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 MS-DOS is one of the most basic operating systems that we use today. The first version of MS-DOS was very primitive, but after a few changes, it provided all the necessary functions anoperating system needed. DOS has undergone several changes over the years to provide better functionality. After MS-DOS 5, no major commands were added to the operating system; onlycompression was enhanced. Table 9.1shows the different versions of MS-DOS and the main improvements.MS-DOS is a single-tasking operating system, which means that it can run only one program at atime. The MS-DOS user interface is a command-line interface, which means that users must typetext-based commands and responses when interacting with the operating system (see Figure9.1).
MS-DOS commands are not case sensitive, which means that typing in uppercase as opposedto lowercase doesn’t affect the meaning of the command. In this book, MS-DOS commands and filenames may appear either in uppercase or in lowercase type.
 MS-DOS treats each separate program and piece of data as an individual file. Each file has aname, which is broken down into two parts: a file name and an extension. The file name can beup to eight characters long and the extension can be up to three characters long. The file nameand extensions can contain any character 
/ \ [ ] | < > + = ; , * ? because these charactershave a special meaning for the operating system. Also, neither the file name nor the extensioncan contain spaces. The file name and extension are separated by a period. This naming schemeis referred to as the eight-dot-three (8.3) file name limit. Some acceptable MS-DOS file namesare
Note the 8.3 file naming convention used above.Table 9.2 shows some examples of file names that are
in MS-DOS and explains why.The file name is a simple way of identifying programs and data. Using file names, users canretrieve data and run applications or programs easily. If the computer’s file system did not allowyou to use text-based file names, you would have to learn to read binary format (1s and 0s) toaccess files and interact with the computer.
Communication and computations conducted at the hardware level, specifically within theCPU, are conducted in binary format.
We’ve talked about file names and briefly described the purpose of a file name. We alsomentioned the
. The extension defines the function of a file and associates it with aparticular type of program. For example, program files (compiled and executable files) typicallyend with either .exe or .com. Batch files end with a .bat extension. All other files contain someform of data to support programs. Different programs use different types of data files. Theextension shows or defines which program uses the particular data file. A file name that has a.doc extension is associated with Microsoft Word, a word processing program. A file name with
the extension .bas is associated with Basic, a simple programming language and compiler.As mentioned earlier, all files are stored on the hard drive in binary format, but every program hasits own way of reading and writing the binary data. Each unique binary organization is referred toas a
; different program types use a different format. As a result, one program cannotinterpret another program’s files unless it has a way of converting the format to one that itunderstands. In the early days of MS-DOS, few programs could interpret the data of other programs. It was very difficult for people to share files and data. A standard was created that letdifferent programs “talk” the same language. This standard is called the American Standard Codefor Information Interchange (ASCII, pronounced “as-ski”). The ASCII standard, as we know ittoday, defines 256 eight-bit characters. The characters include all letters of the alphabet (bothuppercase and lowercase), numbers, punctuation, many foreign characters, box-drawingcharacters, and a series of characters for commands such as carriage return, bell, and end of file(EOF). ASCII files, or text files, store data in ASCII format.ASCII was the first universal file format. Virtually every type of program can read and write inASCII. Unfortunately, ASCII files are limited. For example, a text file cannot store information likeshapes, colors, special text formatting (bold, italics, or underlining), or graphics. Text files arelimited to the 256-character set defined by ASCII.
Drives and Directories
Each drive in MS-DOS has a drive letter 
Floppies — A and B
Hard drives — begin with C
CD-ROM drive — typically drive letter following last hard drive defined
Directory tree organizes the drives’ file structure
Root directory
Parent directory
Child directory
Each drive in MS-DOS is assigned a drive letter. The first floppy drive is assigned the drive letter A, the second floppy, if a second floppy drive is installed, is assigned the drive letter B. MS-DOScan support only two floppy drives. Hard drives start with the letter C and can continue to theletter Z. All drive letters are assigned by MS-DOS and cannot be changed. Typically, CD-ROMdrives are assigned the drive letter that follows the last hard drive partition defined.MS-DOS uses a hierarchical directory tree to organize floppies and hard drives. These groupsare called
. There are several different types of directories. Some of the differentdirectory terminology is listed inTable 9.3.A directory contains files. When a file is not contained within a directory, it is said to be in a rootdirectory (e.g. C:\). If a directory is contained within another directory, it is called a
(e.g. C:\DOS). You cannot give two files in the same directory the same name, and you cannotgive two subdirectories within the same directory the same name. Directory names follow thesame 8.3 naming convention as file names.When describing a drive partition, use the drive letter. For example, the hard drive is representedby C. The root directory is described by C:\. If you wanted to describe a directory named DOCSthat was stored in the root directory of the C drive, it would be represented by C:\DOCS. Thepattern continues with subdirectories. The exact location of a file is called a
MS-DOS Structure
 Primary MS-DOS files
BIOS communications
Hidden file
Primary MS-DOS code “Kernel”
Hidden file
Command interpreter for user interface
Not hidden
The MS-DOS operating system is stored on the primary MS-DOS partition. The hardware BIOSprogram looks for this partition during the boot procedure. (Actually, the BIOS looks for the Activepartition as defined by Fdisk, which is covered in more detail inChapter 10.) Three primary files comprise MS-DOS.Table 9.4 lists these three files and their functions. These three files must be on the active primary partition for the MS-DOS operating system toboot. These three files are not interchangeable between versions of MS-DOS.After the POST phase of the boot procedure, Io.sys and Msdos.sys are loaded and run. Next,Command.com is loaded and run.
System Files
 Important MS-DOS System Files
Configures the hardware environmentMousePrinter Keyboard
Country codes (time, date, currency)
Other devices and system commands
Programs/commands to be run at system start
Batch file (automatically executing set of programs/commands)
The Config.sys and Autoexec.bat files are useful for configuring MS-DOS but are not required.After the command interpreter (Command.com) is loaded, the Config.sys file is parsed, if present.After Config.sys has completed, Autoexec.bat is loaded, if present.Config.sys contains special commands and is responsible for configuring the hardwareenvironment. Memory management is configured in Config.sys, as well as the number of files andbuffers available for the operating system. The country code can be configured for the system,which will let the system use country-specific conventions for displaying dates, times, andcurrency. Generally, commands relating to the mouse, printer, keyboard, and disk drives are alsofound here. Devices are normally loaded here.Below are some sample commands you’ll find in Config.sys:Device=C:\DOS\Himem.sysDevice=C:\DOS\Emm386.exeStacks=9,256

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