Do you believe just because you have Windows 9x that you don’t need your DOS disk utilities anymore? Think again! I learned this fact the hard way, thanks to a laptop that came from the brother of my boss.

The story
One morning not too long ago, my company GM handed me a laptop and said, “This is my brother’s. Can you set it up for me? You know, reload Windows, make sure everything works, and connect to the Internet?”

Yeah. Sure. Fine. The only problem was that the laptop in question was a dinosaur of a machine. It had a 486 DX4/75 processor. The worst thing, however, was not the processor and its speed—it was the fact that it had no CD-ROM. I found myself thinking, “Load Windows without a CD? Uh, right. I’ll just reach into my magic bag and pull out a copy of Windows 95 on disk. Sure thing.”

However, being the hard-working individual that I am, a short while later the GM’s brother had a lean, mean, computing machine, ready to take on the world. And it was because of the “old tools,” the Windows 95 disks, that I was able to get the job done without a CD-ROM.

The lesson to be learned
Sometimes, you will find that the “old tools” can be the best tools. It all depends on the job, of course. If your job is to restore a dead system, the old DOS-based tools may be the only tools at your disposal. There are a few that I always carry with me, and I recommend that they become part of your permanent PC tool kit:

  • Boot disks
    You can’t get too far without a boot disk. I suggest you carry three: Windows 98, Windows 95, and DOS 6.22. It’s also advisable to make sure you have the appropriate utilities with you as well—FDISK.EXE, FORMAT.COM, SYS.COM, and such. These three disks will keep you running in sync with most of the Windows systems you’ll be troubleshooting. If you can’t create your own boot disks, download them from Once there, you can also find NT4 and Win2K boot disks, along with earlier versions of DOS.
  • Directory Freedom
    The latest version of this program, if you want to call it latest, is version 4.61, written way back in 1993. And believe it or not, it is still as powerful as ever. In my opinion, it’s the best DOS file utility ever created. To get the program running, you simply type DF at the prompt and press [Enter]. Once this is done, you can navigate every drive on the system. You can also copy and move files, rename files and directories, change attributes, explore file archive contents, examine ASCII strings within binary files, edit text files, and more. The best part is that you can do all of this from an interface that resembles a DOS “dir” command. For what it does, this is an incredible utility, and I can’t recommend it enough. Stop whatever you’re doing and get it now. You can find it at PC and other fine download sites.
  • PKZIP for DOS
    Yup, we were zipping files way before Windows! PKZIP was the original and is still the best zipping tool for DOS. You’ll need this package when you are required to extract .zip files on your machine and are unable to boot into Windows. PKZIP for DOS has been updated over the years. The latest version, 2.50, has Win9x long file name support among its improvements. You can download it from PKWARE.
  • F-Prot for DOS
    You shouldn’t even think about troubleshooting a system without first scanning a machine for viruses. F-Prot has several advantages over larger Windows virus programs. Such favorites as McAfee and Norton have become too Windows-dependent and are much too large for floppies. F-Prot is a DOS-based program and runs off two disks. One disk contains the engine and the other has the virus definition files. F-Prot is also disposable. You can throw away the floppies once they’ve disinfected a system. Best of all, F-Prot is free. You’ll find it, along with the current definition files, at Simtel.Net.
  • Partition Magic
    Did you know that Partition Magic comes with a DOS-based utility? The file is PQMAGICT.EXE, a menu-driven, text-only version of this powerful program that fits on a single floppy and runs via the prompt. Why would you need PM on a floppy? Try this example: An employee has hosed her C drive and can’t boot to DOS. You load the machine using a boot disk, run PQMAGICT.EXE, and create a new partition. From this point, you can copy the “bad” partition to the newly created partition, reformat the C drive, reinstall the OS, and restore the data files from the new partition. Once all files have been restored, you can safely delete the new partition. It’s a real lifesaver. PQMAGICT.EXE is part of the Partition Magic package available from PowerQuest.
  • DOS-based Norton
    I can’t recommend any freebies or shareware diagnostic tools because I don’t use them. You’ll just have to find them on the Internet and test them for yourself. I personally pack a load of Norton disks. I currently use Norton Disk Doctor for DOS, Norton Diagnostics for DOS, Norton DiskEdit for DOS and Norton Unerase for DOS. Peter Norton has saved my butt so many times over the years that I wouldn’t feel right if I gave my allegiance to anyone else. All these utilities come with the Norton Utilities for Windows package, and can be purchased at Symantec.

I do have more utilities, but these specific tools will get you started on the right path. They’re tried and true, have their roots in the good old days of DOS, and can be carried around on floppies. I suggest you make them part of your support toolkit. You’ll be glad you did!
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