Last time I began an explanation of what happened when you turned on your computer. I ended by saying that my computer's automatic execute file (AUTOEXEC.BAT) typed a menu of my making to the screen.
My menu not only spells out "Good Morning!" (a friendly little thing), but it also lists the programs on my hard disk with a number beside each name. When I type the number of a program and press Enter, the computer takes me to the program.
The menu looks something like:
1) WordPerfect 5.1
3) Managing Your Money
Each number is connected to a batch file. (Number 1 is controlled by a batch file called 1.BAT; Number 2 is 2.BAT, etc.) As an example, the 1.BAT file has the following information:
When I press 1 at my menu and hit Enter, the following happens automatically: The echo is turned off, the screen is cleared (cls), the computer changes to the subdirectory of WP51 (cd
wp51), and WordPerfect is brought up (wp).
When I exit WordPerfect, the screen is cleared (cls), the computer moves back to the root directory (cd
) and the menu is brought back to the screen (type menu.txt).
The batch files and menu can be created with your word processor and saved as ASCII files, which means they are text files without any codes. (In WordPerfect, ASCII is called "DOS text"; save the batch files and menu as DOS text files.)
If my "simple" explanations still seem a little complex, you might want to get a book called "Easy DOS It!" by Ron Bauer (Easy Way Press, P.O. Box 906, Rochester, Mich. 48308;  651-9405). The book, wonderfully brief, explains with metaphors and patience the few important things about DOS, including batch files.
Don't let those thick DOS manuals intimidate you into thinking you need to be an astrophysicist specializing in quasars and computers. You need only to know a few things, and "Easy DOS It!" does it. A companion volume, "Hard DOS It!" goes into specifics about using hard disks.
At $7.50 each (plus $3 shipping and handling if you buy it directly from the publisher), the books are superb values. In the end, you'll also know such rock-bottom basic commands as DIR, COPY, REN, FORMAT and CHKDSK.
WindowDOS ($69), by the way, is one of the DOS shell programs I like that makes using DOS even easier (by sidestepping DOS). At the push of a letter, you can perform such operations as copying, deleting, moving, making a directory, renaming, sorting even editing or viewing a file. WindowDOS also shows you how much free disk space you and how your hard disk is arranged with what subdirectories. The program can be brought from WindowDOS Associates, Box 300488, Arlington, Texas 76010; (817) 467-4103.
Another good DOS shell is XTreeGold ($149; XTree Co., 4330 Santa Fe Road, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401;  541-0604). It does what WindowDOS does and more (hence the price difference). The latest version of XTreeGold, version 2.0, was recently released with some handy additions. It has an "Oops!" command to undelete lost files, and it has pull-down menus that can work with either a mouse or by keyboard.
For those of you who felt that my explanation of making your own menu was a bit overwhelming, XTreeGold can automatically build you a personal menu. This is probably the most popular shell on the market. I mostly use WindowDOS, but I also use XTreeGold program when my needs are more complex.