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UniMaint v5.0- by Jim Little

OS/2's user interface is a powerful tool. However, it's also a complex tool, and needs to be manually "tuned up" every now and then to maintain performance and stability. Unfortunately, the tools IBM supplies with the system are woefully inadequate for the task. And because of OS/2's poorly-designed Desktop backup utility, total disaster may mean rebuilding your Desktop from scratch.

SofTouch System's UniMaint 5.0 attempts to rectify this situation. It provides a number of utilities that are designed to ease the pain of maintaining your Desktop. The tools range from those for the beginning user, such as the uninstaller, to the power user, such as the INI and extended attribute (EA) editor. Together, the tools form an impressive suite of utilities that would ideally give you absolute control over your Desktop.

Unfortunately...

UniMaint is marred by a poor user interface and a large number of bugs. The worst of the bugs causes several of the utilities to crash when used on complex Desktops. (Typically, if your OS2.INI and OS2SYS.INI files total more than one megabyte in size, you will encounter this bug.) Other bugs include random crashing and input queue hangs. I'll describe the worst of the bugs below.

In addition to the bugs, UniMaint suffers from an extremely poor user interface. None of the utilities provide a "cancel" button, which can be a real irritant with those utilities that perform long operations. UniMaint's options dialogs (GIF, 10.8k) are also poorly designed. Each of the six option dialogs presents a confusing array of choices with little apparent structure. Worse, UniMaint uses the checkbox control as both a pushbutton and as a checkbox, which makes the dialogs even more confusing for the first-time user.

Version 5.0 alleviates this situation with "wizards" (GIF, 5.3k), which help by walking you through the options in each dialog. One nice touch is the ability to launch the utilities from the UniMaint folder (GIF, 5.6k) as well as from the main program (GIF, 12.3k).

Help is on the Way

SofTouch partially makes up for UniMaint's interface by including an excellent manual and on-line help. The manual is especially useful, and contains a section devoted to introducing the concepts behind OS/2's user interface. The rest of the manual is organized into procedures (for example, "Desktop Backups") and provides comprehensive coverage of each option.

The Utilities

Despite its problems, UniMaint does feature a number of useful tools. Perhaps the most valuable is the "simple backup" utility. This utility simply compresses your Desktop and INI files into a zip file. You can also specify additional files to be archived. To restore your files, you boot to a command line and run a previously created batch file. There is a bug here, however: if your Desktop is located on a different drive than your boot drive, your INI files will be restored to the wrong drive.

New in version 5.0 of UniMaint is the ability to perform automatic backups of the Desktop. A special utility, "UniWatch," runs in the background and starts the backup utility when certain criteria (GIF, 7.7k) are met. The program is impressively flexible. It compares the Desktop with the last backup made and triggers a backup based on how much the Desktop has changed. In addition to backing up at certain times or after a certain number of days, you can also trigger a backup based on the number of times objects have been moved or otherwise modified. Unfortunately, for those with complex Desktops (as described above), this program crashes every time it tries to compare the Desktop with the last backup.

UniMaint also has a "portable backup" utility. Unlike normal backups, portable backups can be restored on machines or versions of OS/2 other than that used to create the backup. Unfortunately, due to a severe bug, we were unable to test the efficacy of this utility. Some third-party objects don't conform to a standard UniMaint expects, which causes the Desktop to crash. The Desktop will restart automatically, but the backup fails. This utility is also susceptible to the complex Desktop problem described above.

UniMaint has a utility which automatically repairs some problems with Desktop INI files. Over time, these INI files become filled with unneeded information. Repairing them results in improved performance and stability. Although the repair utility usually worked properly, it would crash when used with certain INI files. The determining factor appears to be the amount of excess data in the files; if you've used the Desktop heavily for several months without repairing the INI files, this utility may crash. In our tests, the freeware utility CheckINI was a better tool for repairing INI files; it found and corrected more problems and didn't crash. However, CheckINI only works with certain versions of OS/2. UniMaint, as a commercial product, is more likely to be updated to accommodate OS changes.

The final utility most users will be interested in is the uninstall utility. This utility allows you to uninstall a program simply by dropping the program object in the uninstall window. Uninstallation is a "semiautomatic" process; UniMaint makes some assumptions about CONFIG.SYS, the INI files, and the program directory and asks you to confirm or augment its assumptions.

This utility performs well for most programs. More complex programs, such as those that register a Workplace Shell extension, typically won't be completely uninstalled. UniMaint doesn't always deregister the shell extension.

The uninstallation utility also allows you to archive a program, rather than uninstalling it. Unfortunately, this option suffers the same bug as the portable backup utility. In our tests, we were unable to start any archive process without crashing the Desktop.

In addition to the "basic" utilities, UniMaint also includes several utilities for the power user. The best of these is the INI and EA editor. The editor is extremely complete, allowing you to search, compare, copy, and move elements as large as entire files or as small as individual keys. One nice feature for new users is the "Explain" option. This feature explains the use of some of the more common INI and EA entries.

Another nice utility allows you to change objects' settings. Although this utility allows you to change the settings for individual objects, its real value lies in its ability to change multiple objects at once. For example, if you want to set some folders to always maintain sort order, you could select the folders, click the 'maintain sort order' button, then check the 'do all remaining' box. UniMaint would set all the folders to be sorted in one step. Unfortunately, this utility also crashes when used with complex Desktops. However, this problem can be worked around by not loading the entire Desktop at once.

The remaining two utilities are fairly straight forward. The first allows you to deregister Workplace Shell classes. The second is an interesting tool that cross references all the EXE and DLL files on your system. The results are shown in an easy-to-read tree view that lists all the cross-referenced drives and some supplementary information, such as the DLL's used by Workplace Shell classes.

Conclusion

Overall, UniMaint is a very buggy product. It also has a lot of rough edges, in terms of user interface, for a product in its fifth major revision. The inability to cancel operations once they've been started is inexcusable. Despite its problems though, UniMaint does have some valuable features. Of the entire package, the INI and EA editor is the most solid; for most people, however, it's simply not a tool that is typically needed.

UniMaint is available for about US$80. If all its features worked perfectly, I would recommend this product without hesitation, despite its clunky user interface. As it is, the program is simply too buggy. Unless it has a feature you need and can't find elsewhere, give UniMaint 5.0 a miss.


 * Unimaint v5.0
by SofTouch Systems
MSRP: US$99
Jim Little is a long time Desktop fixer and destroyer.

-- Read SofTouch Systems' reply to our review! --

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