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Essential Mac Tools

Fifteen Utilities Sure to Keep You and Your Mac Working at Peak Efficiency

By Franklin Tessler

Your Mac is the power tool you use every day. The one you rely on to get your work done. The one you simply can't live without. But if it's breaking or not working at peak efficiency, your work suffers. Whether you need to manage a stable of unruly fonts or repair an ailing hard drive, there are special software tools, called utilities, that can restore your Mac–your most essential tool–to good health. And even if your Macintosh isn't broken, you'll need at least some of these utilities on hand to make your computer work as efficiently as possible.

To help you assemble your tool kit of Mac utilities, we looked at more than 35 commercial products and picked 15 of the very best for making your Mac happy as well as for fixing it when it's broken. Read on to find fixes to almost all your Mac's problems.


"Work Faster and Smarter"
  Find Files Faster
  Automate Routine Tasks
  Create Easy Shortcuts

"Supercharge Your System"
  Speed Up Your Old Mac
  Organize Your Hard DIsk
  Better Virtual Memory

"Safeguard Your Computer"
  Defend Against Disease
  Keeping Out Peeping Toms
  The Last Word

"Manage Resources and Prevent Data Loss"
  Manage Your Fonts
  Repair Damaged Directories
  Doctor Your Mac
  Avoid File Discord

"Share Files Gracefully"
  Compress Your Files
  Translate Unreadable Files
  Run Windows on Your Mac

If the programs here don't solve your problems, there may be another utility that does. (See the sidebar "Utility ROUNDUP.")

August 1999 page: 74

Disk Express Pro scans your hard drive for fragmented files and puts them back together so your computer can access them faster. Disk Express works in the foreground or automatically in the background, and it lets you specify exactly how you want your files organized. Although the change may not be noticeable for most people, periodic defragmentation is worthwhile if you work with digital video or any other application that demands peak disk performance. 281/353-4090 $89.95 4.5 mice PROS: Flexible optimization options; works in the foreground or the background.
CONS: Expensive.

If you hate to sit idly while your Mac starts up, Casady&Greene's Speed Startup may be just what you've been waiting for. As its name implies, Speed Startup shortens boot time by helping startup files load more quickly. The speed boost is variable depending on the power of your Mac; but Casady&Greene claims much greater savings on RAM-loaded PowerBooks. And even the slightest improvement may be worth it if your Mac is crash-prone and you have to reboot often. 831/484-9228 $19.95 3.5 mice PROS: Transparent.
CONS: Time saving may be minimal for some users.

If there's one utility you really can't afford to be without, this is it. Conflict Catcher 8 lets you manage your Mac's startup files--including extensions, control panels, fonts, control strip modules, Apple menu items, and assorted plug-ins. When you install or replace your system software, Conflict Catcher's Clean-Install System Merge feature automatically displays a list of files that need to be transferred to the new System Folder. If you've ever struggled with a manual system update, this feature alone is worth the asking price. 831/484-9228 $79.95 5.0 mice PROS: Customizes sets of startup files; simplifies system updates.
CONS: None.

RAM Doubler 8 lets you effectively double or even triple the amount of memory in your Mac by using physical RAM more efficiently. (On Power Macs, RAM Doubler also reduces the memory requirements for native applications.) While enhancements to the Mac OS and falling memory prices have made RAM Doubler much less compelling than it used to be, it's worth considering if you own an older Mac that's difficult to upgrade. 650/571-5100 $45 4.0 mice PROS: Stable; reduces RAM requirements for native applications.
CONS: Real memory often costs less.

Although it won't really make your Mac twice as fast, Speed Doubler provides a tangible benefit when copying numerous files. And network copying can be as much as three or four times faster. When copying folders, Speed Doubler's Smart Replace feature saves even more time by only transferring changed items. Folder synchronization, automated file copying, enhanced disk caching, and a simple, but functional macro capability, round out Speed Doubler's feature set. 650/571-5100 $55 4.0 mice PROS: Faster network copies; smart replace feature saves time.
CONS: Most applications don't benefit from speed boost.

Virtual PC does a remarkably effective job of making your Mac look and act like a PC running Windows--it'll run most PC-only software without a hitch. But since Virtual PC works by making your Mac emulate a real Pentium processor, it's much slower than the real thing. Still, Virtual PC is worth considering if you only have to run the occasional PC application. 650/571-5100 $179 3.5 mice PROS: Runs most PC software.
CONS: Much slower than a real PC.

The first time you use it, ATM Deluxe builds a database of all the fonts on your hard drive. Then, you can activate and deactivate fonts as needed, so applications work faster and use less memory. ATM Deluxe also lets you work with documents that include fonts missing from your hard drive by simulating typefaces using a special multiple master font. (Version 4.5, which is bundled Adobe Type Reunion Deluxe 2.5, should be shipping by the time you read this.) 408/536-6000 $99.95 4.0 mice PROS: Saves memory; font substitution.
CONS: Font list type and point size can't be adjusted.

If your font menus are too cluttered for you to handle, then it's time to consider a font manager like Adobe Type Reunion. To begin with, ATR makes font menus more manageable by sorting your fonts into families, with submenus to display styles and weights. ATR also lets you display recently-used fonts at the top of the menu for easy access. And, if you have a hard time remembering what you last used "Malarkey Sans" for, ATR lets you give fonts any name you prefer. (ATM Deluxe 4.5, which should be shipping by the time you read this, is now bundled with ATR Deluxe 2.5.) 408/536-6000 $60 3.0 mice PROS: Arranges fonts for easy access; customized font names.
CONS: Minimal manual.

Unless you're fastidious, your hard drive is probably chock full of stuff that you don't need anymore. Like a digital cleanup crew, Spring Cleaning lets you scan your disk for unwanted items such as duplicate files or orphaned aliases. Alas, Spring Cleaning can't read your mind; you still have to tell it how to handle whatever it finds, whether sending files to the trash or archiving them using Stuffit. Experienced users will probably benefit more than novices, who may find the cleanup process a bit overwhelming. 831/761-6200 $49.95 3.5 mice PROS: Dramatically improved interface; smarter than before.
CONS: Some options are illogical; not for beginners.

Aladdin's Stuffit Deluxe lets you work with encoded and compressed files in a variety of popular formats, including Stuffit (.sit), Zip (.zip), UU (.uu), BinHex (.hqx), and MacBinary (.bin). And, even if you don't send files over the Internet, compressed files use less disk space. Although Stuffit Deluxe 5.0 was hobbled by several bugs, including poor performance and incompatibility with previous versions, subsequent updates have addressed most of the problems with the initial release. (If you don't need all of Stuffit Deluxe's features, Aladdin's DropStuff supports fewer formats for $40 less. And Stuffit Expander--available free on Aladdin's web site--provides basic file expansion capabilities.) 831/761-6200 $79.95 3.5 mice PROS: Creates smaller files than previous versions.
CONS: Previous versions incompatible with new file format.

If your disk's directory is corrupted, you might be unable to access any of your data, even if it's still intact. Fortunately, DiskWarrior can repair damaged directories and restore your drive's health. By running DiskWarrior on a regular basis, you can detect and repair problems before they get too big to handle. In addition to keeping your data safe, DiskWarrior can also speed data access by optimizing your disk's directory. 281/353-4090 $69.95 4.0 mice PROS: Excellent interface.
CONS: Only repairs directory damage.

MasterJuggler helps you take control of unruly font collections by letting your organize fonts--all the typefaces needed for a project, for example--into sets. Unfortunately, like any files, MasterJuggler sets are easy to misplace, and you can't rename or delete them. On the plus side, MasterJuggler lets you open and close font sets and individual fonts by drag-and-drop, and it ships with a handy utility that lets you renumber fonts. MasterJuggler also checks for missing or corrupted font files, and it provides a comprehensive explanation when it detects a problem. 281/353-4090 $89.95 3.0 mice PROS: Detects corrupt or missing fonts; useful font tools.
CONS: More awkward than other font managers.

Apple's HFS Plus disk format, also known as Mac OS Extended, uses disk space much more efficiently than the previous version--upgrading to HFS Plus can recover hundreds of megabytes of wasted space. Unfortunately, to convert an existing disk to the new format, you have to back up, reformat, and restore the drive--a tedious process that can take hours to complete. Alsoft's PlusMaker lets you convert disks without all the hassle, and it works on any Mac OS storage media. 281/353-4090 $29.95 3.0 mice PROS: Much faster than reinitializing and restoring manually.
CONS: Ships on floppy.

Font Reserve takes an alternative approach to font management by organizing your fonts in a specialized database. A Finder-like browser lets you view and sort your fonts according to multiple criteria, and a comprehensive preview function lets you display fonts in any point size. You can activate fonts temporarily or permanently, and Font Reserve's font activation feature automatically activates any font when you open a document that contains it. Although it's expensive, Font Reserve is the most powerful Mac font manager you can buy. 415/381-3303 $119.95 4.5 mice PROS: Comprehensive, easy font management.
CONS: Expensive.

FWB's Hard Disk ToolKit offers an alternative to Apple's Drive Setup, which usually doesn't work with third-party drives. HDT lets you format and partition almost any SCSI or IDE drive, as well as installing drivers and testing drives for errors. It also includes built-in support for creating striped, spanned, and mirrored RAID arrays. Although HDT's security functions are flawed--you have to specify a password for every partition on a drive, for example--it's a worthwhile investment if you maintain non-Apple drives. 415-345-4300 $199 3.0 mice PROS: Reliable driver; supports SCSI Disk Mode; integrates RAID features.
CONS: Interface lacks cohesion; weak security features.

Many software installers add fonts to your System Folder, so it's not uncommon to have hundreds of fonts on a hard drive. Unfortunately, corrupt or mismatched fonts can cause inconsistent printing or crashes. FontAgent verifies the integrity of all the fonts on your hard drive and looks for duplicated or mismatched fonts. Results are displayed in a small, fixed-size window that lets you choose to repair any problems that FontAgent finds. FontAgent also organizes your fonts in a library, complete with new suitcases based on font family. 760/804-9900 $29.95 3.0 mice PROS: Easy to use; repairs font problems automatically.
CONS: Small, fixed-size window is hard to read.

Keeping track of the constant stream of updates to system software, control panels, extensions, and applications can be a nightmare. UpdateAgent makes it easy to stay current by letting you know about newly-available updates. The online version lets you download updaters from Insider's server over the internet; the CD version includes 1.3GB of the most recent updaters. Prices range from $9.95 for a one-time update to $249.95 for one year's worth of quarterly CD-based updates (the CD versions also include online access). 760/804-9900 Depends on options. 3.5 mice PROS: Simple interface; small memory requirement.
CONS: Doesn't provide detailed information about available updates.

MicroMat's TechTool Pro is a general-purpose utility that combines disk maintenance, repair, and defragmentation functions with diagnostic tests that check everything from your computer's video memory to the integrity of your system software. If TechTool Pro finds something wrong, it tells you exactly what the problem is and what to do about it. TechTool Pro offers three different interfaces to match your experience level. Even at the higher levels, TechTool Pro's interface is admirably intuitive, and its technical advice is lucid and thorough. 707/837-8012 $150 4.0 mice PROS: Three user levels; offers plain advice.
CONS: Some tests are of limited value.

Once the undisputed king of repair utilities, Symantec's Norton Utilities for the Macintosh has faced strong challenges from such competing products as MicroMat's TechTool Pro. And Symantec's premature release of a problem-ridden 4.0 upgrade (see Reviews, January 1999) didn't help. Since then, Symantec has remedied some-but not all-of 4.0's shortcomings with a series of maintenance upgrades. Despite its problems, though, NUM sports several strong features, including an excellent disk optimization module. And, as with most repair utilities, some users report that NUM took care of problems that other products couldn't handle. 408/253-9600 $99.95 3.0 mice PROS: Updated for HFS Plus; improved Speed Disk performance; PowerPC native.
CONS: Performance problems; interface has significant rough spots; 680X0 Macs no longer supported.

Norton AntiVirus, a major upgrade to Symantec's Norton AntiVirus for Macintosh, provides automatic background virus checking that notifies you whenever it detects suspicious activity. A powerful scheduling function also lets you program NAV to scan volumes on specified days and times. Symantec posts free monthly virus definition updates that you can download from its web site. To save you the hassle of constantly checking for updates, NAV's LiveUpdate feature automatically downloads them from Symantec's servers. Unfortunately, these transfers are rather slow. Despite a few rough edges, though, you can't afford to be without the insurance that NAV offers. 408/253-9600 $89 3.5 mice PROS: Straightforward interface; scheduling function.
CONS: Slow update feature.

MacMedic combines the functions of several disk maintenance and recovery utilities in one, easy-to-use package. In addition to providing basic diagnostic and repair functions, MacMedic lets you defragment and backup your drives (alas, it won't backup to volumes that cannot be mounted on the desktop.) MacMedic even includes an application called SpaceMaker that converts standard HFS disks to the newer HFS Plus format. A handy system configuration function scans your hard drive and lets you know if your software is up-to-date. 719/380-1616 $99.95 3.5 mice PROS: Straightforward interface; converts disks to HFS Plus.
CONS: Only backs up to mountable volumes.

ASD Software's FileGuard lets you lock any rewritable volume with a password that prevents unauthorized access; you can't cheat by restarting with the shift key pressed or by booting from an alternative startup disk. FileGuard also lets you limit individual users' access to particular days and times, and you can prevent them from inserting floppies or erasing files. For maximum security, you can encode files using four different encryption algorithms; encrypted documents can only be read by entering the correct password. 909/624-2594 $149 4.0 mice PROS: Easy to use; unobtrusive.
CONS: Slow on older Macs.

Virex provides robust anti-viral protection without being too obtrusive. The control panel interface offers multiple preference settings, including the ability to automatically scan downloaded files, and an option to suppress scanning until the next restart. Virex also lets you schedule scans for any specified date and time. Network Associates provides regular virus definition updates on its web site, but you have to locate and download them manually. 408/988-3832 $69.95 3.0 mice PROS: Unobtrusive.
CONS: Large RAM requirement; no automated updates.

Binary Software's KeyQuencer offers an inexpensive solution for automating your Mac using a powerful scripting language. The latest release sports dozens of new commands, including one that lets you go to any web or FTP site with a single keystroke. KeyQuencer's major drawbacks are its continued reliance on programming to create macros, and its lack of support for automatically translating a sequence of user actions into a macro. But, if you don't mind doing a little programming, KeyQuencer will let you automate tasks that other macro utilities can't handle. 310/449-1481 $49.95 3.0 mice PROS: Useful Internet commands; low memory overhead.
CONS: Requires programming.

Even if you have thousands of files on your hard drive, you probably don't use more than a handful of them every day. Square One lets you access the programs, documents, folders, and other items you use most often by clicking on customized button palettes. With Internet Config installed, you can even create buttons that open URLs or send email to specified addresses. Because Square One is an application, its button palettes don't float over other windows, although you can summon them with a keyboard shortcut or by moving your mouse to a hot corner on your monitor. 310/449-1481 $39.95 3.0 mice PROS: Easy to use; bullet proof.
CONS: Palettes don't float.

CE Software's QuicKeys lets you easily design macros and keyboard shortcuts to automate routine chores like logging onto servers. Version 4.0's new features include a sequence editor that lets you build macros step-by-step, a setup assistant to help novices build shortcuts, and tools designed to help you navigate throughout the Internet. For example, you can create a one-step macro that takes selected documents and attaches them to a new message in your email client with just one keystroke. QuicKeys also lets you activate shortcuts by clicking on custom toolbars that you can customize to fit your needs. 515/221-1801 $100 4.0 mice PROS: Setup assistant simplifies macro creation.
CONS: Limited room for button help.

Even if you share your computer with family members, important files can be trashed accidentally. Power On Software's On Guard is an good solution when several people have to share a Mac. You can grant any user as much or as little access as they need using a straightforward interface; you can specify security options all the way down to the level of individual files and folders. On Guard's login screen, which appears when the computer starts up or when a user signs off, displays a list of registered users in an optional pop-up menu. Although volume protection could be more robust--you can disable it with Conflict Catcher--On Guard provides basic security that's not overly obtrusive. 330/735-3116 $49.95 3.5 mice PROS: Easy to configure; convenient login screen.
CONS: Limited volume-level protection.

Action Files adds hierarchical menus to every application's open and save as menus, providing fast and easy access to recent items. It also enhances open and save dialog boxes by adding a Finder-like menu that lets you access recent and favorite files and folders, sort the file list, and change viewing options. You can rename, duplicate, alias, label, or trash any item in the list, all without exiting the dialog. And Action Files' powerful search command lets you bypass the Finder's find function and look for files and folders based on multiple criteria, with the exception of content-based searches. 330/735-3116 $39.95 4.0 mice PROS: Expands functionality of open and save dialog boxes.
CONS: Can't search by content.

If you've ever secretly wished for a Windows-style start menu, Action GoMac is just the ticket. GoMac adds a start menu to the bottom left of your screen, along with a task bar that displays active applications. Like its Windows namesake, the start menu provides rapid access to frequently-used applications and documents; you add new items by dragging them to the menu. And a handy clock on the bottom right displays a pop-up calendar that's good through the year 2039 when you click on it. 330/735-3116 $39.95 3.5 mice PROS: Rapid access to applications, documents; pop-up calendar.
CONS: Start menu items must be deleted or renamed manually.

Using a straightforward, calendar-based interface, Cruise Control lets you program "agents" that perform basic Macintosh operations, like copying files, running applications, and turning the computer on and off. A macro function also lets you create agents that record and replay any sequence of mouse and keyboard actions. Agents can be programmed to run on a specified schedule, or whenever the Mac has been idle for a specified length of time. Although the initial release isn't perfect, Cruise Control is worth considering if you routinely perform repetitive tasks that don't require any interaction. 800/945-8024 $99 3.5 mice PROS: Simple interface; minimal hardware requirements.
CONS: Limited macros and repeat options.

WestCode Software's OneClick lets you automate Macintosh operations like launching and quitting applications, shuttling between open programs, switching windows, and restarting the computer by clicking on buttons. With OneClick's editor, you can create individualized tool palettes for any application, complete with unique icons and help text for each button. You can also program OneClick using EasyScript, WestCode's proprietary scripting language. If you haven't had any programming experience, OneClick's recording function is sufficient to automate many common tasks without the need for scripting. 619/487-9200 $50 3.0 mice PROS: Inexpensive; customizable buttons.
CONS: Scripting difficult for beginners.

Formerly bundled with the Mac OS, MacLinkPlus is now a standalone utility that solves the problem of incompatible file formats. The new release sports new translators, supports batch processing, and lets you specify default settings for word processing, database, graphics and spreadsheet files. A handy option also lets you preview the contents of any file that MacLinkPlus recognizes. Although cross-platform file compatibility in suites like Microsoft's Office 98 have made MacLinkPlus less compelling for some people, it's still a must-have if you share files with people who don't have the same applications as you. 203/268-0030 $99.95 4.0 mice PROS: Reliable translation; preview function.
CONS: Could be more transparent.

If you have the lone Mac in a PC-centric network, it's unlikely that your colleagues will agree to install software to let you share files with them. Therein lies the appeal of Thursby's DAVE, a Mac utility that provides peer-to-peer networking between Macs and PCs, without the need for any additional software on the PC side. Although configuration can be challenging if you're new to PC networking, DAVE is as easy to use as AppleShare once it's set up. 817/478-5070 $149 4.5 mice PROS: Doesn't require software installation on PC side.
CONS: Relies on File Exchange extension mapping.

For users who prefer the straightforward Suitcase interface and the way it handles sets and font suitcases, Suitcase 8 is a good choice even with its flawed third-party additions. And if you find ATM Deluxe or Font Reserve dauntingly complex, give Suitcase a look. 503/274-2020 $100 3.0 mice PROS: Familiar interface; easy to use; stable. Respected company.
CONS: Flawed auto-activation feature; FontAgent is overzealous.

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