puIf Fifth Generation’s new disk-utilities package had a motto, it would surely be, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This strategy pays off big in the area of disk maintenance, as anyone who has lost data to a hard-disk crash will attest. By performing automatic preventive disk scans, Public Utilities is the first disk-protection program to flag problems before they take a toll in lost data. In addition, the program provides capable disk-repair facilities that fix most data-structure-related problems.

Going Public

Geared to novice users, Public Utilities is simpler in scope and operation than heavyweight disk-maintenance packages such as Norton Utilities and MacTools. The Public Utilities application comes with a standard complement of disk-utility functions — it scans and, if necessary, repairs disks with directory or other non-hardware-related problems; it provides facilities for extracting text from corrupted files and for undeleting inadvertently erased files; and it includes a disk optimizer.

The real beauty of Public Utilities, however, is the software’s innovative Prevention control panel. Once installed, the control panel performs several important disk-maintenance functions automatically and unobtrusively. As well as storing the disk and file information it requires for successful file recovery, Prevention regularly scans disk directories for problems. When it finds one, it alerts you with a dialog box. By clicking on the OK button in the dialog box, you can set the software to the task of repairing your disk.

You can configure the Prevention control panel to work in a variety of ways. You can set it to scan the disk for errors at startup, at shutdown, or after a user-defined idle period. Most serious disk problems are the result of cumulative damage, so regular disk scans are a must. Having Prevention do automatic background scanning during idle time is the most effective way we’ve seen to date to ensure that disk checks occur on a regular basis. By contrast, preventive disk maintenance with Norton Utilities requires you to launch a separate disk-scanning program manually and wait while it checks the disk — a chore that too many users put off until it’s too late.

Public Utilities’ main application window provides access to the program’s Repair Disk, Repair File, Undelete File, and Optimize Disk facilities.

Repair Disk lets you scan and, if necessary, repair local volumes, including floppies and removable media. You can configure Repair Disk to either prompt you before it goes about its business or to perform repairs automatically. Repair File then attempts to recover text from your damaged files.

Undelete File recovers files you’ve thrown into the Trash, even after you’ve emptied the Trash under System 7. If you installed the Prevention control panel before you accidentally deleted your files, chances are good that Public Utilities will be able to recover the files. Even without Prevention, however, Public Utilities may still be able to recover them.

Public Utilities lets you specify the files you want to recover, using standard criteria such as name and modification date. You can also choose a destination volume and folder for the recovered files. A nice touch is that both the Repair File and the Undelete File facilities let you view the contents of files before you recover them, so you always know exactly what you’re getting. This feature is particularly handy when you’re recovering text files.

As with the Prevention control panel, you can configure Public Utilities’ Optimize Disk facility to suit your specific needs. You can choose to have it bypass the bad-blocks check during optimization, for example, as well as set the percentage of fragmented files that triggers an optimization recommendation. By defragmenting files and moving them toward the beginning of a volume, the optimizer creates more contiguous free space on a volume. Unlike Norton Utilities, however, it doesn’t prioritize by putting infrequently used files closer to the beginning of a volume.

Advanced Features

Even power users can benefit from Public Utilities’ preventive scans. To entice such users, the program provides an Expert menu, which has advanced selections for formatting floppy disks that have bad blocks; rebuilding the desktop; and performing scans of individual files to check file- and folder-modification information, file bundle bits, and resource-file integrity.

Also in the package is Launch Pad, a file-management utility that offers an alternative to the Finder’s hierarchical file system. Launch Pad displays a palette that can contain your most frequently used applications, documents, and folders. By double-clicking on an item you’ve installed in the palette, you can launch it without wading through several layers of files and folders in the Finder.

Public Utilities’ documentation is a big plus for nontechnical users. It provides a clear explanation of each disk-maintenance utility as well as lots of helpful background information on disk functions and malfunctions. A troubleshooting guide details common disk related problems.

The Bottom Line

If you don’t need a full-blown disk-maintenance package, Public Utilities is an excellent buy, particularly if you’re looking for the most convenient way to monitor the health of your hard disk. By design, Public Utilities focuses squarely on disk maintenance. You won’t find a backup utility or a virus-detection program tossed into the package, as you do with Norton Utilities and MacTools. Public Utilities features solid disk-repair and data-recovery tools. In addition, the program’s Prevention control panel vastly increases the chances of catching disk problems early on, before a crash occurs. If you’re a nontechnical user, Public Utilities is your best buy for data protection and recovery. If you’re a power user, even you can benefit from the program’s ounce of Prevention.