Microsoft Corp.'s MS-DOS 5.0 upgrade kit, which updates the operating system software used in tens of millions of IBM PCs and compatibles, includes several new features that used to be found only in specialized utility packages like PC Tools Deluxe or the Norton Utilities.
For example, MS-DOS 5.0 now has a better system of formating diskettes and hard disks, a new system for searching for misplaced files, a better graphical "shell" for simplifying DOS operations and preparing users to move to Windows, an improved online help system, and an "undelete" command that allows users to recover a file or directory that was accidentally erased.
This does not mean that DOS 5.0 has made Norton and PC Tools obsolete. In fact, both programs have recently undergone major overhauls, and both provide several software tools that enhance the value of MS-DOS 5.0. Either one can make a computer easier to use.
The hard part is choosing which utility package to buy. We've looked at the new versions of both Norton and PC Tools, and each has more strengths than weaknesses.
In a nutshell (as opposed to a graphical shell), PC Tools 7.0 is a Swiss army knife, with something for everybody, and Norton Utilities 6.0 is a scalpel, allowing precision tuning of the system.
The list price of PC Tools version 7.0 is $179; people upgrading from version 6.0 will pay $49. However, for a limited time, the maker, Central Point, is offering to let computer users try a full working copy of version 7.0 for 60 days without charge. At the end of 60 days, assuming the software has not been returned, the recipient will be billed for $59 plus shipping and handling.
Details of the "power user" offer are available in Infoworld magazine or by calling (800) 445-4162.
It is hard to imagine a better bargain in software. PC Tools 7.0 comprises more than a dozen major utilities, including data recovery, disk maintenance, file management, file viewing from the directory level, hard disk backup, virus protection, data encryption and password protection, a screen saver, a full set of desktop utilities, including a work group scheduler and calculator, telecommunications with simplified access to electronic mail, and even a new remote computing program that allows the user to control an office PC from home or the road, or vice versa.
As if that were not enough, it works with DOS, Windows and Novell network operating systems. Three of the utilities were written specifically for Windows.
This program is ideal for those who want a single package to handle a wide variety of general computer chores. All of the utilities appear to work well, and some are very impressive. The drawback, of course, is that so many features take up so much room on the hard disk: about eight megabytes.
The Norton Utilities version 6.0 ($179 from Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif., (408) 253-9600) does not have the breadth of features found in Central Point's new utility extravaganza, but it has more technical depth. It claims about 2.5 megabytes of space.
Norton 6.0 sells separate programs for backup and virus protection, for example, while those features come standard in PC Tools.
The strong points of Norton 6.0 are data security and data recovery. Although the data recovery features in Central Point's PC Tools will recover most files, there are still some that slip through the cracks.
Norton, on the other hand, boasts of its "fail-safe architecture," and in tests it was capable of recovering files that PC Tools said were irretrievably lost.
For those who want the best assurance that they can recover from accidental erasures and formats and keep a hard disk running at optimum performance, Norton is the safest choice.
We also like the new Norton feature that allows users to add long descriptions to file names, which can then help the user find the right file in a directory listing.
For example, this column was written in a file designated with a series of nonsensical letters, numbers and punctuation marks. Using Norton 6.0, we can augment and clarify the directory listing with the explainer "DOS5, Norton and PCTools."
Some dealers may offer Norton Utilities 6.0 for $99 when purchased with MS-DOS 5.0. Also, Symantec is offering a $20 rebate by mail in regularly priced packages of Norton 6.0.
Microsoft Corp. has taken several steps to guard against counterfeit copies of the $99 MS-DOS 5.0 upgrade kit. There are holographic images affixed to the package and to the manual, and each manual is stamped with a unique serial number.
Microsoft also wants to remind people who own two or more computers that, legally, they must license separate copies of the MS-DOS 5.0 upgrade for each machine. To that end, the company is offering a special $79 MS-DOS 5.0 License package that includes no software or documentation, just a license agreement.
For example, someone might own a desktop PC and a laptop PC and use one in the office and the other while traveling. In real life, the person would license one copy of an application (Microsoft Word, for example) and load it on both machines.
Under the spirit of the licensing agreements, there's no harm as long as the owner does not share the application with someone else.
But a Microsoft spokesman said MS-DOS is different from an application, since MS-DOS is not likely ever to be moved off the machine.
Accordingly, Microsoft demands that the user purchase a copy for each machine, even if the desktop and laptop would never be used at the same time.
It is uncertain how many people will abide by Microsoft's strict licensing terms for MS-DOS 5.0, since compliance is practically unenforceable. However, buying a copy of MS-DOS for each machine is the right thing to do.