DR DOS 6.0. (Evaluation)
by Tony Roberts
When it comes to choosing a DOS for their computers, most people simply take what comes bundled with their systems and look no further. Now, there's good reason to become an active participant in choosing which operating system is right for you.
DR DOS 6.0 from Digital Research is a brawny mixture of operating system and utilities that appears to stand just a shade taller than its market rival MS-DOS 5.0.
In addition to the standard menu of operating system features, DR DOS has enhancements to many commands, including options that let you customize and control your boot-up. Plus it has software for disk caching, disk optimization, and data compression.
To help those suffering from CONFIG.SYS confusion, Digital recently released an addendum to the documentation titled Optimization and Configuration Tips. It attempts to clarify some of the confusing points about using DR DOS and its options, especially its memory-management software. Along with the addendum, Digital sent a disk that includes updates and bug fixes for several of the system's modules.
One of my favorite DR DOS features is its bank of CONFIG.SYS commands; this makes it possible to keep several system configurations in one CONFIG.SYS file and to select the appropriate one at boot-up. The SWITCH command does this by waiting for an operator response and then branching to the selected subroutine. The TIMEOUT command makes this process even more powerful by allowing the system to switch automatically to the first subroutine if no input is received within the timeout period.
Thus, you can set up a CONFIG.SYS that will boot up your defaults unattended, but if you want a special system set up, you can simply interrupt the process with a keystroke and make the appropriate selections. And if you put a question mark at the beginning of any statement in the CONFIG.SYS, DR DOS pauses and asks if you want that statement executed. TIMEOUT can be used here, too: If no response is given before the timeout period expires, the statement is ignored.
If your machine has at least a 286 processor and 1MB of memory, you can take advantage of DR DOS's extensive set of memory-management utilities. You also can load the operating system into high memory, freeing conventional memory, for applications. A 386 or better machine lets you load device drivers, DOS data areas, and some of your own TSRs into upper memory as well.
The controls for managing memory are somewhat complex and challenging to fine-tune. However, Digital seems committed to providing help in this area, having set up a down-load-only bulletin board and a "faxback" information facility to provide commonly requested guidance and the latest news about compatibility problems.
DR DOS also includes several disk-optimization tools. A version of the Super PC-Kwik disk cache--one of the most respected caching programs around--is part of the system.
SuperStor, a data-compression program, lets you nearly double the storage capacity of your hard disk drive. As you write data to the disk, a TSR compresses it, and then it decompresses the data as it's read back. This process consumes a bit of extra time during reading and writing, but the extra room on the hard disk may be well worth it.
The amount of space it can save depends on the type of files your disk holds. Executable program files are the least compressible, while data files typically can be packed into smaller spaces.
Another bonus is DISKOPT, which defragments disks and sorts directories. While not as feature-laden as similar stand-alone programs, DISKOPT beats living with severe fragmentation for lack of appropriate defragging software.
DR DOS also provides the standard DOS commands; however, while they work as you'd expect, many of them also include options and switches that give you more power.
The extended directory (XDIR) and delete (XDEL) commands, for example, are likely to become two of your favorites. XDIR allows you to build directories the way you like to see them--sorted by date, extension, or attribute--much as the beefed-up MS-DOS 5.0 commands permit. However, the XDEL command extends the same powers to the delete function. With XDEL, you can delete every BAK file on your entire hard disk with the command XDEL\*.BAK/S. This utility prompts you for confirmation before it races through all of your subdirectories looking for files to erase.
DR DOS makes it easy not only to erase files but also to unerase them: An UNDELETE command and two additional levels of protection against accidental erasure are included. DISKMAP makes a copy of the current file allocation table, which can later provide valuable information to UNDELETE about where the file resided on the hard disk. As long as that space isn't occupied by another file, UNDELETE should be able to recover the deleted file.
DELWATCH provides a greater level of protection by hiding, rather that erasing, deleted files. When DELWATCH, which runs as a TSR, is active, it keeps track to a certain number of files (200 is the default) which it labels pending delete. These are files that you've deleted that are no longer visible in your directory listings. However, DELWATCH keeps these files on disk and doesn't actually delete them until it reaches its 200-file limit or disk space runs out. When either of these occurs, DELWATCH begins actual deletion, beginning with the oldest file on its list.
One rap against DR DOS 6.0 is that floppy drive access is slow. Also, there's no version of BASIC packed with it. And although DR DOS 6.0 includes ViewMAX, an iconbased graphical user interface, as GUIs go, it's hardly worth mentioning.
But there's much to make up for these few deficiencies. DR DOS 6.0's other features include MOVE, used to easily relocate files or subdirectories; TOUCH, a quick and easy file date-stamping utility; FILELINK, which permits transfer of files between two computers via their serial ports; and PASSWORD, which provides password security for files or paths. It also includes a fullscreen text editor.
Most potential DR DOS users will ask about compatibility. In the past, some software manufacturers were hesitant to lend support to DR DOS. When clashes between the operating system and the software occurred, DR DOS was often blamed.
But that's changing, according to officials at Digital Research. Several computer vendors, including CompuAdd, now pack DR DOS with the systems they sell. The growing acceptance of DR DOS 5.0, and now DR DOS 6.0, has awakened many other vendors to the importance of making certain their products interact with this operating system.
Users of Microsoft Windows 3.0 will find that DR DOS 6.0 and Windows get along fine, but early versions of Windows 3.1 and DR DOS 6.0 met in a head-on collision. Aware of the apparent incompatibility, Digital Research has affirmed its commitment to ensuring compatibility with Windows.
All of this combines to make DR DOS an excellent alternative to MS-DOS, formerly the only game in town. So if you're in the market for a new operating system, you should definitely consider DR DOS 6.0. It performs well and offers many options that will enhance your work every time you sit down at your computer.