We have good news and bad news. The good news is that hard drives are so inexpensive that as long as there is enough room for it, you can load new software without thinking. The bad news is that hard drives are so inexpensive that as long as you have enough room for it, you can load new software without thinking.
If you cannot decide whether to upgrade from your present 20 megabyte (MB) hard drive to a 40MB drive, this column is definitely not for you. However, if you have Windows 95, a 500MB, 1 gigabyte (GB) or larger drive, and want to know why it has filled up so quickly or where that important draft of a letter has gone, you have come to the right place. This column is about coping with big hard drives: using software products that act like closet organizers to maximize your storage and make it easier to find what you need.
The good news is hard drives are getting larger. The smallest drive that comes with today’s desktop computers is 800MB or more, and 2GB is available for less than $300. Even laptops come with 500MB, 800MB or 1GB drives. Large hard disks are great (you can never have too much hard drive or memory). You can load another program or download large files from the Internet without much forethought.
Large hard disks also are a problem. Keeping track of what is loaded and where is very difficult–and Windows 95’s Windows Explorer is little help in identifying files. Finding huge files seven layers deep in the subdirectory structure is not easy–and Windows 95’s tools are not well-integrated into the system. It is like trying to find a lost sock in the bottom of a messy closet.
Speaking of clutter, neither DOS nor Windows 95 operating systems use the space on these larger hard drives well. On a typical drive, even the smallest files will still take up 16 kilobytes (K) or more. If you surf the Internet, your Web browser’s cache is filled with hundreds of small files. Each file, no matter how small, will occupy the full 16K set aside for it; just 60 of your smallest files can take up 1MB.
How can you better view, navigate and organize your drive? This column describes three tools that will be a great help:
Better lights in the closet
Perhaps you have a few dozen e-mail messages to sift through. Maybe you want to look quickly at the contents of some word-processing files or spreadsheets from two years ago. Windows 95 has a feature called Quick View that lets you review the contents of many different kinds of files. It is a multistep process that opens a separate view window for each document. Each window must be closed when you are done viewing the contents.
If you want a quicker way to see your files, consider replacing Windows Explorer with Norton Navigator File Manager from Symantec Corp. (http:// www.symantec.com/). Norton Navigator uses Windows 95’s Quick View in an additional pane of the manager itself to more quickly and automatically view the contents of files. Optional, more powerful viewers somewhat make up for an important oversight in the standard product: You cannot cut and paste from the files you are viewing. To do so, you must open the file in another application.
Norton Navigator is an Internet user’s dream, with encrypting, encoding and ftp (file transfer protocol) support built in, along with extensive customization support. The product is similar to Windows Explorer, but different enough from it that moving back and forth between them is difficult.
Shelving and organization
As Norton Navigator gives you greater control over individual items on your disk, DiskMapper, from Micro Logic Corp., helps present the contents of your drive in a more intuitive way. Rather than present your drive, subdirectories and files in the standard tree metaphor, it presents a map of your hard drive, as if an efficiency expert went through your closet and organized things into boxes.
Each screen from the DiskMapper looks like a series of color-coded boxes inside of other boxes (directories and subdirectories), where the boxes’ size represents the proportional size of each directory.
The largest directories are toward the top left of the screen, and the smallest toward the bottom right. The boxes are color-coded to let you see where in the subdirectory structure they fall.
Because the 80-20 rule is generally true, DiskMapper helps identify very quickly where the files are that make up the 80 percent of your disk. Large files saved deep in the subdirectory structure become very obvious. For example, the C drive (in red) is split up among its directories (in yellow); on my computer, Windows 95 itself takes up one quarter of the screen. The System subdirectory of Windows 95 (in green) takes up roughly a third of the space Windows 95 takes up. Looking to free up space quickly? Try the/Windows/System directory!
By clicking on the various boxes, tool bars or menus, you can start up Windows Explorer, run programs, delete files and, perhaps best of all, ZIP (archive in smaller form) files and directories you use infrequently. You also can ask DiskMapper to find and highlight files you do not use, files that are older than a certain date or files with a particular extension. If you ran out of disk space and started compressing files to save space, this lets you quickly find those files when you need them.
My version 1.0 has some minor flaws. In particular, the button bar often grays out even when the buttons can be used. Otherwise, DiskMapper operated flawlessly. When I first received my review copy, I wondered why anyone would want this product. Now I am not sure how to get along without it. DiskMapper is from Micro Logic Corp. (http:// www.miclog.com/).
Knocking down a few walls
The hard drives that come on today’s laptops and desktops come as one giant partition. This is convenient for many reasons, but a partitioned hard drive (one that acts as multiple logical drives) has a number of advantages:
The smaller the partition, the less space each file can take up. A small 1K text file will take up to 32K on a larger disk. Keeping the partition size below certain threshold sizes will let you maximize your storage.
With partitions, it is easier to keep operating systems, programs and data separate, which makes backing up important files more convenient.
Multiple partitions let you maintain separate operating systems more easily.
Repartitioning a hard drive has always been time-consuming if not left for computer technicians. After backing up the contents of your hard disk (a few times), the technician would run a program called “FDISK” to get rid of your old partitions, create new physical and logical drives, format them and then restore the files (cross your fingers).
Although a good backup is always recommended, you can shortcut the other steps with Partition Magic from PowerQuest Corp. (http://www.powerquest.com/).
Partition Magic can repartition your hard drives without the need to remove data. A handsome graphical interface makes resizing partitions fast and easy, freeing up disk space. For example, by partitioning an 800MB drive into two logical drives of less than 511MB each, the smallest files will take up 8K instead of 16K. This can easily result in an extra 30MB to 50MB of storage for the same drive.
In our testing, Partition Magic worked flawlessly, with no loss of data, no need to restore files from a backup. It was simple and easy.
There is certainly room for making the product more suited for a novice. The product could use better online help or “wizards” to do the following: recommend the changes that will maximize the benefit; provide advice on how to work with the current contents of your disks (compressing, recommending what can be moved or removed safely) so you can make the changes; and provide better coverage on Windows configuration files, which do not take well to programs being moved from disk to disk.
Partition Magic will easily pay for itself the first time you save the time and frustration of repartitioning a disk, let alone by helping your present hard drive store data much more efficiently.
Your new laptop has lots of room, but little help in letting you use the room efficiently. Norton Navigator File Manager, Micro Logic DiskMapper and PowerQuest’s Partition Magic are three efficiency experts on whom you can call.
(Eric Cohen, a CPA, owns Cohen Computer Consulting, which helps growing businesses cope with and benefit from information technology. His home page can be found at http://www.servtech.com/ re/acct.html.)