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Partition Management Utilities (Partition Magic, etc.)
Microsoft provides basic utilities that let you partition and format hard disks for use with their operating systems. These include FDISK, which creates and deletes partitions, and FORMAT, which allows you to format a hard disk to ready it for use. These programs are functional, but rather crude. They let a "typical user" do the basics, but nothing else. If you are someone who tinkers with hard disks a great deal, or works with many systems, you will quickly discover that the tools built into DOS and Windows are inadequate for doing many things you will need and want to do.
To fill this gap, several companies have created third-party partition management utilities, which can do everything that FDISK and FORMAT can do, and a lot more as well. The most famous of these is the Partition Magic program, which is produced by PowerQuest. There are also other programs that compete with Partition Magic, though PM is the leader in this segment of the market. (Quarterdeck used to have a program called Partition-It that was similar, but Quarterdeck was swallowed up by Symantec and the Partition-It product seems to have disappeared.)
In addition to the mundane--letting you see the partitions on each of your hard disks, partitioning and formatting disk volumes, assigning labels and so on--partition management utilities typically include the following features:
As you can see, this software provides you with a host of capabilities; you probably knew just from reading that list if this type of program is right for you. A typical PC user who buys a retail PC, uses it for a few years and buys a new one, doesn't need this kind of software. For the hobbyist, homebuilder, upgrader or system administrator, it's hard to do without...
Warning: An important caveat
about partitioning utilities: some of their operations can take a fair bit of time. This
applies particularly to tasks such as resizing partitions or changing cluster sizes.
During the time that this work is taking place, your hard disk is vulnerable to data loss
in the event of a hardware or power failure. It is highly recommended that you
back up your data before working on your partitions; when I am doing this sort of work, I
try to make sure the PC is plugged into a UPS, just in case. (This is also true of using
FDISK and in fact any software that works intimately with the hard disk, but since FDISK
is normally used when the disk is empty, there isn't the same concern about data loss.)
Warning: Some companies that
produce hard disk controllers, such as Promise (the maker of the popular Promise Ultra
series of IDE/ATA hard disk controllers) have publicly made warnings that third-party
partitioning and formatting utilities should not be used on drives connected to
their hardware. Frankly, I have never seen a reasonable explanation for why this should be
a problem, and I know that many people do use Partition Magic and other similar programs
on such drives with no problems. I suspect that this exclusion exists primarily to let
Promise "cover themselves" in the event of bugs in third-party software, or
problems that arise due to software they have not tested. So, I provide this warning so
you know their position, and you can decide for yourself what you want to do. Be aware
that due to this statement, they will probably not be of much help if you encounter
problems with their hardware after using third-party software.