Diagnosis for First Aid 97: Beef up hardware diagnostics

The interface had a Win95 look and feel, but the underlying code remained firmly rooted
in the Windows 3.x world [GCN, July 15, 1996, Page 40]. One year later, First Aid 97 has a
more sophisticated back end and a more refined interface.

The tool fills a niche for government users who lack technical support and techies who
crave diagnostic tools.

The first thing to notice is the First Aid Window, which combines the Launch Control
windows from First Aid 95 and First Aid 95 Deluxe. It presents many choices for tuning
application and computer performance, and it's well organized.

First Aid's Check-Up feature looks for hardware conflicts, missing application files,
performance problems and the like.

I tested the software on a 200-MHz Gateway 2000 Inc. P5-200XL Pentium PC with a 2G hard
drive and 32M of RAM. Check-Up took a long time. When done, First Aid raised a spectrum of
issues about the test system.

To intermediate or advanced users, the program's comments would make sense. For others,
they might sound cryptic.

As with grammar-checking software, you should always take such comments with a grain of
salt. First Aid 97 is right on the money about some things, but with others it is just as
confused as you may be.

Ironically, First Aid 97 misidentified the installed version of CyberMedia's own Oil
Change, calling it Version 1.0 and saying several missing Dynamic Link Library files could
keep it from running. In reality, Oil Change 2.0 was installed and working fine.

Just like a grammar-checker, First Aid follows a set of rules. Its suggestions are
diagnostic aids.

Once Check-Up has done its sleuthing and offered suggestions, it gives you details and
institutes a fix. The Auto-Fix option explains what it is going to do, and you tell it to
go ahead. If the Auto-Fix causes a problem, you can undo the fix and follow directions on
how to take a swing at it yourself.

Finished fixing? Go back to the main window and choose the Advisor function to take a
virtual tour of your computer. Can't get any sound? Point and click at your speakers, and
the Advisor will take you through a series of tests and a checklist to find the problem.

This part of the application will be useful to users with little technical support,
such as a traveler or a field office employee. The knowledge base is quite extensive on
certain hardware and software, but it has its limits.

Reference tools include an online version of CyberMedia's Tech Support Yellow Pages,
access to the Windows 95 Help Desk file and a World Wide Web search tool.

The search tool is a nice surprise. Not only does it let you search for keywords on
leading Internet search engines, it also lets you search tech support databases by company
and sift through UseNet archives for information about particular problems. You can do
broad searches or drill down to documents from a specific company.

The Emergency feature lets you prepare for the worst and deal with it once it occurs.
Create an emergency startup disk and access Microsoft Backup to back up your important
files before lightning strikes.

When something goes wrong, you restore configuration and backup files with BackTrak,
which takes a snapshot of them.

To solve serious problems, First Aid 97 offers a number of Specialists, all available
via the main window. There are specialists for applications, multimedia, networking,
Internet access and system hardware. The specialists perform many of the same functions as
Check-Up but delve deeper.

The Application specialist scans your hard drive for programs, missing .dll files and
botched registry entries. Repairs can be as sophisticated as file or corrupted registry

You can add or subtract applications from the list. You trim down unused applications
or components by deletion or compressing and archiving.

The Multimedia specialist looks at hardware and drivers, but its checks seem subjective
and lacking in detail. Considering the pervasiveness of multimedia applications, the
program should check whether the apps and Internet browser properly use the hardware.

The Online specialist also was anemic. It did a thorough job of checking my Internet
connection, browser, LAN settings and configuration, but when I told it to look at my
network hardware, it only listed my modem. Overlooking network cards is a big flaw.

The System specialist looks at performance, system files, printing, hardware and hard
drive. It turns up the things that make the most difference in how efficiently your system
runs--unconnected shortcuts, lost font files and interrupt request conflicts. Although the
specialist is an excellent diagnostician, it falls short on ideas for fixes.

First Aid 97 also has the Windows Guardian, another program to protect against
application crashes. Such programs can't do much for a system crash, but they sometimes
can resuscitate unresponsive applications.

First Aid 97's strength is its ability to deal with unruly applications. But many of
the tune-ups and fixes are already present in Windows' Control Panel or option menus.

You get an easy-to-use troubleshooting clearinghouse that's just right for the
beginning or intermediate user. Advanced users might find some components, such as the Web
searcher, helpful, but the program still isn't complete on the hardware side.

To rival Symantec Corp. or Quarterdeck Corp. utilities, CyberMedia will need better
hardware diagnostics. First Aid 97 is a step in that direction, but it's not there yet.

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