Laptops are different. They have special problems, and they need special hardware and software to address these problems. Here are ten of the most useful products I've found to keep my laptop running smoothly. If you don't have a laptop, don't stop reading. At least five of these essentials will improve the performance of any computer, desktop or laptop.
First, you'll need a carrying case. There are many available, but the Traveling Attache (Traveling Software, 18702 North Creek Parkway, Bothell. Washington 98011; 800-343-8080; $59.95) has much to recommend it. With its vertical orientation, it fits easily under an airplane seat; it's well padded and sturdy; it's roomy (the external pocket is large enough to hold a portable printer); and it's inexpensive.
You'll need to carry your disks around, too, and an excellent choice is The Easel Plus (Innovative Technologies, 5649 La Jolla Boulevard, La Jolla, California; 619-456-0722: $19.95). This durable carrier holds twenty 3½-inch disks and can sit upright—hence its name. A slot for a business or identification card tops things off.
A modem is a must for most laptop users, but it can be expensive to buy two of these wonders (one for your laptop and one for your desktop). GVC has a first-rate solution with its 1200- and 2400-baud Mini-modems (GVC-Chenel, 99 Demarest Road, Sparta, New Jersey 07871;201-579-3630; $149—1200 baud, $299—2400 baud). These fully Hayes-compatible modems are aggressively priced, they're sturdy and light (6½ ounces), they run on either battery or AC current, and they can be used with both your laptop and desktop computers.
When you start communicating from a remote location, you may need some help from the Laptop Survival Kit (Electronic Specialists, 171 South Main Street, Box 389, Natick, Massachusetts 01760; 508-655-1532; $149.95). This 14-piece kit contains suppressors for power and telephone lines and an array of devices to help connect the determined communicator. Chief among these tools is a set of alligator clamps that allows you to connect to phones without RJ-11 plugs. You can purchase the entire kit or any of its parts separately.
Communicating by modem is only half of the average laptop's social life. When you're united with your big-iron desktop, you'll want to share files. To do this at high speed, you'll need a special cable and transfer software. There are scores of transfer programs available these days. Including the king, LapLink, but if you're interested In a bargain, look no further than Rapid Relay Easy (Systems Management Associates, 3325 Executive Drive, P.O. Box 20025. Raleigh, North Carolina 27619: 919-878-3600; $69.95). This package installs in a snap, it's lightning fast, and it works flawlessly.
The majority of laptops are still floppy-based systems, which means they're slow. An excellent solution to the slow-floppy dilemma is Floppy-DRIVER (DTG, 23704-5 El Toro Road, Suite 348, El Toro California 92630; 213-987-2000; $89.9b), a device driver that dramatically increases the speed of your disk drives. This program is a TSR that takes from 18K to 40K of memory and has some interesting additional features. With Floppy-DRIVER installed, you can format disks in the background. And, if you try to read or write to an unformatted disk, the program detects this and formats it for you.
While on the subject of speed, every laptop owner needs a cursor enhancer. Even on an 80286, the PC's cursor limps along aimlessly. Here you have several choices. There are two public domain programs that are excellent: Quickeys (for 8088-based systems) and Turbokey (for 80286 systems). And, for the ultimate in cursor control, there's Cruise Control (Revolution Software, 715 Route 10 East, Randolph. New Jersey 07869; 201-366-4445; $49.95). If the thrill is gone, one of these programs can get it back.
Once your cursor is sailing along, the next step is to arrange things so you can actually see it. For this, you'll want Ken Skier's No-Squint Laptop Cursor (SkiSoft Publishing, Suite 79,1644 Massachusetts Avenue, Lexington, Massachusetts 02173; 617-863-1876; $39.95). No-Squint makes your cursor big and bold, and it allows you to control its blinking speed, too.
Almost all laptops run on battery power, and there's nothing more frustrating than running out of juice just as a bolt of inspiration strikes. Battery Watch (Traveling Software, 18702 North Creek Parkway, Bothell. Washington 98011; 800-343-6080; $39.95) resolves this problem in an elegant way: It monitors your system and tracks the dram on your battery, Press a hot key and you'll see a gas-gauge-style display that shows you just where you stand with your laptop's power. This package is a must.
Finally, if you travel with your laptop, your screen is going to get scratched. As time goes by, scratches can actually make the screen difficult to read. The solution is Ultralucent EL (Ultrasoft Innovations, 1 Transborder Drive, P.O. Box 247, Champlain, New York 12919; 514-487-9293; $14.95). Ultralucent comes with a four-ounce bottle of Ultragloss scratch remover, a two-ounce bottle of Antistatic Finishing Cream, a flannel cloth, and a page of instructions. This product is nothing short of amazing. Don't put up with those scratches any longer. Try Ultralucent EL.
PC Expo in New York boasts everything from glitzy million-dollar exhibits manned by giants like IBM to small, flea-market-style booths run by a company's combination president, chief software developer, and janitor. Amid an atmosphere of heavy wheeling and dealing, the show is traditionally the site for announcements of interesting and unusual new products, and this year's installment—held in June—was no exception.
The most exciting news at the show was IBM's AVC, the Audio Visual Connection. A hardware/software combination. AVC is an authoring system for the creation of digitized video and audio programs. The system can capture sound and graphics, digitize, and manipulate them with powerful tools. What is so impressive about AVC Is the sheer ease with which sound and graphics can be captured and edited. If you want to make your own professional videos, this is the product for you. The software and hardware ring up at about $3,300, but you'll need a PS/2 Model 70 with an 8514/A monitor to run the package, which adds significantly to the cost.
All is forgiven. That was Xtree's message at PC Expo. For a limited time the company is allowing users with pirated copies of Xtree, the popular file manager, to register their pirated versions. Users who send the company a dump of their Xtree screen and $20 will receive the latest version of the program and a manual. These users will then qualify for free telephone technical support and upgrades at reduced rates. Code-named SAFE (Software Amnesty Fur Everyone), the program lasts only 120 days. If you have a shady Xtree hanging around, come in from the cold, send in your $20, and kiss your guilt good-bye.
Each version of MS-DOS struts improvements and offers new, improved commands. Burled inside the documentation for DOS 3.2 or higher, you'll find one of the operating system's most powerful and useful commands: XCOPY. If you haven't taken a look at XCOPY yet, now's a good time.
When you want to copy the entire contents of one disk, including subdirectories, to another, COPY just won't do; it only copies the files in one subdirectory. And, if the disks are different formats—a 5¼-inch and a 3½-inch or a ramdisk, for example—DISKCOPY won’t work, either. DISKCOPY needs two disks of identical type because it goes through the data track by track, ignoring distinctions between files, subdirectories and the like.
Here's where XCOPY comes in handy. To copy all files and all subdirectories from drive A to drive B, you'd give the command XCOPY A;*.* B:/S. DOS'S COPY command would copy the files in the root directory, but not in the subdirectories.
XCOPY has another trick up its sleeve. It can select the files it copies by looking at the archive bit, which tells whether a file has been backed up or not. This means that you can use XCOPY to selectively back up files. The command XCOPY A:*.* B:/M copies files that have been changed since the last time you used XCOPY and resets the archive bit. It's easy to build a batch file that copies all altered files from each subdirectory on your hard disk that you normally use.
It's what you see when you first turn on your computer, It's the digital doorway that provides access to all those other amazing (and often confusing) things MS-DOS allows you to accomplish. It's a sign of how much a new computer owner needs to learn, as well as a symbol for everything the experienced user already knows. And now, it's the name of a monthly column on MS-DOS matters for beginning and intermediate users, a companion column to Clif's "Power Up," and an integral element of "COMPUTE! Specific." It's a good name. I hope you'll find it an entertaining and educational column.
But who is Jack Nimer-Sheim? More to the point, why should you read him?
For almost as long as COMPUTE! has been published, I've been tinkering around with these magnificent machines we call personal computers. I bought my first personal computer, a 16K Atari 400, way back in 1980. It was, as the old saying goes, love at first sight.
That ancient Atari has long since assumed its rightful place in the Nimersheim Museum of Personal Computing, a small room just off my office that also contains a Radio Shack Model 100 (one of the original laptop computers), an Atari 800, a Morrow CP/M system, a Tandy 1000, a Heath-Zenith PC XT kit I cobbled together with my own limited soldering skills (an incredible learning experience. I assure you), a 300-bps accoustic modem, and several dozen other electronic artifacts that undoubtedly will contribute more than a few paragraphs to the definitive history of personal computers, should someone ever attempt such a tome. Come to think of it, maybe I'll write that history myself.
Where from Here?
As of now, it's my job to keep you posted on the latest developments in the wonderful world of MS-DOS. And, make no mistake about it, events in that world are moving at the same breakneck pace at which they have been moving ever since Bill Gates Shipped his first copy of DOS, way back in 1981, All this despite the increasing attempts of media pundits and assorted other OS/2 oracles to convince us that DOS's days are numbered.
Don't you believe it! With an installed user base estimated at well over 25 million, MS-DOS still dominates the PC marketplace. Rather than drawing its last gasp, MS-DOS is more vital today than ever before in its eight-year history.
Consider the following: Microsoft Windows, largely ignored since Its 1984 release, is suddenly stealing headlines from OS/2, as several software companies rush to deliver powerful applications designed to take advantage of this graphics DOS interface. Lows 1-2-3, which single-handedly defined the lucrative MS-DOS spreadsheet market, now faces serious competition on a number of fronts and is adjusting its own marketing strategies accordingly. Personal Information Managers (PIMs] recently surfaced as the hottest DOS application—but what exactly is a PIM, and how can using a PIM help organize your life? These are just a few of the topics I'll be examining in future installments of "DOS Prompt."
How You Fit In
Before I close, I'd like to make an observation: Writers rarely are afforded the opportunity of getting to know their audience. Most of the time, we submit an article to a given magazine, several months later it gets published (if we're lucky), we get paid (If our luck holds out a little longer), and that's the end of it. When you write a regular column for a magazine like COMPUTE!, however, establishing a dialogue with your readers isn't only possible, it's unavoidable. After all, whenever I succumb to the temptation to express a personal opinion in this column, several of you will undoubtedly feel a similar urge to respond That kind of give and take is part of what makes writing a column so rewarding.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for "DOS Prompt." I'd like to hear about them. Simply drop me a line, care of the good folks here at COMPUTE!. They, In turn, will forward to me each letter they receive. And I, also in turn, promise to read every one of them. Another way to express yourself is to leave me a message on CompuServe's Easy-Plex (73017,1122) or DELPHI MAIL (NIMS). Every so often, I’ll dedicate one month's column to some of the more interesting suggestions and/or comments you submit, along with any response I feel compelled to tender.
Let me know how I do. As if I had to ask.