Central Point Software, late but great, has introduced a version of its popular PC Tools utilities for computers that use Microsoft Windows.
PC Tools for Windows does all the expected housekeeping chores, including tidying up the hard disk, straightening out the file cabinets and disinfecting the files of viruses. But it also makes Windows a bit easier, a bit faster and a lot more convenient to use.
It does all this -- plus file compression, backup, hardware system analysis, file recovery and other tricks -- with little effort required from the user. Unlike earlier utility programs that required the user to be something of a byte mechanic, this version is largely trouble-free. It is, one user said, the difference between seat belts and air bags.
Microsoft Windows has become the standard among personal computer operating systems, the successor to DOS despite the best efforts of rival systems including the Apple Macintosh's System 7 and IBM's OS/2.
But Central Point, which had success with PC Tools for DOS, made only a swipe at the Windows juggernaut as it whizzed past. Other utilities, notably the Symantec Corp.'s Norton Desktop for Windows, had a year's head start.
An early copy of PC Tools for Windows does appear to be rugged, although surely someone will discover a flaw somewhere.
The delay also allowed the company to dissect rival programs like Norton Desktop for Windows and improve upon them.
Again, Central Point seems to have succeeded, although the Norton Desktop folks are sure to come back with their own improvements.
The bottom line is that PC Tools for Windows is a useful collection of programs at a reasonable price. The suggested list price is $179; owners of PC Tools for DOS can upgrade for $49.95.
Windows is a layer of code that lies between the underlying DOS operating system and the actual application, like a word processor or spreadsheet. It creates a common point-and-click command system for most Windows products.
PC Tools uses new file and application handlers that make working in Windows more efficient.
One is the "toolbar," an array of buttons across the top of the screen, each capable of triggering a common function at a single mouse click. The PC Tools toolbar is not an original idea, but it works.
A cleverer advance is a screen metaphor called virtual desktops. A desktop, in computer parlance, is the arrangement of software files and tools across the computer screen. Just as some people have neat desks with everything in its place and some are slobs with papers scattered everywhere, the Windows desktop allows users to create their own most comfortable environments.
The so-called virtual desktop in PC Tools for Windows allows users to create several different desktops, specifically tailored to
a given project or work style, and to switch among them as the need arises with a single click. The virtual desktops are actually "live" icons, miniature desktops that hold loaded applications and active files. For people who switch tasks frequently, it is a real timesaver.
PC Tools for Windows uses a technology called object orientation. The net effect is that by using the right mouse button, the user can click on most objects (an icon of a word processing file can be an object) and a list of the file's potential actions pops up: copy, delete, close and so forth. It is another timesaver.
For more information, call Central Point Software of Beaverton, Ore., at (503) 690-8090.
(Peter Lewis works out of the New York Times' Austin, Texas, bureau:  328-8258.)