DOS's days are numbered, and that's mostly a good thing: In normal operation, a well-developed graphical user interface (GUI) is much easier to use than a command-line interface (CLI).
But when things go wrong with your system -- badly wrong -- sometimes you can't get to the point where your GUI loads. All the GUI-based tools in the world won't do you any good at all if you can't run them. Worse, sometimes an entire hard drive can become unbootable. If all your diagnostic and repair tools -- GUI or CLI -- are on your hard drive, you're toast.
That's why it's smart to have easy access to a bootable DOS floppy and a custom DOS toolkit. In fact, if you rely on your PC for your work or for important personal information and use, I'd say having a bootable floppy and toolkit is an absolutely essential safeguard.
Trouble is, Microsoft is inexorably moving to the day when all versions of Windows are DOS-free. Indeed, Windows 98SE may be the last version of Windows in which you can easily make bootable DOS floppies!
This series of WinMag "Explorer" columns is about ensuring that you'll always have access to useful low-level diagnostic and repair tools that can help get you out of even the worst jams: a complete and practical DOS toolkit you can store in a safe place against future need -- even if, or when, you eventually end up using a DOS-free version of Windows.
Part One of this series set the context and gave the essential ground-zero information; it also contained a plethora of DOS-related links to get you started. Part Two detailed how to create a custom boot or "emergency" disk -- a better boot disk than the one that may have come with your copy of Windows, or that you can make via the Control Panel "Add/Remove Software" applet.
Now it's time to finish stocking your DOS toolkit. In each of the first two columns, I invited readers to post their suggestions for items to add to a DOS toolkit, and many of you did so (thanks!). If you haven't seen the posts yet, click over to the discussion areas for Part One and Part Two to take advantage of the good information there.
Many more readers choose to write to me directly, by e-mail. That's fine (and I thank everyone who wrote in!) but the drawback to e-mail is that it's a one-to-one conversation. So in this column, I'll present the best of the e-mailed reader suggestions so everyone can benefit.
All the following tools are worthy and almost all are available for free. Depending on your system, your setup, your skill level and your anticipated future needs, you can pick and choose among these to stock your DOS toolkit as you see fit: Copy the files that interest you to floppies or a Zip disk, or burn them on a CD. The key thing is to store them in a stable, safe location, preferably not on your hard drive (where a system crash could take them out).
When you're done, your custom boot disk and DOS toolkit will give you more control over your system than ever -- even if Microsoft chooses to completely kill DOS in the future.
And now, the tools:
LFN Tools steps around this DOS limitation with a free set of custom-written utilities that uses (and preserves) Windows' long file name format in DOS. The tool kit includes:
LCOPY: copies files and/or directories (similar to XCOPY)
LDIR: displays a directory
LCD: changes to a directory
LDEL: deletes a file
LCHK: drive information
LREN: renames a file
LMD: creates a directory
LRD: removes a directory
DEVICE = C:\WINDOWS\EMM386.EXE NOEMS
DOS = HIGH,UMB
The first line loads EMM386, which is a driver for a very old technology called "Expanded Memory." Few apps use Expanded Memory any more; almost all (including Windows) use "Extended Memory." Because almost nothing uses Expanded memory, you add the command "NOEMS" to tell the Expanded Memory Manager that you don't really want any Expanded Memory Services.
That sounds dumb: loading an EMS driver and then immediately turning off its EMS functions. But the EMM386 driver also gives your system access to the UMB area, and the "DOS = HIGH,UMB" line then starts to put this otherwise wasted memory to use. Thus, by loading EMM386 and turning off the Expanded memory functions via NOEMS, you gain access to UMBs that otherwise would go to waste.
Still, that's clumsy. UMBPCI is a faster, more direct and better way to access UMBs without the rigamarole of adding and then immediately disabling an obsolete Expanded Memory Manager. It's a power tool aimed at knowledgeable users, and you'll find full info at www.uwe-sieber.de/umbpci_e.html.
With the resources above, plus those listed in Parts One and Two of this series, you can create an absolutely awesome DOS toolkit! Now please click on over to the discussion area and share your best DOS toolkit files, tips, tricks, and tweaks; or ask your DOS questions. See you there!