Computers: Feedback

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THE PC market is different from the Macintosh, in that there is a small quantity of very good shareware, some of which I regard as essential. It resembles the Mac, of course, in that there is an enormous amount of rubbish, writes Andrew Brown.

The difference probably arises because the Mac operating system is better designed than Dos, which has numerous holes that need 'filling in' with shareware.

The one that I use all the time is 4Dos which is a 'command processor': a program that makes Dos easier to use in all sorts of thoughtful ways. The most obvious of these is the history file, which allows you to summon earlier commands, edit them and then reuse them. So if you have just typed dir /p c:/online/download/stupid/*.cis, as one does, and received the computerish equivalent of a hostile grunt in reply, it is a trivial matter to press the up-arrow, correct the misspelt directory (dir /p c:/online/download/shtoopid/*.cis). and continue.

More than that, 4dos allows you to define 'aliases', which shorten long, complicated commands to as few letters as you want. This also is possible under Microsoft's Dos versions 5 and 6, but in a more complicated way. And MS Dos does not allow you to type the first couple of letters of a file and then hit the Tab key to have the computer fill out the rest of the name, as 4dos does.

There are other merits, too, but the real test is that once you are used to it, a computer without it seems broken. The only snag is that it is possible to mess up the installation and end up with a computer that can only be started from a floppy disk. If you have not made an emergency floppy, you will have a computer that cannot be started at all. So, if you install it, follow the clear instructions carefully.

Apart from that there are two general-purpose shareware programs I find indispensable. PK- zip compresses files and is used by most bulletin board systems to keep things organised and save expensive telephone time.

The second is an 'orphan': a program which, though technically shareware, seems to have become free. When I E-mailed the author, asking how he wanted his money sent, he told me not to bother. SST, for Supersonic Search Tool, searches the hard disk on IBM PCs for files of your choice and then performs the action of your choice on them. If you have several thousand files, the use becomes obvious. Programs like the Norton Utilities will do the same job, but SST is fast, reliable free.

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