Techniques: Off the Shelf: Software

Not when it comes to a file manager that adds little more than color to what's already on the market

The Product: DiskMapper Version 2, from Micro Logic, in South Hackensack, N.J. (201-342-6518; $49.95)
Requirements: Windows 95 or NT; 4MB available hard-disk space; 8MB of memory
Reviewer: Jay Jaffe, CEO of Jaffe Associates Inc., a virtual consulting company providing management, marketing, and training services for the legal profession

Before I get started, there are three things you need to know. First, I'm an early adopter and a gadget freak: I'm the guy who's trying to die with the most toys. Second, I crave immediate gratification. When I see something I want, I buy it, then and there. And third, my company is in the last stages of its migration from Apple Macintosh technology to PCs. I regarded reviewing DiskMapper, graphical file-management software, as a cool opportunity to put my new Dell Latitude laptop through its paces.

Both Microsoft's Windows Explorer and Micro Logic's DiskMapper show you details about the programs and files that you have on your computer. Explorer is pretty much text based, and DiskMapper presents those data in colorful displays. But like singer Peggy Lee, I ask, "Is that all there is?"

The folks who developed the software extol DiskMapper's "breakthrough new graphical format" with such enthusiastic promotional materials that I expected three-dimensional graphics with plenty of pizzazz. But instead of files displayed in colorfully meaningful layers, DiskMapper delivers a two-dimensional image. Much like a map broken into states, DiskMapper labels each "state" with a file name while its color indicates file type (for example, program files and data files). DiskMapper shows me, for instance, that LinksLS (a computer golf game) occupies as much "purple" disk space as Microsoft Office--but so what? Explorer shows the same information--albeit listed in bytes. Is the color approach interesting? Yes. Entertaining? Perhaps. A necessity? Certainly not.

As an early adopter, I possess a digital machismo that precludes reading manuals--at least not until all else fails. So, except for a few seconds scanning Chapter 2 (Installation) of DiskMapper's Operations Guide, I jumped right in, testing the product for navigation friendliness. I have good news and bad news--and worse news. The good news is that at an elementary level DiskMapper is easy to figure out. The bad news is that if you'd like to do anything beyond observing the relative size of your files, such as simple sorting or determining which file types take up the most space, your intuition won't get you very far. And the worse news is that the poorly written, badly designed Operations Guide won't help you. With just three black-and-white illustrations, the guide fails miserably to use the product's own features to present itself.

Still, it does have one feature Explorer can't duplicate. If you're looking for file types to compress or delete, you simply hit the "filter" button on the toolbar, indicating the characteristics of the files you'd like to alter. The software then displays, for example, all your files over a designated size. But truthfully, that capability isn't enough to make DiskMapper indispensable. My overall impression? I thought I had a ticket for Star Wars, but Flash Gordon unrolled on the screen.