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Say Goodby to '1DCOL617.DOC'

July 15, 1993|RICHARD O'REILLY | RICHARD O'REILLY is director of computer analysis for The Times

One of the great advantages that Macintosh and OS/2 users have over those who use MS-DOS and Windows-based personal computers is the ability to give their files meaningful names.

OS/2 allows 256 characters and the Mac allows 32 characters, including spaces, so a file name like "1st Draft Column for 6/17" is a valid and meaningful name. With the limit of eight characters and no spaces in the DOS and Windows world, you're stuck with something like "1DCOL617.DOC." (The three-character extension after a DOS file name is usually determined by the program used to create the file.)

Golden Retriever, from Above Software Inc. of Irvine (800-344-0116), is a $99 alternative providing long file names and file management for Windows-equipped computers.

Files can be named using up to 256 characters, which, like OS/2 file names, is practically enough for an abstract.

Files can be organized for your convenience, not the convenience of the computer.

Golden Retriever has a dark side, however. Once installed, you will have a hard time identifying your files if you ever decide to stop using it.

When you give a file a long, descriptive name in Golden Retriever, it is really acting as an interpreter between you and the DOS operating system. Thus, the program assigns a meaningless number as the DOS name of the file to which you have given a long, descriptive moniker. Instead of "1DCOL617.DOC," the DOS name may be "304965.DOC." If you stop using Golden Retriever, the long names you used will disappear and all you'll have to identify your files will be those numbers.

The same is true if you try to use another program such as XTree Gold or Windows File Manager to work with your files, even with Golden Retriever still installed. So you should understand that Golden Retriever is not just another program. When you bring home this puppy, you're making a commitment.

(Some Windows programs, such as Word for Windows, already allow you to identify files with long descriptions and keywords. If you primarily use such a program, you may have little to gain from Golden Retriever.)

The other important feature of Golden Retriever--file organization--doesn't have any drawbacks and offers a lot of advantages.

Every computer program has its own way of organizing files, usually into one or more subdirectories created on the hard disk, so that it knows where to find them.

Golden Retriever allows you to organize computer files by topic, the way people usually file paper documents, using the familiar metaphor of file drawers containing folders containing multiple documents.

Golden Retriever isn't really physically rearranging your files on the hard disk. They remain just where their programs expect to find them. Instead, Golden Retriever creates a more logical way for your files to be displayed. For instance, even if you use several different word processing programs on your computer, you could organize all of your text files into a single file folder.

As long as the programs expect their respective files to have unique file extensions, such as DOC for Word for Windows or SAM for Amipro 3.0, Golden Retriever will know which word processing program to launch when you double-click on the name of a file you want to edit. The same is true for other kinds of programs.

Golden Retriever has one other feature that I wish more publishers would copy. It is designed to delete itself if you issue the "uninstall" command. Getting rid of unwanted Windows programs is virtually impossible because of the myriad files each contains and the many changes made to Windows when a new program is installed.

Unfortunately, the procedure is flawed, and Windows still believes that Golden Retriever exists after it has been erased.

There are several other reasons to keep the program, however. One is that it causes a backup copy to be made of each file you open, which automatically creates a version history of the file. If later you want to work with an earlier version, it is easily done.

For the security-conscious, Golden Retriever also has a "shred" function that deletes files thoroughly so they cannot be retrieved with un-erase utility programs.

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