Q. Following your column's advice to always back up my hard disk proved to be a godsend. When my Macintosh's hard drive failed, I was able to restore all of my data from my backup disks. Personally experiencing this computing horror really made me think. Was there anything I could have done to prevent this from occurring in the first place?
A. In many cases, hard disk malfunctions can be avoided by regular preventive maintenance. Two excellent disk maintenance programs are Norton Utilities for Macintosh Version 2.0, and Central Point's MacTools 2.0.
Both offer a disk check-and-repair function. Running the diagnostic portion of these programs will certify that your hard disk's surface and the data resting on it are undamaged.
Unfortunately, doing this check on a regular basis is synonymous to backing up the drive. And most of us are too busy or just don't want to be bothered with it. In an attempt to overcome resistance, most backup programs offer a scheduling feature that either reminds us or automatically performs a backup at a predetermined time.
A similar concept has been adopted by Public Utilities, a new product from Fifth Generation Systems. Public Utilities offers a feature called "Prevention" that constantly monitors your hard disk.
The average time a computer is in use is usually small compared to the time it sits idly on your desk, waiting for you to type something. Prevention makes good use of this idle time
by detecting when the Mac is not being used and running a comprehensive check of the hard disk drive's data.
Any activity you do, such as typing or moving the mouse, instantly interrupts Prevention so you can continue working. When you stop, Prevention continues to check the hard disk.
If Prevention finds a problem, it will display an alert message on the screen. You are then instructed to run the Public Utilities program to repair the damage.
With this method, the possibility of a successful repair is much higher. As with most diseases, early detection reduces complications.
Public Utilities can also speed up, or "optimize," your hard drive and recover deleted files. Unlike some optimization programs, Fifth Generation's claims to be 100 percent safe. It guarantees that no data will be lost, even if a power failure occurs during the optimization process.
Public Utilities sells for $149, works with Macintosh System 6.0.2 and higher, including System 7, and requires 1 megabyte of memory.
Fifth Generation Systems: (504) 291-7221
(Craig Crossman is the host of a weekly radio show, Computer America, heard nationwide. Send questions in care of Business Monday, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Please include your phone number.)