by Ron C. Golden
Copyright © 1994-96 Ron C. Golden
Windows is the future!
That talk constricts my sphincter. Especially when it comes from "experts" who ought to know better. As I recall, these perceptive band wagon jumpers were unanimously hailing CPM as "the disk operating system of the future" when it suddenly dried up and blew away.
Maybe if I felt flushing money down a toilet was chic, I might like Windows better. Just maybe. God's gift to IBM PCs and compatibles reminds me too much of another classic status symbol, the pink 1959 Cadillac El Dorado convertible. Both are flashy, practical as platinum running shoes and gobble up money faster than an ogre with a tapeworm. The only big difference is Windows keeps getting worse with each new version in these same old ways.
Windows may be an okay graphics interface for running a few applications and has become indispensable on Internet, but ain't no almighty wonder at doing every job. Nor does it measure up to the rampant baloney about being easier to master than DOS. It sits atop DOS like a seriously overweight and badly spoiled brat, demanding greater system resources to do nothing but make the screen pretty — hardly my idea of true or lasting beauty. And after it finally swallows up DOS to be reborn as an independent operating system, the pigging out on system resources is sure to escalate.
Tricks of the Trade
Computer professionals* rarely mention DOS these days. Even at Microsoft, DOS has become the family's black sheep because it's too efficient to ever be a super generator of costly hardware and software sales like Windows.
*Computer professionals: The glib folks who make, sell and explain personal computers, software and peripherals. Like all pros, they are intent on making money, not saving you any.
Batch files, a standard MS-DOS feature noticeably absent from Windows, enable users to do more, faster and easier. But there is a hitch. In theory, it's possible perform any task with standard Dos batch functions. This doesn't always hold true because when a standard batch file grows beyond several complex tasks, which often require Byzantine techniques and copious redundancy, it slows to an irritating crawl. So, in exchange for speed, most personal computer users eventually end up with a hundred small batch files cluttering up their hard disk and the impossible task of remembering what each does.
But there is another way—enhanced batch files.
Experts won't tell how to work this magic, even if they know. Can't really blame them though. Finding the few necessary DOS utilities among the hundreds of thousands available, putting them together, debugging the mess into a working system and then documenting it all for free takes a nutty fruitcake idealist. An amateur tired of being conned into constant high-priced upgrading and compatibility hassles. A tireless tinker who hates useless extravagance. Someone like me.
Yes, I know. There are hundreds of menu programs around, including some that use standard batch files. The dozens I tried all had limitations that eventually made them more of a hassle than a convenience. These limits could not be worked around because no flexibility or expandability was built in. I could do only what was fixed in the program and had to do it exactly as the program dictated.
I wanted complete configuration freedom, expandability and small low-tech, low-cost answers. Also, one little enhanced batch file that could control my growing system, keep me from getting lost and provide direct access to everything all at once. Not simply one or two pieces at a time in roundabout ways. And without the huge RAM overhead and hard disk space requirements of Windows and other commercial interfaces.
Surprise! I found the unsung utilities needed to turn my pipe dream into reality on local BBSs by downloading and testing every program that looked even remotely usable. While crafting these odds and ends into a working model, I stumbled onto a bunch of other nifty features and put them into Overseer, too.
Heart of Overseer is O.Bat, a batch file engine that takes up around 20Kb of disk space. It requires no expanded memory and leaves all available low memory for use by programs without swapping or other time-wasting operations. Even on my old 386 25MHz machine, start response is instant.
O.Bat provides centralized control of my entire system. Well, not exactly all of it. There are some things I never use. So, although they exist, I haven't gotten around to adding them to the appropriate menu.
Among the more notable O.Bat functions are:
In short, Overseer makes Windows and other heavyweight interfaces look as swift and graceful as Santa Claus running the 100-meter dash in deep snow.
Unlike standard batch files, Overseer is transparent. Programs can be run directly from any menu by entry of full command lines, one or two key menu selections, or mouse. Function keys remapped using Ansi.Sys and Doskey-like command line editing also operate from the main menu the same as at the DOS prompt. It's not necessary to keep manually entering and exiting Overseer to do special things, or to work your way through a long line of sub-menus.
Unlike Windows, multi-taskers and commercial menuing software, which confine you to working through fancy peepholes, key Overseer menus are full-screen. They use an easy-to-read public domain 28-line font, but programs and boxed color sub-menus use another PD 25-line font. You see more at a glance. If your eyeballs can stand the strain, the menus can be expanded to 43 or 50 lines.
I haven't any idea about whether Overseer will run well in Windows, or what conflicts might occur. The thought of trying this never crossed my mind. Now that it has, I find the idea more revolting than eating sushi topped with big globs of mayonnaise.
Overseer takes time to set up because you have to hand-tailor it. This initial job is unavoidable in setting up any custom system, but time well spent and a real education in mining the hidden power of DOS. Once configured, Overseer saves time with fewer keystrokes, direct DOS efficiency and centralized menuing. You're free to think creatively and out from under having to remember obscure details necessary to run rarely used programs and perform seldom required operations.
You can't outgrow Overseer. It can be configured any way you like and handle any number of programs simply by changing the menus. Although Overseer requires you to configure it by hand, the standard techniques are easily learned and stay the same. But if change becomes necessary, you can modify everything - right down to its basic functions — by tinkering with current utility settings or adding new utilities. However, hunting down utilities to add extra special functions may not be easy.
For example, I like DosKey, but it and several similar command line editors tried won't operate from the Overseer main menu. This led me to discover Uncle, an obscure 1988 freeware utility that does work and surpasses DosKey in other ways as well. Uncle has one quirk—it prevents use of filenames that begin with an exclamation point at the DOS prompt.
Using the complete Overseer system is not necessary. you may use as much or little of it as you like. Virtually all routines in O.Bat are self-contained modules and each can operate as a stand-alone batch file.
Overseer incorporates a handy cut and paste menu selection mouse program. But, alas, pressing one or two keys is ten times faster and less stressful than mousing around with that one-balled rodent on a menu with 100 little targets to double-click.
Overseer batch files are freeware. You may do what ever you like with these enhanced batch files and don't have to pay me a cent. They're provided on an "as is" basis and without any warranty whatsoever. You use them entirely at your own risk. I won't be responsible for any problem, loss or damage resulting from the use of O.Bat, its routines, documentation, other batch files or program archives included in Overseer.Zip under any circumstances. Amen.
Although I don't want any money, I would welcome donations of unwanted English-language software you no longer need and haven't the heart to just throw away. Any and all types are welcome. Duplicates and items I have little use for will be recycled to other PC users.
Please send your software donations to:
Basic system requirements are: MS-DOS Ver. 6.2, Ansi.Sys installed and a VGA color screen. Overseer should work with older DOS versions, but batch syntax and function differences may cause problems.
OVERSEER OUTLINE AUTOEXEC.BAT & CONFIG.SYS ---------------------------- | These load PCmouse, Ansi,| | Uncle and make | | environmental space for | | key remapping and batch | | operations. | ---------------------------- | | \|/ O.BAT ----------------------- | The main batch file | END.BAT<-- | engine and heart of | (Exits to | Overseer. | Dos) ----------------------- /|\ /|\ /|\ | | | | \|/ \|/ | Main Menu—--->Programs, | Bats, System, | /|\ /|\ Windows, etc. | | | \|/ \|/ | Various Sub-Menus<---
This is as far as I can go. Ready or not, you're on your own. Everything I can explain is covered in Readme.Doc, Manual.Doc, Autoexec.Doc and Filelist.Doc. Study them carefully, take your time and add your programs to O.Bat one at a time. This will help you to resolve problems faster and keep the job manageable.
Note: If you'd like to try Ron's batch system, it's available on the TPC BBS as "OVERSEER.ZIP".
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