A utility program performs tasks related to the maintaining of your computer's health - hardware and data. Some are included with the operating system. But someone always thinks they have a better version for you to buy. And they are frequently right!
File Management programs make it easier to manage your files and folders. Windows currently includes many features that were first used in add-on file management programs.
In the high days of DOS it didn't take much to improve on the text-only type-it-all-yourself methods that DOS provided. Many programs were written to help the user find files, create and organize directories, copy, move, and rename files. Some even used the mouse to point and click to accomplish these tasks. You don't appreciate the vastness of the improvement until you've tried to do these things by typing the commands. The newer graphical interfaces that come with current operating systems have reduced the need for alternate file management programs.
Disk Management programs involve formatting, partitioning, and defragmenting disks.
Formatting means preparing a disk for use by setting up the file system.
Partitioning is dividing the space on a disk into two or more 'virtual' drives. This is necessary if the drive had more space than the operating system can manage. It can be useful in other situations also.
Defragmenting means putting files on the disk so that the whole file is in sequence instead of being scattered around in different areas. This reduces the time to access the file. Some disk management programs even let you specify that certain files that are accessed often, like the operating system itself and frequently used programs, are at the front of the disk. Anything that speeds things up will have customers.
A backup program, which also restores the backed up data, is a must if you have any data at all that you want to keep around for a while. The software may compress the data to take up the least space (Recall the problem with slack space we found in the discussion of Storage: Disk Format).
Your backup files can be on a hard disk, SSD disk, flash disk, optical disc, or stored in the "cloud" (a remote server that you access over the Internet). Some online services will automatically synchronize files and even allow access to the online copy from a different computer.
Tip: For important, hard-to-replace data, keep multiple copies on different kinds of media. Be sure that your backup is not stored in the same physical location as the computer! A fire or theft could get both.
Data Recovery programs are for those who just said "Whoops!" They attempt to recover deleted or damaged (corrupted) files. Use immediately or forget about it!
Data Compression programs squeeze out the slack space generated by the formatting schemes, as discussed under Storage: Disk Format.
This category includes a number of different kinds of programs, all of which are trying to protect your computer and your data from attacks and damage and from being controlled without your permission. No one program can protect against all of the bad guys out there. Using a set of overlapping programs is the best way to keep your computer and its data safe. But using too many at once creates its own problems.
Malware is what we call the whole category of things that try to do bad things to your computer or your data.
Anti-virus programs monitor the computer for the activity of viruses and similar nasties.
Anti-spyware programs similarly monitor your computer, looking for known trouble-makers as well as suspicious behavior.
Anti-spam software tries to identify useless or dangerous messages for you.
A firewall blocks attempts to access your files over a network or internet connection. Your network router or modem or both may have a hardware firewall built into it. That will block incoming attacks. But you still need a software firewall on your computer to block outgoing attacks. Your computer can become infected through shared disks or even from another computer on the network. So you need to monitor what your computer is putting out over the network or internet also.