Anyone with a desktop computer needs at least two types of software to get some work done -- an operating system, such as MS-DOS, and applications, such as word processors and spreadsheets. But there is a third kind of software we usually ignore until we run into trouble: utility software, which can perform a variety of essential and convenient functions.
* Undelete recovers files that have been accidentally deleted.
* Backup copies the contents of your hard disk drive onto floppy disks or data tape so you still have your information if your hard disk fails -- or is stolen.
* Viewers let you see the contents of common word-processor, spreadsheet, and database files without starting the application.
* Shell replaces the cryptic C> of MS-DOS with a full screen display of files on your disk; such common MS-DOS tasks as copying a file can be performed by pressing a function key rather than typing out commands.
* Link ties two computers together with a cable to exchange data. Most commonly used between desktop and laptop computers, it's also good for setting up multiple computers in an office.
Although it's possible to buy a separate program for each of these functions, there is a bargain package available that performs all these tasks and more. PC Tools Deluxe from Central Point Software (503-690-8090, about $100) has all the ordinary utilities that the average MS-DOS user is likely to need.
On the Macintosh side, you will need two packages to handle the same tasks. DiskTop from CE Software (515-224-1995; about $70) has many useful utilities for looking at disk files. I recommend combining it with a package that can perform backups and recover deleted files. SUM II, from Symantec (408-253-9600; about $100) or Mac Tools Deluxe from Central Point Software ($100) are good choices for that second package.