Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 164 / MAY 1994 / PAGE 14

Help for DOS. (Introdos) (Software Review) (Column) (Evaluation)
by Tony Roberts

This month, let's take a look at a couple of problems faced by anyone who uses DOS. First, it's impossible to remember how to use all the DOS commands, especially those that are used infrequently, and second, how do you cope with a disk that's filling up with files you can't identify and don't know whether you need?

Veteran computer users know that a few commands are all you need most of the time. However, the times when you're faced with an unfamiliar command or procedure and your DOS manual is nowhere in sight can be the most frustrating.

When DOS 5.0 was introduced, Microsoft took steps to alleviate this problem by including a Help utility, which lets you keep a DOS manual online and always available to answer your questions. This Help utility defines various DOS commands and provides usage notes and examples.

As helpful as DOS's Help utility is, however, it pales in comparison to DOS Help! 6.0 (Flambeau Software, 1147 East Broadway, Suite 56, Glendale, California 91205; 800-833-7355; $49.95), an expansive reference and tutorial.

DOS Help! 6.0 includes more than 2MB of data linked in a smooth hypertext presentation that allows you to move quickly to the information you need. With complete information on the basic commands, excellent DOS tutorials, detailed data on power-user topics, and a hints-and-tips section, DOS Help! 6.0 has an answer for users on every level. If you want to acquire a real understanding of how your computer works and be able to solve problems of all kinds on your own, DOS Help! 6.0 is a necessary resource.

The original version of DOS Help! was introduced in 1985, and the program's been getting bigger, better, and more refined ever since. If you find yourself searching for answers, it's the key. There's no easier way than DOS Help! 6.0 to understand what DOS is doing and why.

Another problem every computer user faces is disk bloat. Hard disks fill up with hundreds and thousands of files, many of which do nothing more than occupy space. Solid Oak Software has come up with a solution. It's called Disk Historian (Solid Oak Software, P.O. Box 6826, Santa Barbara, California 93160; 800-388-2761; $59).

Disk Histroian is a resident program that monitors all file access to your system and keeps a database file to track which files have been accessed. All you do is install the program and let it keep an eye on things. After the database has had a chance to build, you can view the data through an interface that runs under Windows.

This viewer lets you see which files are active and which never get any use. The program allows you to sort and group the data in a variety of ways so you can look at things the way you want. For example, I review a lot of Windows shareware programs, and after a while my C:~WINDOWS~SYSTEM subdirectory is loaded with dynamic link library (DLL) files that have come from who knows where. However, without knowing what program was expecting to access those files, I'd be afraid to delete them.

Disk Historian comes to the rescue. Disk Historian keeps a count of the number of times a file's been accessed, plus it keeps the dates of the first and most recent access. Perusing a Disk Historian list of DLL files, you can easily see which ones are busy and which ones are doing nothing.

You can either delete the inactive files or compress them with Disk Historian's resident compression utility. This allows you to crunch the file to save some disk space yet keep it nearby in case you're uneasy about throwing it out completely. If in the future a program halts because it can't find the file, just run the Disk Historian interface and decompress the file.

Disk Historian classifies files as active or inactive depending on how many times and how recently they've been used. For example, an active file is one that's been accessed at least once in the last ten days, 5 times in the last month, 10 times in the last quarter, or 25 times in the last six months. If you try to delete a file that Disk Historian classifies as active, the program will warn you before the deletion takes place.

The philosophy behind Disk Historian is that you can save megabytes of space by deleting unnecessary files. Unused files typically occupy between 30 and 70 percent of a hard disk. And if you have data files that you'd like to keep but that haven't been accessed in ages, Disk Historian provides an off-loading option so you can free up space and still have the data available.

For years, I've been making the wildest kind of guesses about which data and application files could be deleted and which had to remain on the disk. Sometimes, I have deleted too much and had to reinstall applications, only to begin the weeding-out process all over again.

But now that I have Disk Historian working, I can eliminate the guesswork and make smart choices when cleaning up my hard disk.