-'90s. It does everything the Windows Explorer does -- file copying and moving, deletion, program launching, file sorting and so on -- with a much easier to use interface. Important: Be sure to get version 1.52. It's an old version, before Sal was messed up by "improvements."
   Secure deletion: Shred from www.analogx.com/contents/download/system/shred.htm or Eraser 5.84 from www.heidi.ie/eraser/download.php. Both programs obliterate the contents of files by deleting them and writing a lot of nonsense characters over the top of them, many times. They take different approaches, but I like them both.
   File recovery: Roadkil's Unstoppable Copier from www.roadkil.net/unstopcp.html. Don't let the strange name and even stranger spelling keep you from trying this great little utility. It will copy files from just about any source -- especially CDs that have started to go bad. And you can't beat the price.
   Defragger: Auslogics Disk Defrag, from www.auslogics.com/disk-defrag/index.php. Disk drives have a tough life, and it's even tougher when their files are broken into a zillion scattered pieces. A defragger fixes the problem. You need a good one, which means you need more than what Windows gives you. This is one of the best.
   Control over system startup: Startup Control Panel from www.mlin.net/StartupCPL.shtml. Windows bogs down when it's told to launch a lot of programs each time Windows starts up. Some of them might be OK, but others probably aren't. This utility lets you choose which programs are OK.
   Screen capture: Capture from www.analogx.com/contents/download/system/capture.htm. You can always grab a screen shot by pressing the Print Screen key, but this free utility makes it easier to get what you want.
   Screen zoom: Zoomit from www.microsoft.com/technet/sysinternals/Miscellaneous/ZoomIt.mspx. Macs have zoomable screens, and now you can do the same with Windows.
   Number conversion: Julius from http://pcwin.com/Audio/Julius/index.htm. This fun utility converts Roman numerals to Arabic numbers or vice versa.
   Next week: Heavy-duty utilities to battle viruses and other bad stuff, all free.