TBT – My Favorite ’80s Software (WinDOS and PC-Write)


MS-DOS Executive Main Screen
MicroSoft Windows “MS-DOS Executive” main window (courtesy Wikipedia)
Today, I decided to take a walk down memory lane and dust off one of my oldest and favorite programs that I wrote back in the late ’80s:  “WinDOS(tm)”.  This was my first semi-graphical application and my first “file-manager”.  This was during the heady days of MS-DOS.  Children, if you don’t know what MS-DOS was, ask your folks!  At that time, Windows was new and at version 3.  There was no internet, very little graphical software for personal computers (Windows was coming onto the scene to change all of that forever though)!  My computers at the time (at home and at work) were still running “MS-DOS 5” and few had Windows, which (as Windows always does) required purchacing new, beefier (and pricier) hardware.  There were one or two computers at work that had Windows and so I got to play around a bit with it, but the interface was clunky and different and I was still USED to working in DOS which involved working a lot from the command line (what was known then as the “C> Prompt”)!  Meanwhile, Windows had this interesting little “app” called “MS-DOS Executive“, which was their early attempt at what we would now call a “file manager”.  I liked the new “mouse-based” interface that Windows offered.  In my daily workflow I found myself as a software developer often repeating a handful of commands with different files, ie. “Copy, Edit, Compile, Link, and Execute”, etc.  I looked at MS-DOS Executive to make this simpler, but alas, it didn’t really seem to work at all the way I was used to in DOS and besides, it was only for Windows, and I couldn’t afford Windows anyway, nor had it at work.
WinDOS Main Screen
WinDOS “WinDOS Executive” main screen
I wanted something similar for MS-DOS, something that would allow me to select a command (or “.BAT” script), select a file (or more than one file for commands like COPY) with a mouse, and click and run.  I also wanted to be able to do the same with the keyboard when my hand wasn’t on the mouse, and be able to click once on a list of the last dozen or so commands I had just executed to repeat them (or make a slight edit to one and run it again).  There was a cool program called “Norton Commander” (now the free “Midnight Commander” for Windows and Linux) which provided this capability, but it (like nearly all software applications and utilities at the time) cost money!  I was already writing some programs at home using the “Modula II” language and the $89 Logitech Modula II compiler (Yes, boys and girls, Logitech USED to make software back in the day, not just mice and keyboards!) for personal computers and MS-DOS!  So (being me) I decided to write my own program for MS-DOS and call it “WinDOS” (a combination of Windows and DOS, sort of a “poor man’s version of MS-Windows”).  I even patterned the main screen to look something like Windows’ “MS-DOS Executive” window but instead captioned “WinDOS Executive” and including the date and time and a “C> Prompt” for quick-typing and editing DOS commands (when my hand was on the keyboard).  WinDOS permitted me to greatly automate my workflow using a mouse to launch commands and programs while still providing enhanced keyboard-editing and entry of DOS commands!  MS-DOS Executive provided customized “.PIF” files as an early version of file/mime type associations and I quickly found myself needing something similar so I created text-based “.CIF” files (Command Information Files) to handle that in WinDOS, for example COPY.CIF configured WinDOS to prompt for TWO arguments for the COPY command.  I also created a “GUI” for creating and editing “CIF” files and an “installer” program and made it available as share-ware (open-source) and installable from a single floppy-drive!  One interesting programming feature was that I wrote WinDOS with an executable and a looping batch script to invoke it so that when the user executed a command, the WinDOS executable would exit freeing up nearly all of the 640K of system memory to run the program, then restart the WinDOS executable after the command finished.  This freed a lot of memory without noticably sacrificing speed.  My effort was not in vain as WinDOS quickly became one of my most-used programs for several years (along with the shareware / open-source editor “PC-Write(tm)”, which I also ended up purchasing the paid version because I loved and used it so much) until I finally moved my world to Linux in the mid ’90s (I pretty much skipped Windows all together)!  Heck, I even had several coworkers using WinDOS on their machines too!
Now that I’ve been on Linux for nearly twenty years now, I’ve long since developed my own file-manager (since I couldn’t find one that I liked) that incorporates the same basic principles as WinDOS, but also all the modern features one would want in a file-manager.  This is “JFM4“.  You can get it and see a screenshot on my download site.

Spiral-bound PC-Write(tm) Users’ Manual
PC-Write(tm)“, by Quicksoft (Bob Wallace and his wife Megan Dana) was my other fav. app. in my MS-DOS years as it provided a very nice and customizable full-screen (and full-color) text editor that was great for editing program source-files and writing letters, etc.  It was both a good code-editor and (for the time) a full-featured auto and manual-formatting word-processor, and it was free and shareware, and fit on a single floppy disk, so I could carry it anywhere with me!  I liked and used it so much, I ponied up the $69 (I believe) for the “fully-registered” (paid) version for which Quicksoft sent me a fully spiral-bound 426 page plus index manual (fully written and illustrated in PC-Write itself by Bob’s wife Megan Dana, seen on the cover), a free one-year subscription to their (paper) newsletter “Quicknotes”) and two free update coupons!

I got more than my money’s worth out of this program too using it for all my code development and word-processing needs for nearly ten years until I switched from DOS to Linux.  I wrote a full customization file (text file) with the colors and keyboard sequences all set the way I wanted to facilitate my work in the ways most natural to me.  After moving to Linux, I ended up writing my own full-color text editor named “E Editor” taking many ideas from this one and adding language-specific syntax-colorizaton, code-evaluation, and quick-compile that I still use today and you can get it (and JFM4) here from my download site for Windows and Linux.  “E” is not a full-blown word-processor though (I use LibreOffice for that).

PC-Write(tm) Intro screen
PC-Write(tm) Intro screen
PC-Write(tm) Editer screen
PC-Write(tm) Editer screen (editing an ancient FORTRAN program)
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