Processors

DOS is a beautiful thing


One of our engineers was recently attempting to update a customized software support file (with my blessings, by the way), and for a reason I didn't really care to look into at the time, he was being denied access and couldn't overwrite the existing file. (Some Vista security measure, I'm sure, but I had better things to do than to look into it right then and there.) He was trying all the typical Windows procedures, including drag and drop, cut and paste, right-click and send to, saving to a new location from within the file itself, etc., but regardless of what he tried, he was being denied the ability to overwrite this file - even though he had all the proper rights and privileges to do so.

After watching a couple of his attempts, including verifying a read only attribute wasn't turned on, I sat down at his computer, opened up a command prompt window, and ran the old DOS xcopy command, complete with the switches to ignore any error, suppress any prompts, and overwrite read-only files and/or older files:

xcopy filename.ext C:\Destination\filename.ext/d/c/r/y.

In reality, however, since DOS commands don't play nice with spaces, I actually entered the path in its truncated form:

xcopy filename.ext C:\Destin~1\filename.ext/d/c/r/y

And beforehand, I had to refresh my memory on the correct switches ( xcopy /? ), not to mention a couple of change directory commands, all of which just added to the apparent mystery of what I was doing as he watched with great interest. (I later remembered about the use of quotation marks to overcome the spaces in the file and path names.) In about a minute, however, the file was copied to its correct location, and the older file was overwritten. How'd you do that, he asked. DOS is a beautiful thing, I replied. DOS? I thought that was long gone, he said, and acknowledged that he knew nothing about it.

There have been quite a number of generations of computer users since those old DOS days (generations in computer terms, that is), and I would guess that there are more users today who don't know the first thing about DOS commands than those who do. I still use DOS in my environment, including having two old DOS machines still running vital functions. I have one DOS machine providing the computing power for our telephone voice mail system, and another, believe it or not, is actually used for all the company billing functions. Both are still in place because of the cost and headaches associated with updating those two functions - and there's no reason to update them since they're working just fine.

I've also been using DOS commands written into simple batch files which are scheduled to backup data from one drive to another, to map users' network drives, and for various other scripts defined on my server. And how often do we rely on various DOS commands for our network troubleshooting efforts? Ping , or perhaps ipconfig, might be the most common of them all. I still have a couple of MS DOS books on my shelf, and neither one has yet to gather too much dust. While knowing and using DOS used to be a staple of computing, it's quickly becoming a lost art. And I'll even admit that I've forgotten a heck of a lot more about DOS than I still remember.

In many ways, I almost prefer the days of DOS, when the command line ruled, when a window was opened to get fresh air into the room, and when 64K of RAM was enough memory for anybody (something Bill Gates is often taken out of context for saying). Performing maintenance and repairs was often easier as well. On the aforementioned DOS computer that powers our phone voice mail system, for example, I was recently faced with a motherboard and processor failure (due to a processor fan that failed and went unnoticed). All I had to do was to retrieve an old DOS computer that had found a home stashed under a counter - a Pentium MMx, 233MHz, 128MB RAM, 1GB hard drive, and a Trident ISA video card - swap hard drives, install the telephone expansion cards, and it was good to go. (Making sure it had a good working processor fan, of course.) Compared to swapping hard drives between any two Windows computers, there were really no hoops to jump through or configuration settings to change.

I still have a few more of those old DOS computers around here, and I'll keep them as long as I have two others performing critical functions, maybe even longer. And I still look at those old DOS books on occasion, if for nothing else, to keep them from getting too dusty and my DOS skills from getting too rusty.

39 comments
pierre.forget
pierre.forget

Hi, I can swap drives with Linux. Also still use DOS a lot, even with Windows... Pierre Forget

kamal kr
kamal kr

plz send me yours dos notes on my mail id plz...plz...plz boss_kamal@indiatimes.com

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The most important commands to start with are: help dir \dos [some command name] /? respectively: help for command.com built in commands list of programs in \dos specific help for most any command. I'd also recommend "memmaker" to refine your config.sys and autoexec.bat files until your comfortable enough to tweak them by hand.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

I sill maintain dozens of DOS-based applications that I wrote 20 years ago. I don't have to worry every time Microsoft sends out a patch that may trash Windows-based applications. They're far more stable than their Windows cousins as well. Very few of my clients have considered the pain and expense of converting these apps to Windows worthwhile.

Will_B
Will_B

I am still an advid user of DOS in our shop. We have many file functions that need to be carried out in various windows environments. And DOS still shines for Job Control, combined with File Movement, and applicataion execution. We have considered other options, but costs and timelines have always steared us back to DOS. We don't run the older dos machines, our dos is really executable scripts under the current windows environments, but the underlying dos commands are still pretty much the same.

unhappyuser
unhappyuser

Every day and multiple times a day. EMD

Joe_R
Joe_R

As an interesting tidbit and side note, does anyone remember the difference between MS-DOS and PC-DOS? Bill Gates and company (later to become Microsoft) got their start thanks, in large part, to a contract they had with IBM to write the operating system for IBM's new PC (Personal Computer), and PC-DOS was the result. As part of their contract, however, expanded licensing rights was left with Gates. With enough differences to satisfy the licensing agreements, MS-DOS was created, which actually computed with IBM, opening the door for Microsoft to sell its operating system to Compaq, or any other computer maker. IBM's big mistake was to not retain tighter control over the licensing agreement. The rest, as they say, is history.

Tig2
Tig2

Almost nil. As I recall from Techno History 101, MS-DOS was based almost entirely on QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System).

Joe_R
Joe_R

Happy Birthday!

Tig2
Tig2

It is an interesting feeling being older than dirt. Can't wait to find out if I become elderly mud after a shower!

Joe_R
Joe_R

QDOS -- a stroll down memory lane.

Jaqui
Jaqui

I use BASH instead, makes the dos command line seem like a children's toy.

brian.mills
brian.mills

BASH, or really any other *nix-based shell, make DOS look like a child's toy. When I'm using a DOS prompt on Windows, I keep finding myself typing the wrong commands since I've become accustomed to the Linux command line moreso than the DOS command line.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

It was purely dumb luck; Boss was standing over my sholder while I config'd a server going to a client the next day. I needed the last command back so I habbitually hit the up arrow and it apeared at the winNT prompt. I keep going the other way too. There's usually at least one "ls" before I switch back to Dos mode for "dir" and only one function at a time.

-Q-240248
-Q-240248

And also, btw, tab now works with the command prompt and can finish commands for you, just like in *ix.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

That's going strait into my config.sys tonight when I get home and have time to bot my Dos VM.. ah.. the collection will be refined another step.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

We used to use TSR command memory programs. Then MS introduced the DOSKEY utility in (if I remember correctly) MS-DOS 4. Loading DOSKEY as a device in the config.sys file gave you a command memory function with a default value of 16 or 32 128-byte commands. Command-line switches allowed you to adjust the buffer size for more (or less) as you desired. Edit: punctuation?

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

It's amazing how much WinNT I learned after learning *nix by the mighty "crap, that works here too?" method. I think my response was "it works at home on my Mandrake boot, I thought I'd try it."

DanLM
DanLM

ugggg, not a good day for me to post or read threads. I read it as you thought the up arrow didn't work on windows dos. Like I said, ugggg. Dan

DanLM
DanLM

I was use to doing it in a unix shell.... Roflmao, hell... I didn't even know it was any different till the one guy at work said the same thing your boss did. How did you do that. Lol, next question he asked me was. How far back is the history. Chuckle, in my knowing all manner... With a straight face I answered him. Got me by the chops. Dan

DanLM
DanLM

lol, only reason I know that is because I run a bunch of dos scripts(toad sucks with high overhead) here at work. And I'm always using the up arrow to get back my commands when I go to the next script to be run. win2000. dan

Joe_R
Joe_R

Do you maintain any DOS computers in your environment? What functions do they perform? Do you have spares? Do you still use DOS commands to support your office functions and users? What DOS tips and tricks could you share with the Windows computing world?

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

and what they do is run CNC machining software on old 386 and 486 machines. I've recently replaced a failed motherboard on a 486DX PC that was controlling a CNC router for a woodworking shop. Yes, DOS is out there and it does help to know how to use DOS, because DOS is still the only real troubleshooting method when you can't get a GUI up in Windows.

RknRlKid
RknRlKid

While I am on a rant, I must interject that nothing is obsolete if it does what it was made to do! I am still convinced that the "progress" of software/hardware is a myth. Why? Because most end users really didn't need it. Corporations might need it, the internet might have required it, but in reality, most home users didn't. My favorite quote was by someone at an obsolete computer convention. "How fast can you type?" he asked. If you cannot type faster than 15 wpm, it will make little difference to you if your computer is 33mhz or 333mhz. You can only type so fast. If you are just typing, then a DOS-based, single session word processor is just fine. And yes, I do still use DOS applications at home!

RknRlKid
RknRlKid

There are many things that makes original MS-DOS useful and functional that you cannot do with a GUI. There are more options for floppy disk and hard disk formatting (specifying media type, number of sectors, etc). Recovering files (DOS "sees" files that Windows hides). I have all sorts of examples running through my head right now. The biggest thing I do with DOS is recovering word processor files! Stripping the headers off of Word and WordPerfect files so the data can be saved...that can best be done in a command line text editor. I think that is another reason I like Linux. There is the command line option if I need it. I am not locked in to just the GUI.

seanferd
seanferd

The DOS 5.0 handbook was the most useful item ever published by MS that came with the operating system (as far as I know). What I really miss is the control available in DOS prior to the newer NT versions (like XP). Is there an easy way to take control of files "currently in use by the system"? Apparently this is because of Winlogon loading certain files before you get to the DOS prompt. I've even tried the old InUse.exe to change certain files at boot, which still doesn't work. The only way I've found to change some files is to boot a file manager from CD. Is there a purely DOS way to do this?

nwoodson
nwoodson

Ever since they removed that one file DOS was eveicerated. Everything that's left is actually an emulated command.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I had to boot a VM just to check that out as I was sure I'd seen it someplace. Command.com is still there though: c:\windows\system32\command.com

Tig2
Tig2

Once upon a time, Windows was just a GUI interface over DOS. The DOS window was an absolute control from the GUI. Alas, that absolute control is no longer available. I think that the divorce of the GUI to the CLI started with Win2K but may be mistaken, XP may have been the first iteration. Regardless, the CLI is no longer an integral part of the OS. This to me screams out reduced functionality but what do I know?

seanferd
seanferd

Even if you F8 to DOS, or pick it off a startup menu, Winlogon et al still run first, denying you access to any files they load. I've read, however, that there is a bit of software out there that would let you log on as System. Not something I'd like to leave on a machine, but maybe useful if used properly. I never changed command line colors, but I used to have a red boot menu for w95/w98, so I could choose what I wanted support for when I booted to DOS, which I usually preferred over using a WinDOS box.

faradhi
faradhi

What I find really interesting, is that since XP microsucks has added more command line functionality to everything new. It is culminating in the Server 2008 Server Core which will load command line interface and that is it. However, it will not be pure command line, that is black screen white writing. It will load a command line window (dos box). On a side note: does anyone else change their command line windows to green or orange writing.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The same problem existed in NT 3.5 and 4.0. BTW, command.com still exists, even in XP (open the Run dialog and type "command"!), but it runs in a virtual machine, just like cmd. The only way I know to bypass the GUI is to select the "Command line" option at the startup options (F8)screen.

seanferd
seanferd

I appreciate the reply TiggerTwo & nwoodson. This is one of the reasons I dislike Windows OS, event though I still use them. Up to W98, if the file system hiccuped or there was a malware infection, you could manually fix things in DOS (wow, Real mode, even direct disk access). I've noticed that now, once, say, XP has problems, it is a lot harder to fix. - Hey just click okay to repair on boot - never seems to work. I GUESS I'm glad there is still some "DOS". I'm even happier that there is BASH, though I'm no *nix expert, and I only get to use it at home.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

It was a staple of home computing when growing up (until win95 anyhow). I ran a BBs on a DOS box until ~Internet killed the BBs Star~. I miss old DOS. The only place I have it running now is under a VM since I have the lincense still (boots in under a second). I quickly rememberd "sneaker net" transfers after it booted up though adn I just don't have floppies kicking around all over the place still. Actually, anyone out there know of a standard TCP/IP stack and network driver that would work with VMware? I'd love to get some stuff transfered to my dos box and rebuild the system as it was complete with BBs restored. Currently, my option is to stuff everything in a .ISO include that into the DOS VM as a second drive.

-Q-240248
-Q-240248

Get them from MS, they made DOS TCP/IP drivers. I think they made them for WFWG or something like that. Microsoft Network Client or something like that. Google it is your best bet.

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