TEBBUTT ON ROSS ON DOS (column) - DOS 5.0 launch

Written by David Tebbutt, Computer Buyer 09/91 - scanned

[Not content with showing the product, Microsoft hired a TV personality to launch DOS 5.0. David Tebbutt reports on how it went, and what he thought of Microsoft's baby when he got it home]

Microsoft decided to have a bit of a bash to celebrate the launch of DOS 5.0. It invited Jonathan Ross to stage a chat show at which a succession of industry luminaries would come along and sing Microsoft's praises.

It chose Ross presumably so it could call the event `Ross on DOS'.

The conference theatre of Olympia 2 was packed to the gills with representatives from the computer industry, the press and major accounts. As Ross worked his way through Microsoft MD David Svendsen, Lotus MD Paul Bailey, Ashton-Tate MD Paul Sloane, and one or two others, it became clear why he's a television star and they're not.

Svendsen admitted that DOS 4.0 in its various guises was a bit of a shambles. He also tried to position OS/2 at the high end of the business, thus creating the space lower down for both DOS 5.0 and Windows. The others trooped up and pledged their support for DOS 5.0. Then the real star of the show, Microsoft product manager David Smith, got up and demonstrated the product. Jonathan Ross and, I suspect, a lot of the audience soon began to glaze as Smith plunged articulately into ever-greater detail.

At last he lost most of the audience when he started enthusing about a "slash C extension" being included as a result of user feedback. The poor man had little choice. If he'd stopped short and just given a slick presentation of the installation procedure and the pretty DOS shell, he'd have been accused of misleading the audience. He had to get into the technicalities, partly to show the power of the new system and partly to show that, to get the best out of DOS 5.0, you still need to be a bit of a techie.

I rushed home clutching my copy of DOS 5.0 upgrade which, incidentally, costs £69 - unless you buy a 10-pack, which costs £550. Gosh! If every one of the 60 million MSDOS users in the world upgraded, they'd spend over three and a half billion pounds between them. No wonder Microsoft is so excited.

When I got home, I immediately launched the `foolproof' Install program. the first thing it did was discover some old DOS files in my root directory. The Install program knew what they were but it wasn't going to tell me. I had to winkle them out. Not a task for the novice, I can assure you. But then maybe a novice wouldn't have put DOS files in the root in the first place.

After this shaky start, everything went smoothly and I have to say I was very impressed with the result. The DOS shell is a pleasure to use, making disk navigation, management and program loading simplicity itself. I actually prefer using DOS 5.0 to Windows. DOS 5.0 has seen off some of my long-time favourite programs. My relationship with the QDOS file manager has come to an end after many years. It simply doesn't work under DOS 5.0.

I've also thrown out DOSEDIT and CED, two programs which gave me access to the commands I'd entered previously. DOS 5.0's DOSKEY does the same thing. I even threw out DESQview because of DOS 5.0's task-swapping capability. Little did I realise that this is one area where the new system falls short of its potential.

DESQview allows you to run multiple tasks concurrently. You could have half a dozen programs in memory at the same time and switch from one to the other is instantaneously. DOS 5.0's task swapper rolls each program out to disk and the new one in as you skip from one to the other. It seems slow to me, but someone new to task swapping will think DOS 5.0's version is wonderful.

One thing I do like about DOS 5.0 is the display. I have a colour VGA screen, so I have chosen a 43-line display with the screen divided into four scrolling windows. The first contains a tree illustration of the current drive. The next lists the files in the current directory. The next shows all the programs that DOS 5.0 knows about and the last one shows all the currently `active' tasks. I put active in quotes because only one is actually active at a time.

Running programs is simply a case of double clicking on the file list, the program list or the active task list. Or, if an active task, you can access it using your own hotkey combination. I use <Alt+E> for Editor, <Alt+b> for BrainStorm, <Alt+L> for LapLink, and so on. I tell you, moving from DOS 3.3 to this is an unbelievable improvement.

Remember EDLIN? Did you ever use it? I know I didn't. I tried once or twice but quickly reverted to my word processor when creating CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files. Well, Microsoft now supplies a full screen editor in addition to EDLIN. And it's good. It lacks the power of a full word processor but for knocking up straightforward textual documents, it's just fine.

It's fortunate that this program has been supplied, because you'll need it when tweaking DOS 5.0 for the best performance. You, or someone technical, will definitely want to fiddle with the AUTOEXEC and CONFIG files. Some of the changes are straightforward, like including DOSKEY or your mouse driver in AUTOEXEC.BAT. Other things, like getting the memory management stuff right, are a nightmare. Well, they are for me, anyway.

Since installing DOS 5.0, I've done hardly any real work. The system is so `soft' that I've had endless fun tweaking it to my requirements. Bearing in mind that it doesn't want to threaten Windows by making it too good, Microsoft has come up with a really decent version of DOS. I heartily recommend it.