What is Utility Software

If you've ever wondered, "what is utility software?", we have the answer. We often think about the cool things computers can do-playing movies and music, gaming, digital design and searching the Web. Few people get excited about utility software, and most of us don't even think about it until our computers stop doing the cool things we want them to do. With memory-hungry programs and Web hazards attacking your hard drive, a complete suite of utility software is a must to keep your computer running at its best.

What is Utility Software: The Essentials
Disk Defragmenters-Microsoft includes this utility software with the XP and Vista operating systems, but if these don't address your needs, third-party software companies such as Raxco produce robust defragmenting programs that help you better manage your available disk space. Mac users seldom need to defragment, because the Mac OS prefers writing continuous files to the fragmented files preferred by Windows. If your Mac's hard drive is more than 95% full and you're working with large files, fragmenting can occur, so you might want to run defragmenting utility software.

Registry Cleaners-A computer's registry contains information and commands called keys that essentially tell the computer what to do in certain situations. Each time you add or remove software, you make changes to your computer's registry, which grows larger over time.

Even when you use the Windows Add or Remove Programs option to delete old programs, you may leave behind some empty registry keys that just take up space. With all this registry clutter and wasted space, your computer's performance will most likely suffer.

What is utility software that safely cleans up the registry? With the Windows XP operating system, Microsoft supplies a utility program called Regedit that lets you examine and change the registry. If you aren't comfortable making your own edits, look for utility software such as CleanMyPC that can clean up the registry for you and improve performance.

What is utility software used for both PCs and Macs? It deletes your browsing history, caches and other personal information from user sessions. This utility software is useful if you need to protect confidential information or if you use a shared computer at home and don't want your husband to know that you just bought him a gift online.

Backup Utility Software-Modern computers are pretty durable, but hard drives can and do crash on occasion, taking important photos and documents with them. Another essential piece of utility software is a recovery program that archives your important files and programs and helps restore your system and documents in the event of a crash or hard-drive corruption.

Utility software such as Symantec's Norton Ghost lets you create complete data backups on DVDs or CDs. In case an installation goes bad, you also can use Ghost to save a copy of your hard drive before you start loading new programs. Windows XP and Vista offer System Restore, which will revert your operating system to a cached version in the event of a software conflict or bad installation. System Restore works at the system level only; it can't save files that have been deleted, so it's not a complete solution for data loss.

What is Utility Software for Data Recovery-Computers are great places to store pictures, reports and your favorite tunes, but it's all too easy to accidentally erase a file. If you have utility software that recovers data, you can restore that missing file if you act quickly enough. Most data recovery programs can also recover missing songs from an iPod or a photo deleted from a digital camera.

When you erase a file, the computer frees up the space where the data was stored, but that information is still accessible until it gets overwritten by new data. With a data recovery utility, you may be able to save that deleted song, photo or file. Keep in mind that this only works for accidental deletions that you discover quickly. If you have a large investment in digital music or video, keep it backed up on CD or DVD.

Antivirus Utility Software-Security is an essential part of any utility software suite. You'll need a firewall as well as programs that scan your hard drive for viruses and prevent unauthorized access. Mac users need security software, too, because the growing popularity of iPods and Apple computers has put them on hackers' radar screens.

It's best to choose a single, robust security suite that covers all of your needs. Running several different types of utility software to provide security can result in conflicts or make it difficult to disable security features when needed.

Things to Remember
Most utility software is fairly safe to run, but if you plan on defragmenting the hard drive or cleaning up the system registry, it's always a good idea to back up your system before you run the software.

Before adding utility software, see what tools come with your OS. In some cases, this may be all you need. If you're looking for third-party solutions, you'll find time- or feature-limited demo versions of most utility software programs online. Check the user reviews and make sure there are no compatibility issues with your OS. Utility software interacts directly with the core of your operating system, so it should be chosen carefully to prevent conflicts that will cripple your computer.

After installing and uninstalling software packages over a period of months, the available space on your hard drive may get fragmented into small pieces. When you save a new program or document, your computer may have to split the data into smaller chunks and store it in separate locations. When accessing that fragmented data, the computer has to work a lot harder to find all the pieces.

A program to defragment the hard drive is one essential utility software. This type of program scans a computer drive or disk, compressing the available memory into large contiguous spaces. This process can be time-consuming, though, especially if your disk is seriously fragmented.

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