Playing the Shell game. (MS-DOS Shell) (Column)
by Tony Roberts
If you have DOS 5.0 and don't run MS-DOS Shell every once in a while, you may be missing a few tricks.
MS-DOS Shell is a file manager. It provides a menued environment for managing files, launching applications, and performing DOS commands. If you prefer to issue commands with a mouse rather than with the keyboard, you'll be more at home in MS-DOS Shell than on the command line.
It certainly isn't the most elegant file manager in the world, but if you don't have access to a better program, MS-DOS Shell certainly beats the command line for some tasks.
For example, if you have several files to copy, move, or delete, tagging them in MS-DOS Shell is quicker and significantly less susceptible to error than typing in names one by one at the command line.
Another of MS-DOS Shell's fancy tricks is that it allows you to view your entire disk as one unit rather than as a collection of subdirectories.
To try this option, select All Files in MS-DOS Shell's View menu, The display will switch from a view of the currently selected subdirectory to a listing of all files on the entire disk. They'll be ordered according to your default sorting option--most likely alphabetically.
What good is such a list? You can use it to find duplicates. As you scroll through the list, you may find several files with the same name. This indicates that you may have duplicate copies of those files in different subdirectories, When you select a file in the listing, an information panel displays all the details about the file--subdirectory, size, date of creation, attributes. By comparing this information for each of the possible duplicates, you can determine whether the files are identical copies or are different files that happen to share the same name.
Running out of disk space? Use MS-DOS Shell's All Files listing to show you the largest space eaters on your hard drive. After selecting All Files from the View menu, select File Display Options on the Options menu. Select Display by File Size, and select the Descending Order option.
The result is a listing of all the files on the disk from largest to smallest. You'll be able to concentrate your disk-cleaning efforts where they will do the most good--on the largest files.
If looking at everything on the disk is a little overwhelming (large hard disks can hold thousands of files), return to the Options menu and select File Display Options. Instead of specifying *.* to see everything on the disk, narrow the selection, depending on your focus.
For example, enter *.txt to see all the files with a txt extension. If you enter *.bak, you can locate all the backup files on the disk and delete them all in one fell swoop if you like.
MS-DOS Shell has a search function that lets you search an entire disk for filenames that match a pattern, such as *.txt or *.bak, but the resulting display lists only the pathname for each file. I find it more helpful to use the All Files approach outlined above, because the resulting directory includes information such as file size and date of creation.
In addition to being a file manager, MS-DOS Shell is also an application launcher and swapper. You can set up a program list with the titles of your favorite applications. For each application title, you fill out a properties box in which you specify what happens when you activate that application. You specify a command line, a startup directory, a shortcut key combination, and even a password if you like.
Once you have an application running, you can switch back to MS-DOS Shell and run another program without shutting down the first application. Under this scenario, the programs aren't all active at the same time. MS-DOS Shell swaps the inactive programs to the disk and places the active program in memory. The speed with which this happens depends on the speed of your hard disk.
MS-DOS Shell also is good at associations. If your word-processing program, for example, uses the doc extension for its document files, you can associate the doc extension with the word-processing program. From that point on, double clicking on any doc file will start the word-processing program and load in the selected doc file. Follow a similar procedure for your database files, spreadsheet files, and so on.
With all its file management and program management features, MS-DOS Shell is a little like a combination of Program Manager and File Manager in Microsoft Windows. In fact, MS-DOS Shell's menus, file selection conventions, and operating procedures are similar to those of Windows.
If you're accustomed to running Windows, you should be quite comfortable with MS-DOS Shell operations. If your machine doesn't have the speed or memory to run Windows, MS-DOS Shell can give you a similar operating environment without all the overhead.