Windows pain? Call a Handyman

Software: PC Handyman
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Considering that Windows 95 has diagnostic utilities such as Scandisk and Disk Defragmenter built in, it might be fair to wonder why there is such a market for third-party software, such as Symantec's PC Handyman, that promises to fix your Windows 95 system before it grinds to a halt.

Partly, it's Microsoft's own fault. Scandisk and Disk Defragmenter are helpful tools, but the pitiful manual that comes with Windows 95 does not do much to sing their praises - or even suggest that it might be a good idea to use them routinely.

Where PC Handyman comes into its own is that once installed it runs in the background and uses its own tools to look after your system on a regular basis. At preset intervals it scans your hard disk and automatically fixes any faults it finds. It checks your memory and drives for viruses.

If you have ever been plagued by Windows 95 telling you that there are registry errors, and to restart your computer to clear them, you will appreciate the way PC Handyman sorts out the registry without any effort on your part.

Where the package really scores is in its ability to make rescue disks. Windows 95 will make a rescue disk, ostensibly to get you on your feet in case of a major system meltdown. But it amounts to no more than a disk which will boot you into DOS and do nothing to restore a mangled Windows. PC Handyman, on the other hand, generates a set of two or three floppies which, in a worst-case scenario, will rebuild Windows without you having to reinstall it from scratch. For beginners, it is probably worth the purchase price just for this facility.

It is not the solution to everything, though. Its "knowledgebase", where it attempts to answer questions you might have about Windows 95, is simplistic and not as helpful to beginners as many of the books on sale.

It is not infallible, either. I tried it on a system with an incorrectly installed mouse, which should have been picked up but was not.

More worryingly, that particular machine's hard drive was on the edge of oblivion (it failed totally two hours after PC Handyman was installed), but the software didn't recognise the severity of the problem - it merely crashed itself when it tried to read the damaged parts of the drive. Generally, the software performs well and unobtrusively, reassuringly so for those who don't want to get involved in the technicalities of system maintenance. But if your system is in really bad shape, it is best not to have too great expectations

PC Handyman, pounds 49 (Symantec, 0800 526459). System requirements: IBM-PC or 100 per cent compatible, Windows 95, Intel 486 DX or higher, 8Mb of RAM (12Mb recommended), 15Mb free hard disk space, 2 x CD-Rom, 16-bit sound board, 256 Colour VGA or higher video.

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