Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 117 / FEBRUARY 1990 / PAGE 14




The Norton Commander (Peter Norton Computing, 100 Wilshire Boulevard, 9th Floor, Santa Monica, California 90401; 800-365-1010; $149) is back. With version 3.0, Commander boasts a slightly updated look and scores of new features.

When version 2.0 was released, it received universal acclaim. Easy disk navigation and file management combined with a sleek menu system made this elegant program the DOS shell to have. Version 3.0 keeps the look and feel of 2.0, but it takes that version's strong points and expands on them.

One especially useful feature of 2.0 was its viewers for dBase and Lotus files. If it's easy to view and search your databases and work sheets, managing them is much simpler. Everyone liked these viewers, and this feature was widely copied by other shell programs.

There are too many file viewers supported in 3.0 to list here, but every major spread-sheet, word processor, and database is represented, as are PCX graphics files. (Maybe we'll see viewers for GIF- and IFF-graphics formats in the next release.)

Mouse support has been beefed up, too. The mouse was a strong point with version 2.0, but in 3.0 you can do almost anything with it. Shift-click and Alt-click combinations have been added to increase the number of mouse-executable commands, and there are more selections on the program's pull-down menus. But even with all this mouse power the DOS command line is always at the bottom of the screen, ready and waiting for you to start typing.

The new Commander communicates. If you have a laptop and you want to transfer files between it and your desktop, Commander can do it. You simply connect the two machines with a special null-modem cable (Norton Computing sells one for $29.95), run The Norton Commander on both computers, and start moving data. The Norton Commander also communicates via MCI mail. With 3.0 and an MCI account, you can start whipping out electronic mail.

Besides the added viewers, more mouse support, and new communications skills, there are many small improvements that make the program faster or easier to use. For example, menus and dialog boxes now have drop-shadows, and there's a screen-blanking function with a user-adjustable timer. If you want to blank the screen without waiting for the timer, simply move the mouse pointer to the upper right corner. While the screen is blanked, you'll see stars and rapid cursor movement just to remind you (or anyone who happens upon your computer while you're away) that the machine is active.

To sum up: Commander is back, and it is still the DOS shell to beat. If you want to take a break from the command line, don't miss it. If you already have 2.0, upgrade!

Mouse Race

In the race to build the best mouse, Microsoft just lapped the competition. Its new 400 Series mouse (Microsoft, 16011 NE 36th Way, Redmond, Washington 98073; 206-882-8080; $150) combines high-resolution mouse hardware with a dynamic ballistic driver for unparalleled speed and control.

The new mouse has the same Dove-bar design that caused such a stir when it was originally released, but the mouse's internal workings pump up the resolution from 200 to 400 points per inch (ppi). This means that, even in high-resolution displays, this mouse has excellent control.

And the new driver is now fully ballistic. The mouse travels a greater distance when you move it quickly than when you move it slowly. This makes sense when you think about it. If you're moving the mouse fast, you're probably trying to get someplace else on the screen. If you're moving it slowly, you're usually trying for accuracy.

When you move the 400 Series mouse quickly, it crosses a normal 80-column text screen with less than 1 inch of mouse movement—a mere flick of the wrist. If you move the mouse slowly, the same cross-screen journey takes more than 3frac;12 inches.

The accuracy of the mouse at slow speeds is a result of its 400-ppi resolution. Its ballistic movement comes from its new driver. This driver detects an increase in mouse speed and moves the mouse faster when you cross the speed threshold. What makes this driver handle so well is that it has 16 of these thresholds, so the software is constantly adjusting to the speed you move the mouse.

You can customize the mouse driver's operation by choosing among four speeds and three ballistic profiles. If you don't like the supplied ballistic profiles, you can custom-design your own. You can't go wrong with this mouse.

New Ride

Speaking of mice, almost every Microsoft product supports the mouse, and most come with Microsoft's latest driver software. You may have ignored these up-to-date drivers because you assumed they wouldn't work with your mouse, but there are some good reasons you should give them a try.

New applications often require new drivers, and the driver you're using (and possibly even the latest one a non-Microsoft mouse maker supplies) may not work with new products.

For example, if you're using the PC Tools Deluxe shell with a Keytronics driver and you use the mouse to change screen colors, the program crashes and your system hangs. You'd probably attribute the crash to any number of things, but chances are you'd never suspect your mouse driver.

The newest version of Microsoft Word is another example. Load anything but the latest mouse driver (which Microsoft supplies with the program), and you'll get random garbage on the screen in graphics mode.

So, if you're offered a newer driver with a Microsoft product, try it. Chances are it will work with your mouse. The problem you'll run into is that it won't work well. At least not at first.

With most non-Microsoft mice, the Microsoft driver will be sluggish. You can adjust the sensitivity of the driver and cure this problem, but unfortunately, the information you need to do this appears in the mouse manual that comes with the Microsoft mouse. If you receive an updated driver and you don't have a Microsoft mouse, you're out in the cold. Here's some help.

There are two ways to set the mouse's sensitivity. You can indicate both horizontal and vertical sensitivity with MOUSE.SYS /sn, where s is sensitivity, or speed. Or you can specify horizontal and vertical sensitivity separately with MOUSE.SYS /hn /vn, with h and v the horizontal and vertical sensitivities, respectively. The value for n can range from 5-100, with higher numbers making a faster mouse. You use the same syntax whether you install the mouse as a device driver or a TSR.

My experience with non-Microsoft mice suggests a sensitivity of about 55. If you want to be more precise, you can try a horizontal value of 56 and a vertical one of 54. Start with these and experiment.


Xtree's Software Amnesty for Everyone (SAFE) program (see the October 1989 "Power Up") was a huge success, according to a company spokesman. SAFE allowed those with pirated copies of Xtree to become fully registered users and receive a manual, all for $20.

Registrations have netted Xtree thousands of new registered users. Many of these, the company hopes, will buy upgrades. And many may spring for Xtree's hot new Xtree Pro Gold, a disk and file manager with some powerful features (more on Xtree Pro Gold in an upcoming "Power Up").

Amnesty may be catching on. Although it isn't commenting on the results. XyQuest ran its own Xy Write amnesty program this past August, and the company says it's pleased with the response.

Now Unison World, the publisher of PrintMaster, is running its own program, and it's rumored that a major publisher (WordPerfect?) will announce amnesty plans soon.

Clifton Karnes


Recently, while organizing my office, I stumbled across several software gems—offbeat or little-known programs that tend to be overlooked, I thought I'd devote this month's "DOS Prompt" to sharing a few of these with you.

Micro Libraries

It will be awhile before the cost of CD-ROM devices drops to a level where they'll be practical for the mass market. But a line of products already exists which provides quick access to large resource-oriented files found on CD-ROMs, requiring only a hard disk.

The Micro Library Series (INDUCTEL, 18661 McCoy Avenue, Saratoga, California 95070-9970; 800-367-4497; $49.95 each) combines a memory-resident utility with several disk-based dictionaries, to place a wide range of research information, quite literally, at your fingertips.

At the heart of the Micro Library Series is the KAS (Knowledge Access System). This terminate-and-stay-resident (TSR) "lookup engine" lets you quickly find and display information stored in compressed disk files designed to take advantage of its advanced indexing and data-retrieval capabilities. Current offerings in the Micro Library Series include a 100,000-plus word Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary, The Concise Dictionary of 26 Languages, a nationwide ZIP code directory, and several McGraw-Hill technical dictionaries, encompassing individual lexicons devoted to computer terminology, physics, biology, electrical engineering, chemical terms, and mechanical engineering. More KAS-compatible dictionaries and databases are on the way.

The KAS lookup engine is compatible with a number of popular MS-DOS programs (WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft Word, WordStar, MuitiMate, and the PFS series, among others), which means you can be working in one of these applications. "hot key" to KAS, look up the information you need, and then quickly return to the interrupted task. As an alternative, you can run the Micro Library System in a multitasking session, using DESQview, Microsoft Windows (2.0 and 386), or Software Carousel.

In TSR mode, the KAS lookup engine requires 128K of RAM. The individual dictionaries comprising the various library files consume anywhere from 1.2 to 5.6 megabytes of hard disk space. Until CD-ROM systems become a viable option, which won't happen anytime soon, the Micro Library Series offers a practical alternative to meeting your online research needs.

Losing the TSR Blues

Speaking of TSRs, they can be a pain, Many's the time my PC operations have come to a screeching halt because two incompatible TSRs collided with one another in system RAM. Two shareware utility programs I recently downloaded from a local bulletin board service (BBS) have ail but eliminated this problem for me.

Mark and Release work together to avoid TSR conflicts. If you use Mark to place a memory marker in RAM before loading a TSR, running Release can locate that memory marker and remove its associated TSR from RAM. Using Mark and Release, you could, for example, issue the following DOS command before loading SideKick in your system: MARK SK. If you subsequently needed to use another memory-resident program that you know clashes with that Borland TSR, typing RELEASE SK would flush SideKick from RAM.

As I mentioned earlier, Mark and Release are shareware programs, which means you should be able to find them on a local BBS and download them. They also are available through several commercial online information services. On GEnie, for example, Mark and Release can be found in section 5 of the IBM PC Round-table, in a file that is called TSRCOM29.ARC. (You'll have to use a second shareware program. ARCE.COM, to uncompress this file before you'll be able to run Mark and Release.)


Multitasking is currently a hot topic in the PC community. With the emergence of products like DESQview, Microsoft Windows, and the OS/2 operating system, users have become sensitized to the limitations Inherent in the one-machine/one-task philosophy that has dominated the DOS market for nearly a decade. Not everyone, however, needs the advanced features built into the three multitasking environments listed above. For many people, a less expensive, lower-tech program that supports only limited multitasking capabilities will suffice. One alternative available is PC-MIX (Proware, 110719 Piano Road, Suite 100, Dallas, Texas 75238; 214-349-3790; $49.95).

PC-Mix allows you to load as many as three application programs into RAM at the same time. Furthermore, if enough memory is available, two of these can be processing in the background while you use the third in the foreground of a multitasking session, PC-MIX recognizes and will use expanded memory, so the total RAM requirements of your three applications can exceed the infamous DOS 640K memory barrier.

As you might expect, given its low-tech approach and surprisingly low price. PC-MIX does have some limitations. For example, it's not a windowing environment. Rather, the foreground application completely takes over your monitor. Also, PC-MIX can have trouble managing graphics applications and programs that by-pass DOS's standard BIOS routines when writing to the display screen. If you use primarily BIOS-compatible textbased applications, however, and are interested in endowing your PC with limited multitasking capabilities, you should look into PC-MIX.

That's it for now. Remember, I want your input on this column. Send any questions, comments, suggestions, and so on to COMPUTE!'S editorial offices (324 West Wendover Avenue, Suite 200, Greensboro, North Carolina 27408), or drop me an electronic note on either CompuServe (73047, 122) or DELPHI (NIMS). See you next month.

Jack Nimersheim