In the clouds. (patent infringement case impacts sales of disk compression utilities) (IntroDos) (Column)
by Tony Roberts
At this writing, there are clouds all over the DOS horizon. By the time you read this, the haze may have cleared, but here's a rundown of the current state of confusion.
A jury has decided that the DoubleSpace disk compression utility found in MS-DOS 6.x infringes on two patents held by STAC Electronics, the maker of Stacker, also a disk compression product. The same jury also found that STAC had borrowed an idea about advanced preloading from Microsoft. The result is that Microsoft owes STAC $120 million and STAC owes Microsoft $13.7 million.
Microsoft plans to appeal the judgment, but in the meantime, MS-DOS will no longer include the DoubleSpace utility. MS-DOS 6.2 will remain available, just without disk compression. The StepUp files, which users of MS-DOS 6.0 could download from various online services to upgrade DOS 6.0 to DOS 6.2, have been removed from those services. End users who already own MS-DOS products containing the DoubleSpace utility are not affected by the judgment.
In a related development, IBM, which had scheduled an announcement about the release of its PC-DOS 6.3, circled the wagons and delayed its news conference for an unspecified period. PC-DOS 6.3 was expected to be functionally equivalent to MS-DOS 6.2.
And on another front, Novell is sending out upgrade notices for Novell DOS 7, the latest incarnation of DR DOS. DR DOS is the Rodney Dangerfield of the DOS world, getting very little respect even though, feature for feature, it's usually a step ahead of MS-DOS and PC-DOS. The upside for Novell, at this time, is that Novell DOS 7 uses Stacker disk compression, so that distribution of its product apparently isn't affected by the STAC/Microsoft suit.
Other features of Novell DOS 7 are: built-in peer-to-peer networking; DOS protected mode services; preemptive multitasking; and a set of Windows utilities, including file backup, virus protection, and LAN administration.
One of the nifty features MS-DOS 6.x provides is the ability to bypass or to step through your startup files when initializing your computer. When you switch on the machine, you normally hear a beep as MS-DOS begins taking control. Press F5 within two seconds of that beep, and you're at the DOS prompt in a flash. No waiting while CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT do their respective dances. This is known as a clean boot.
Press F8 to step through the commands in your startup files one by one. As each command is displayed onscreen, you press Y or N to tell the computer whether you want to execute the command or ignore it. This procedure is called an interactive boot.
It's also possible to have DOS prompt you regarding the execution of individual commands as it works its way through the CONFIG.SYS file. This is done by appending a question mark to the command on the left side of the equal sign. If you have a scanner, and sometimes you want the scanner driver loaded, but other times you want to conserve that memory, use a command like DEVICE?= SCANNER.SYS, and DOS will prompt you for instructions each time you boot up.
Having this control over your startup files is an indispensable benefit when you're trying to see why an error message keeps popping up. As you step through each command, you have plenty of time to examine and analyze the results. Being able to skip the startup commands entirely is perfect when you want to defrag your hard disk, a chore that's best done when the system's set up in bare-bones fashion with no TSRs competing for attention.
Helpful as it usually is to have this control over your startup files, sometimes it becomes a problem. In some situations, you don't want users to be able to take control of the system. Perhaps you require users to enter a password when they start the computer, or you like to limit users to certain options displayed in a menu. How can you keep them from pressing F5 or F8 to take control of the system? Insert SWITCHES=/N anywhere in the CONFIG.SYS file, and the F5 and F8 options will be disabled.
If you want to accelerate your boot-up, add the command SWITCHES=/F to CONFIG.SYS. This eliminates the two-second delay that occurs before MS-DOS starts executing. As mentioned previously, this two-second delay gives you time to press F5 or F8 before MS-DOS starts executing the startup files. However, if you use the multiple configuration commands to create a CONFIG.SYS menu, your system will pause at the menu, so the delay is superfluous.
Finally, those who've installed MS-DOS 6.2 may be dismayed by the long memory test that runs when the Himem program is executed from within the CONFIG.SYS. This test is more complete than the typical power-on self test, but it can take a while to perform, especially if you've installed megabytes of extra memory. You can disable the test by adding the command/TESTMEM:OFF to the end of the DEVICE= HIMEM.SYS line.