DOS Lives in Windows Me

I've just learned that my Windows Me Secrets co-author, Davis Straub, recently set a new world record for miles flown in a hang glider. Smashing the 10-year-old record of 308 miles, he launched his glider from Zapata County, Texas, and landed 347 miles later (as the co-author flies) in Sterling County, Texas. The details of his adventure can be read at davisstraub.com/OZ/Ozv4n155.htm.

"Who cares?" you ask. I tell you this only to illustrate the fact that so many people we know professionally also have a personal life about which we don't often know.

Windows Me has some secrets like this, too, as several readers have recently pointed out.

One of the differences between the new Windows Me and the operating system it upgrades, Windows 98, is DOS. If you hold down the Ctrl key while Windows 98 is booting, a menu is displayed. From this menu, you can run a DOS prompt instead of Windows. This is handy if you want to run commands when Windows isn't starting properly, or to use DOS tools that don't run under Windows.

Windows Me doesn't allow you to boot to DOS. Yes, you can still open a DOS session under Windows Me. Most DOS programs will run in such a session, but some won't. A few readers who miss the flexibility they're accustomed to have asked me about this.

Microsoft Corp. removed the ability to boot to DOS in order to speed the start-up of Windows Me and to eliminate the support hassles caused by real-mode device drivers that load before Windows.

But it turns out that DOS is still in there underneath Windows Me. Microsoft removed only the user's ability to get to DOS, not the code itself.

Brian Moura, the assistant city manager of San Carlos, Calif., notes that software such as disk partitioning tools typically don't work while Windows is running. He's experimented satisfactorily with a utility posted on the Internet that restores your ability to boot to DOS prior to Windows.

This utility is called WinMeDOS.com. It's available from a programmer who goes by the handle of Reines at www.geocities.com/mfd4life_2000.

WinMeDOS.com performs minor surgery on three Windows Me files. These are Command.com, the character-mode command processor; Io.sys, a hidden boot file; and Regenv32.exe, a Windows system file.

Following the instructions at Reines' Web site, you make copies of these three files in a temporary folder, then run WinMeDOS.com in that folder. After the utility amends the three files, you move them back into their proper locations.

After this, Windows Me supports features like the ones Windows 98 does. You can hold down the Ctrl key to choose DOS from the boot menu. You can run commands in Config.sys and Autoexec.bat before Windows Me starts. And you can define your own boot menu with other options you'd like access to.

When I tested this, I found a few steps you should take before undertaking Reines' hack.

Step 1. It's essential that you make a Start-up Diskette using Windows Me's Add/Remove Programs control panel if you didn't do this when you installed Windows Me. Besides this being a good idea anyway, the WinMeDOS.com utility uses the version of Io.sys that Windows Me puts on the Start-up Diskette. (This fact causes the one cosmetic side effect that I noticed: The message "Starting Windows Emergency Boot Disk" appears when you boot Windows Me using the modified files.)Step 2. When you copy the three Windows Me files to a temporary folder, you should also save a copy of these files in a separate "Win Me Original Files" folder. This allows you to restore your system to its original condition if you don't like the modification.

Step 3. You may need to configure Windows Explorer to display all types of files in order to follow the utility's instructions. To do this in Windows Explorer, click Tools, Folder Options, View. Turn on "Show hidden files and folders," and turn off "Hide file extensions" and "Hide system files."

After taking those three steps, you should be able to follow the directions fairly easily.

Some people will say this utility is much ado about nothing. If you want to boot to DOS before starting Windows, you can easily do so by placing your Start-up Diskette in drive A: and restarting your PC.

That's certainly true. But Reines has shown us a side of Windows Me that illustrates both its new slickness and its older heritage.

Reader Moura will receive Windows Me Secrets free for being first to send in this tip.

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You can now receive this column every Monday, free by e-mail. Go to www.iwsubscribe.com/newsletters and click "Window Manager."

Brian Livingston's latest book is Windows Me Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to brian_livingston@infoworld.com. He regrets that he cannot answer individual questions.

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