Conflict Catcher 8, by Casady & Greene
Posted: 1-Apr-2001

3 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Casady & Greene Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: UTILITY



Conflict Catcher 8 is a utility for startup file management and conflict testing on your Macintosh. It provides you with file descriptions that allows you to easily manage the files. In the event of a problem with your system, such as a crash or freeze, Conflict Catcher 8 is designed to help you determine which system files are causing the problems.




Conflict Catcher 8's interface is very nice, much preferred to Extensions Manager. Likewise, the startup icon display under Conflict Catcher 8 is much more robust than the standard Mac OS bootup icon display. If you have a lot of extensions like myself (fills more than one row on the screen), you probably have noticed that some of those icons pop into the wrong row. I've never understand or been able to resolve that strange behavior, but that's a thing of the past now. Conflict Catcher is very robust in terms of ordering the icons properly. Have you ever wondered what some of those icons were? Another nice feature of Conflict Catcher is that the startup icons are displayed along with the name of the extension. Granted, this causes the icon to take up more space, and so where I once had two rows of icons, there are now five rows of icons displayed during startup. It's temporary realestate, so not a problem.

The real seller of this utility, however, is its ability to cure sick Macs from the "extension conflict" disease. This symptoms of this disease are system freezes, application crashes, or system crashes. A sure sign that it's an "extension conflict" disease is if the problem goes away when you start up with extensions turned off.

Sometimes this disease is easy to cure on your own. For example, if you just installed a piece of software, and all of a sudden something else stops working, it's a fair bet that the new software may be the culprit. I just installed a Kensington VideoCam on my G3 system, and after installing the VideoCam software, my XClaim 128 VR software stopped working (my Mac no longer recognized my XClaim VR card). The VideoCam software only installed two extensions, so it was very easy to pinpoint the culprit (unfortunately, Kensington had no fix for this at the time, so bye bye VideoCam).

For those who prefer not to dig through their system folder on their own, or for times when the conflict is not so obvious, Conflict Catcher automates most of the thinking process for you. It's important to note that Conflict Catcher is not a magical piece of software which examines your system, and then informs you of exactly what the problem is. While that certainly qualify as one of the best utilities around, no such utility exists. Conflict Catcher basically automates the process of investigating your extensions. Instead of you manually enabling and disabling extensions trying to figure out which ones are causing your problems, Conflict Catcher does that for you. In the beginning of the process, it allows you to make some guesses if you happen to have a hunch where the problem stems from. This could shorten the fix time if your hunch pays off. Either way, Conflict Catcher goes through its routine of disabling extensions, asking you to reboot, then disabling others, asking you to reboot, and so on and so forth. It uses a binary pattern in that is chooses half your extensions, then asks you if the problem went away, and based upon your answer, it enables or disables anther half of the extensions. With my extension set, it takes about six reboots to finish one pass (i.e., pinpoint at least one of the extensions in conflict). It isn't the speedy solution that I had hoped for, but it takes a lot of the headaches out of having to keep track of which extensions you've already tested, and which ones you haven't.

After the first pass, Conflict Catcher will reboot with just the one extension disabled to ensure that it was the single cause of your problem. Cross your fingers that that is the case. If the problem exists after this reboot, you are taken through another full pass (six more reboots).

All in all, the process is very straighforward, albeit painfully slow, but the gem of the process is not having to track the extensions yourself. When you find the cure, it's a wonderfully freeing feeling. There is a dark side to the experience, however, in terms of the softwares fallibility.

There is the possibliity that your problem is intermittant. In other words, it may either be caused by something other than the extensions, or worse, caused by a memory condition produced by one or more of your extensions. What this means is that you may have some extensions disabled and the problem goes away, but after working on the system for awhile, the problem may suddenly appear again. This problem can be a nightmare, and unfortunately, if you are plagued by such a problem, Conflict Catcher may actually add to your misery.

I ran a test of Conflict Catcher on an old 7500/100 with a G3/300 upgrade card in it. The problem that has persisted on this machine for years, and through various versions of the Mac OS, is that Acrobat Reader simply would not run (dies error type 2 consistently). If I start up the machine with extensions off, however, it works fine. Sounds like a job for Conflict Catcher, right? Away I went, joyously responding with YES when asked if the problem went away during certain steps of the process where some extensions were loaded and Acrobat Reader actually worked. I was delighted by the end of the pass that Conflict Catcher had pinpointed the extension in conflict. However, in the last step where it checks to see if the problem exists with all extensions except for this one, Acrobat Reader died again. So I begun pass 2, and six reboots later, it pinpointed another extension. Once again, the problem still persisted with just these two extensions turned off, so another 6 reboots for pass 3. This continued for 2 hours, until I started to notice Mac OS extensions being labeled as part of the conspiracy. I know I use these extensions with Acrobat Reader on other machines, so my confidence was quite shaken at this point. I started the whole routine again from scratch, this time entering a hunch. There were times when most of the extensions were on and Acrobat Reader worked, but at the end of the process (another 2 hours later), Conflict Catcher informed me that the problem is "intermittant" and cannot be resolved by disabling extensions. That was 4 hours of my time barfed into the wind.

While this experience is more likely the exception more than the norm, it only takes one to leave a long-lasting bad memory. To help ease the pain, it would have been nice if Conflict Catcher pursued helping me through other means. What I found missing, more painfully so after the experience above, was a powerful database of information that cataloged problems to help clue people in to known issues before going through the reboot process. Even if my particular problem is not known by anyone anywhere, it would have been a decent consolation to have been asked for details of my problem, and then have that information electronically sent to Casady & Greene's Conflict Catcher information server, to be gathered, processed, and used to help others.

One last issue that I had noticed is a similar issue that has always bothered me about Extensions Manager (one that I had hoped Conflict Catcher would eliminate). There are certain extensions which simply would not be recognized by Conflict Catcher (that is, they existed in the Extensions folder, but did not show up in the list of extensions in the Conflict Catcher window). Although this problem also exists in Extensions Manager, I didn't investigate further to see if it was the same extensions that weren't recognized by both applications. My hunch is that they were not, and that Conflict Catcher recognizes more extensions than the Extensions Manager.

In summary, Conflict Catcher 8 is a very refined utility for aiding in the management of your system files, and helping to resolve extension conflicts which cause problems on your computer. It isn't the speediest road to a cure, but for the average problem, it's effective, and the best utility for the job out there.

Pros

  • Robust and useful extension information displayed during boot-up
  • Nice interface for managing system files
  • Automated process for enabling, disabling and tracking extensions for resolving extension conflicts

Cons

  • Although rare, the situation where the problem cannot be found with Conflict Catcher sucks hours of your time, and leaves you cold and dry at the end
  • Missing an information database to help resolve problems prior to going through the reboot process (including gather users problem information to incorporate into a central server database)

Rating Breakdown
Ease of Use
Effectiveness
Functionality
Information


Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 Mice