Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 115 / DECEMBER 1989 / PAGE 132


That inhuman command line interface, MS-DOS, is responsible for the largest number of gripes in the PC-compatible world. The intimidating prompt! Those obscure abbreviations! That unforgiving syntax! The inflexibility and coldness of it all! Millions of Macs have been sold on the strength of Apple's "natural, intuitive interface," with the implication that competitor MS-DOS is an "unnatural, incomprehensible interface."

A number of programs have been released over the years to transform MS-DOS into a kinder, gentler operating system and to make it more appealing to novices and experienced users. DOSTALK (now in version 2.1), one of the more ambitious efforts, offers "an English-language interface to the DOS environment," according to its developer, SAK Technologies. The program translates regular English phrases into executable commands, presumably eliminating much of the necessary MS-DOS know-how.

One important aspect of DOS-TALK is that it doesn't ask you to memorize many terms and rules. The only thing that you must keep in mind is to capitalize the first letter of directory, file, and device (disk drives) names. A potentially disastrous situation may arise if you don't because DOSTALK will ignore the name and, if possible, execute the rest of the command. Typing erase word.txt from the hard disk without capitalizing the filename as Word.txt will cause DOSTALK to read the command line as erase the hard disk! Luckily, the program queries you before erasing any file, and its UNDO feature lets you cancel your most recent command.

But can DOSTALK really understand English-language commands? From my hard disk's root directory, I typed commands to change to a subdirectory called Dpaint. The usual DOS command would be cd dpaint. Entering change directory to Dpaint and go to dir Dpaint both worked. But typing go Dpaint elicited the query What should I do with the Dpaint directory? I had to enter the additional change to it to get the job done. DOSTALK will continue to query you until you issue a command it can follow. I found it can cope with many things you tell it, but don't expect the program to understand every possible way of forming a command. Ironically, the closer you come to MS-DOS syntax, the more likely DOSTALK will understand what you're trying to say.

DOSTALK offers several features that should have been built into MS-DOS from the start. These include a more flexible command editor that allows you to type corrections into any part of the current command, and an input history buffer that lets you review and edit any of the last ten commands. Another feature is the ability to locate any file and directory automatically. For example, if you issue a command such as find the file for a file (with or without wildcards) that's not in the current directory, DOSTALK will list the path-names for the file. Note also that you have to specify just what you want—in this case, a file and not a directory or subdirectory.

DOSTALK's 27-page manual tests the reader's own language comprehension. Here's a typical sentence: Yzx which is the name of a file or a directory should be starting with an upper case letter since it is not the sentence will be read as: erase the hard disk. Once you get past the manual's peculiar punctuation and syntax, it offers a reasonably complete discussion of how to use DOSTALK.

The bottom-line question for a program of this type is will it really save you time and effort? I'm no MS-DOS maven, but for me the answer is No. Some of what DOSTALK does can be accomplished from within MS-DOS. For the rest, the time needed to learn DOSTALK and handle its queries could be better spent learning the dozen or so commonly used MS-DOS commands. But if you're hopelessly confused and put off by MS-DOS, DOSTALK will shield you from the worst offenses of the PC command line interface; and it's a lot cheaper than a Macintosh.


For IBM PC, XT, AT, PS/2, Tandy, and compatibles with 360K, DOS 2.1 or higher, and two disk drives or a hard drive—$89.95

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