Computers: Tuning up the horsepower: Richard North instals MS-Dos 6 and adds go-faster stripes to his Amstrad

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The Independent Online
Ihave owned my Amstrad 2086 PC-compatible personal computer with its minimal 640 kilobytes of main memory (ram) for a little more than three years and worked it pretty hard.

It has absorbed the best part of half a million words in that time - would that quality and quantity were in touch with each other. It works as well as it ever did: part of the oddity of this technology - say compared with a washing machine or a car - is that it is more likely to show signs of obsolescence than of age.

Hating waste and distrusting my longing for new toys, I set myself to working out how to get VW Golf performance out of this Austin Allegro as best I could.

I asked around about software improvements which might at least optimise the poor old thing's performance. I had two main problems. One was that the 30-megabyte hard disk was littered with two or three word processing, spreadsheet and communications programs which the Microsoft Dos 3.3 operating system that the machine came with could not seem to erase.

It also occurred to me that after all these years, the hard disk might be a bit cluttered and perhaps worn in some way. Besides why, I wondered, did the cursor in Microsoft Works drag its feet so?

Someone suggested what I needed was drive, directory and file management software. I called Time Direct where a salesman told me that my best bet would be to upgrade my MS-Dos 3.3 to MS-Dos 6.

I took his advice. MS-Dos 6 allows me to erase directories at whim, which is as draconian and dangerous a procedure as it is a luxurious one.

But it also has an Undelete function which I like very much and which has come in handy once or twice while I have been learning new software packages and made foolish mistakes. It means, quite simply, that every file which is 'deleted' actually goes into an invisible bin, where - at least for a while - it is retrievable. Cleverly, there is the choice of various levels of protection.

There is a good deal of merit also in the Backup function. Until it came along, my technique had been to remember from time to time to copy various directories from the C: drive (the hard disk) to the A: drive (the floppy disk drive).

The MS-Dos Backup makes a back-up of all or selected files in a directory. On subsequent occasions, one can choose to do an 'incremental' back-up - which makes a new record only of material which has changed since the last full or incremental backup. This saves time during the back-up process, but means that the restoration of lost files may require several 'generations' of disks.

There is another option, the 'differential' back-up, which records changes since the last full back-up, and that too will require keeping a rolling collection of back-up disks.

I am too simple-minded to opt for other than the 'full' and regular back-up of the files I know I have been working with. Backup remembers from session to session which files I last backed up and each time offers simply to repeat the previous operation.

I am not at all tempted to use Dos 6's space-saving, file- compressing facility: it is a step too counter-intuitive for this closet Luddite. My machine is too neanderthal for one or two of the other operations on offer, which is fine, because I think I am as well.

I have seldom 'imported' - loaded into the system - material from disks other than those from Microsoft and one or two other firms or trusted friends: even so I may one day be glad that MS-Dos 6 can check for viruses. It also has a laptop-to-PC data transfer option which I may one day much enjoy.

In the meantime, I have used Dos 6 to 'defragment' my hard drive - an enterprise which I found exhilarating, though I have no idea whether it is making any difference to the way my system works. It is, by the way, supposed to speed up the loading of files from the hard disk because all the information in a file is physically stored in the same location on the disk - over time new files store bits all over the place using an index to tie it all together. It whizzed and whirred, and told me the drive was in good condition - which was a comfort.

The cursor still drags its feet in Works, but that has not dented the pleasure of Dos 6. It did not give my machine a new engine, but it is at least the equivalent of a good tune-up. I feel as though my Allegro now has go-faster stripes.

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