Are third-party OS utilities second-rate?

Most software on a computer can be placed into one of three categories - operating systems, device drivers and applications. Nearly every computer has only one operating system with examples being Windows Vista, Mac OS X and Linux Ubuntu. Device drivers are software that controls a device, like a printer, for the operating system. Applications are programs that make us productive, entertain us or provide a service.

Services come in the form of utility programs and are everything from hard drive defragmenters to firewalls. We usually aren't productive or entertained by utilities, but they are absolutely essential to any Internet-connected PC.

Last month, Bill Detwiler, a tech article writer and blogger, posted this blog question, "Do you recommend users run third-party OS utilities (registry cleaners, hard drive tools, etc.)?" His followers are mostly IT administrators and professionals who work closely with information technology so the posts he received were slanted from that angle. Surprisingly enough, many of the replies were emphatically "no" with the recommendation to stick with the built-in Windows utility.

We often talk about third-party utilities in the classroom. When Bill blogged the question my first thought was yes, there is some fine third-party software that is thought to do a better job than the built-in Windows equivalent. The first one that came to mind is the CCleaner program that goes far beyond the Windows Disk Cleanup utility. Another one is the Comodo firewall that always has great reviews and is considered by many to be an improvement over the Windows firewall.

I think the answers from the IT professionals came mostly out of concern over issues that third-party utilities may create on their networks or systems and not simply faulting the good stuff that is out there.

Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Poland is certified in company repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant. Questions may be sent to him via e-mail at ron@ronpoland.com.

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