4DOS: Flashback to Command Mode

Neal Stephenson in his edgy extended essay In the Beginning Was the Command Line points out that the switch from command line to graphic user interface (GUI) was a paradigm shift in computing. The GUI (i.e., Microsoft/Apple) serves as a buffer between the user and the computer. Stephenson is a science fiction writer that is firmly grounded in the digital era. Check out this reading, available online at his Cryptonomicon site or also in Palm doc format at Memoware.

Which brings us to this set of programs—4DOS, 4NT, and Take Command—that are all based on the power of the command prompt providing more direct control over computer operations than with a GUI. The programs represent consistency of standards, utility and quality across computer platforms, MS-DOS, Windows, Windows NT/2000 and Windows 95/XP/7/8. While GUI makes computers a more user-friendly environment, they do not necessarily provide the best route to certain routine or repetitive tasks. 4DOS went hand in hand with my own discovery of computing so I've got an emotional bond with it. In addition, for those power users addicted to Unix-like syntax on a command line, 4DOS and its peers provides that environment in Windows. JP Software has done a superb job that underscores the failings of Microsoft.

4DOS/4NT/4OS2 is a command.com (or cmd.com) substitute supplying all the features that Microsoft left out of MS-DOS and later operating systems. Take Command allows a user easy access to 4DOS's power even while operating under Windows in whatever version. After using 4DOS for eight years, I have found it indispensable. There are utilities and batch files that allow users to take advantage of 4DOS/Take Command's features. Some are hard to find so I have pulled together the best examples I could and will continue to search for others.

My recommendation for most users is to use Take Command because it gives you almost all the functionality of 4DOS/4NT/4OS2 but retains much of the look and feel of the command line. It actually makes a nice workplace for the desktop. See a dated PCMag review. Using Take Command to update website and see the batch file and line-by-line explanation. The author, Ken Kifer, was killed by a drunk driver in September 2003.

Since I wrote this page, the stand-alone command.com replacements have gone into the public domain, leaving Take Command as the flagship product of JP Software.

The Source

floppy JP Software Inc. is the home site for 4DOS in its three flavors: 4DOS (version 7.5) 4NT for Windows NT (5.0) and Take Command 15.0 (Windows ). The old versions for Windows 3.1 and OS/2 are no longer supported, but are available online for free. These programs are regularly updated so check back frequently.

JPSoft does an exceptional job of providing support for such a small outfit. It offers a support forums, as well as support and help page. The forum is the best way of getting help. Sometimes, the discussion can be intimidatingly technical, but it you have a question, you'll find participants or JP Software support ready to help you. JPSoft provides help files in a variety of formats, including online, (pdf, HTML, eBook, chm and hlp). These files are constantly being updated. All of these files can be found on the download page.


Shareware Sites

Over the years, J.P. Software has made its products evolve as customers demand new features. This is evident on shareware sites where there are many utilities that filled a gap once upon a time, but now are unnecessary because JP Software have improved the product by incorporating these enhancements into their product. Although the FTP and WWW sites below may not have the most up-to-date selection of files, they do contain many utilities and batch files from the past 12 years that allow us to trace the evolution of the product.

[  floppy  ]SimTel's MS-DOS archives contain a subdirectory of 4DOS files. The descriptive file index is a useful guide to content. There are many mirrors of SimTel so you may want to use them.

floppy Jumbo has two categories, Command Shell and Command Processor, but both are a collection of 4DOS-related shareware and batch files.

floppy ExecNet has four pages of 4DOS files, totalling 13 megabytes and 135. There are lots of duplicate and obsolete files so the figures are not that impressive. You can browse freely, but you have to register to download.

floppy Channel 1 has had a long connection with JP Software and its listing includes an impressive collection of utilites and batch files.

Other listings: DevInfo - 4dos utilites, Metropoli files and Garbo, a Finnish site.

Warning: Please be forewarned that the older utilities (pre-95) may not work correctly with the long file names used with Windows 95 and other modern operating systems. Or the latest version of the JP Software products have implemented functions that these utilities performed as features. In addition, utilities may not be Y2K-compliant (Remember the 2000 doomsday non-event). Batch files would not have problems with Y2K because they make calls to 4DOS, assuming that you have version 6.0 installed.

4DOS Utility Programs

This is not a comprehensive list of 4DOS-aware programs. It includes the most interesting programs that I have located on the Internet. There is obviously a preference for software that has served me well.

floppyLarry Edwards and Hand-Crafted Software's 4Files was the most complete file manager and description editor that I used with 4DOS. I kept coming back to it. However, due to other pursuits, Larry has not updated the program since Windows 95 came out so it can no longer serve for heavy-duty work. Nor does there appear to be any site to download it, so check out the shareware sites. I also found out the Stupen-Dos Version 5 also is 4DOS-aware. It has excellent archive and file management facilities. No good download site for it yet.

floppy Inkutils, on the other hand, is a collection of eleven utilities that has kept up with the times. DEdit is among the better file description editors. These utilities also accept extended file names a la Windows 95/8. Mike Incley continues to develop this product and has others worth seeing at his web site. They are now freeware. The latest version is 1.53 (02/15/99)

[  floppy  ] Omnivision Technologies' SuperDIR is an enhanced DIR substitute that understands extended names and file comments. It's an Australian product.

[  floppy  ] 4DC Download files from my website is a little program written by Mattias Axner (Sweden) in mid-1996. It is a 4DOS configuration program that lets you edit most settings in the 4DOS.INI file, to exploit the flexibility and array of options of 4DOS. The author notes that it was still in beta at the time.

Windows [3.1~NT~95~98~ME] Utilities

floppy There were relatively few Window programs that worked in partnership with 4DOS/4NT/4OS2 programs, aside from Take Command. It's only natural because command line and GUI are different approaches to computing. But if you are making extensive use of 4DOS descriptions for files and folders, you need at least a few Windows applications that are aware of this feature. Otherwise, when you move a file, its description does not get moved along with it. Below are two good options

floppyACD Systems has an image viewer and browser that can handle file descriptions, ACDSee. It's great for cruising your collection of graphics, organizing it and annotating it quickly. It can even handle compressed archives. It also receives a mention in my tool list. For that matter, it can easily replaced Windows Explorer for most file management functions.

floppy Magellan Explorer is a polished replacement for Windows Explorer. It allows you to view files and archives, as well as publish your web pages via FTP. I've been using it for a few days and have been impressed.

Canyon Software's Drag and ... (File, Zip and View) file and archive management programs are 4DOS-aware, in their Windows 3.1, Windows NT and Windows95 versions. However, the last time I checked the site, I did not see any reference to file description feature.

For Starters

New addition to our page For those who are just picking up on these programs, you may want to look at some of these resources that may serve as practical introductions to setting up and taking your first steps.

Batch Files and Aliases

A useful 4DOS feature is a faster batch file mode called batch-to-memory. It also has a richer language so you can be more creative in your work. I have included a selection of the best. Another 4DOS feature is the alias, another means of combining commands so that the user can do routine operations with a single command. Opening up the files in an editor or viewer is a good way of learning how to make your own or adapt them to your specific needs. Warning: Some batch files and aliases may require additional utilities so make sure you have them on your computer.

floppy \\ark \\'atkins bequeaths 4DOS users two batch files, CRYPTO that solves cryptogram word puzzle and PACK'EM that crams files onto disks. You must be patient; he has loads of sound and music files and links before you get to the goodies.

floppy 4XBTM Version 6 is a collection of 70 batch files and aliases that tries to do everything from save your screen to dial your telephone. These are provide by Klaus Meinhard, a long-time 4DOS user. He provides good documentation. No better way to learn about batch-file writing than looking at his examples. You must have a copy of 4DOS 6.0 to make them work properly. Klaus also keeps a close watch on other 4DOS-related sites and programs. Aside from JP Software itself, he has the best site and I recommend it for the most reliable information.

floppyI have made available at this site two of the more ambitious batch file collections:

If you are going to do lots of batch files, you may want to use a text editor that can be customized for 4DOS/Take Command. NoteTab scripts and TextPad clip library can speed up your coding. Both are excellent products. TextPad also has a clip library for REXX, a file and text processing language developed by IBM, and available on many PC and other platforms.

Alias and Batch Examples

In the original spirit that drove the collaborative nature of 4DOS's popularity, we are including some examples of aliases. Have a look at them and adapt those that might serve your needs. Some come from collections of messages or refer to older versions of the programs. I should point out that JPSoftware has a more thorough and detailed listing of aliases and batch files in the new documentation that it has prepared this year. Check out Online Help and PDF files on the download page. You can expect these to work properly in the latest versions of 4NT and Take Command.

Examples of batch files: Window Shell Scripting ::: Melbourne PC Users Group Aliases, but dated ::: More 4DOS example

Invitation: If you have examples of batch files and aliases that you'd like to share with others, please send me a message Send me an e-mail. I'd be glad to include them here.

Late additions

I just found these programs and utilities, but I did not have a chance to check the utilities out.

If you know of other collections of batch files and aliases or programs and utilities that take advantage of 4DOS, please send me a message Send me an e-mail.