Following on from our brief introduction to DOS in last week’s Boot Camp, in part two we’re going to be looking at some basic commands and how it could get you out of a fix following a fatal Windows crash. But first, how to start your PC in DOS mode, as opposed to a DOS ‘session’ within Windows, which we dealt with last week. The key difference between a DOS session and DOS mode is that Windows isn’t running, in other words it could be the only way of accessing files on your PC if Windows stopped working.

As we said last week DOS is very powerful so if you do not feel completely confident leave it alone, nevertheless, it’s worth following the rest of the article as DOS is still very much a part of Windows, and sooner or later you will have need of it.    

There are basically three ways to get a PC into DOS mode. The first is from boot-up, switch on, wait a few moments for it to complete the POST (power on self-test) sequence then before the ‘Starting Windows….’ Message appears press the F8 key and select option 5 from the Windows Startup menu, ‘Command Prompt only’. Method number two is to exit from Windows to DOS, click on the Start button, then Shutdown and select ‘Restart in DOS’ mode. The third route into DOS is when things go wrong and Windows won’t load and the PC defaults to DOS, or nothing happens and you have to boot your machine using your PC’s Emergency Recovery Disc or ERD. (You have made one, haven’t you? If not go immediately to Start > Settings > Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs, select the Startup Disc tab and follow the instructions).

When starting in DOS mode from boot up or after exiting Windows you will see a black screen with some text and at the bottom you’ll see the command line C:\> and a flashing cursor. The command line when you boot from an emergency recovery disc will be A:\>. You can change disc drives by typing the drive letter, followed by a colon, thus to change from floppy drive A, to drive C type C: and press the Return key. You may or may not be able to access your PC’s CD-ROM drive (usually drive D:), depending upon whether or not the appropriate DOS driver has been loaded. To exit from DOS mode (provided no programs are running) just switch the PC off, or type ‘win’, which will load Windows.   

The C:\ > prompt shows that you are in the ‘root directory’ of your PC’s hard disc drive, which contains the important system files that configure the machine during boot-up, and all of the folders or directories containing Windows and the programs loaded on your PC. The root of the C: drive is not a very interesting place so we’ll use the change directory command to have a peek inside the Windows folder on the C: drive. Type cd\windows and Return and the command prompt changes to C:\WINDOWS>, showing that we are now inside the Windows folder. In case you hadn’t already worked it out ‘cd’ stands for change directory, and that kind of logical simplicity holds true for most DOS commands; note also that you can use upper or lowercase for DOS commands and filenames.

Now we can use the dir (directory) command mentioned last week, which tells the PC to display the contents of the current directory. Type it in and see what happens. A long list of files and folders flashes past and you probably won’t see much but you can tell DOS to display only one page at a time by adding a ‘switch’ to the command, in this case /p (p for page), so his time type dir /p and Return. You can also list the contents of the directory alphabetically, by date, size and many other ways by adding a sort switch /o (sOrt) followed by a second letter that tells DOS how to arrange the list. For example, to list the files one page at a time in date order the command would be dir /p /od, to list in order of size use the sort command switch /os for an alphabetical listing use /on, and so on.

You may have noticed that file and folder names in DOS are only 8 characters long, DOS shortens the longer file names used in Windows to the first six characters followed by a tilde (~) and a number (normally 1, unless there’s another file with the same first six letters). When naming files you should use the DOS convention, i.e. as it appears on the screen.

You should now have enough information to be able to navigate your way around your PC’s disc drives, so let’s put that knowledge to some practical use with a simple exercise. We are going to use the DOS Copy command to recover an important document by copying it to a floppy disc. If you want to follow this example use Windows Explorer to open My Documents, go to New on the File menu to create a new sub folder, rename it Office then use your word processor to save a text file into the new folder and call it ‘meetings.doc’. Boot the PC to DOS mode, in a real life situation that would probably mean using your emergency recovery disc, if you use that method don’t forget to change the drive letter from A: to C: remove the disc from the drive and insert a blank formatted floppy. When using the Copy command DOS needs to know three things: the name of the folder or sub folders the document is in -- also known as the ‘path’ -- the name of the document or file and where you want it to go. If you use file names of more than 8 characters remember those tildes and numbers. Thus the DOS command to copy our important document from the hard disc to a floppy disc would be:

‘copy c:\mydocu~1\office\meetings.doc a:’

It probably looks more complicated than it is but try it a couple of times with your own folders and documents and you’ll soon get the hang of it. Next week we’ll round off this short series with some more handy DOS commands and functions.

Next week – Introducing DOS, part 3




A small program or data file that tells your PC how to communicate with internal or external hardware such as a disc drive or printer


A floppy disc created by Windows containing files that will allow your PC to boot up in DOS mode, plus various tools and utilities to assist recovery following a crash  


An extra instruction (or instructions) added to the end of DOS command



In response to popular demand here’s another one of those ‘Easter Eggs’, jokey little features hidden away by software programmers; this one lives in Internet Explorer 5. On the Tools menu select Internet Options then the General tab and click the Languages button. Select Add and in the User Defined field type ‘ie-ee’ (minus the quote marks) then click OK. Highlight the entry and click the Move Up button to put it at the top of the list. Select OK to close the windows click on the Search icon and in the side menu you see a new set of options. Select Previous Searches and follow the links on to the Internet to see the guilty ones!

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