Operating Systems reviewed

I recently bought a second-hand laptop, a Jetta Jetbook E1 (486DX4-100, 8Mb/490Mb with mono LCD + soundcard). It came with Windows 95 and Office Professional pre-installed. However, since no licences were forthcoming I dropped my offer (to £350 from £400) and wiped the hard drive. This left me with the task of choosing an operating system for my new PC.

My requirements were:
Minimum 100Mb FAT free for file transfers
A parallel port link program
A reasonable word processor
A spread-sheet
Dial up PPP to Brookes using my external modem
A web browser (preferably Netscape)
Reasonable DOS compatibility

OS/2 Warp 3.0

I'd like to like OS/2. I have a copy on my tower PC and I quite like it as an operating system, though IBM Works which comes in the bonus pack runs like a slug. No matter...DOS compatibility is pretty good and I'd already had success with Netscape for OS/2. The main reason I boot into DOS as standard on my tower is because the drivers for my sound card are shareware (it's an Ultrasound OEM) and don't support Win-OS2 or DOS Soundblaster emulation. Primax owe me the registration for the drivers but I doubt that will ever happen. Anyway, on installing OS/2 on my laptop I found that the hard-drive kept corrupting. Chkdsk would find half of a dll directory in lost clusters, which did no end of harm to my opinion of the stability of OS/2. When I tried installing onto a FAT partition I ended up with cross-linked chains as well. So ended OS/2's bid.


I've had a CD-ROM with a Slackware release of Linux for some now. I tried installing it on my tower once but it wouldn't boot via OS/2's boot manager, only from a floppy. No such problems on the laptop, with LILO in the master boot record. Linux was stable and I even managed to get X working. However, I couldn't get dosemu to work, even after downloading an updated version of the release from the internet. It just wouldn't make the 'dos' executable. On top of this, I found X infuriating because of a lack of hot- keys. My built in mouse sometimes refuses to move where I want it, so keyboard shotcuts are essential. The Windows95 style shell was an improvement but I couldn't find a hotkey for the 'Start' button.

DR DOS 5.0

I bought a copy of DR DOS 5.0 for £2 at a computer fair. In principle it was okay but with OS/2 and Linux gone I needed Windows and DR DOS just couldn't take control of my laptop's A20, even with a Microsoft himem.sys. Coupled with a number of shareware and freeware utilities complaining that they couldn't work with my DOS, I decided to look elsewhere.

Amstrad MS-DOS 4.011

This suffered from all the disadvantages of DR DOS 5.0 without any of the advantages. It's time was short-lived.

X-DOS 5.0

Shareware with a nag screen. However, it did run Windows 3.1 (though I had to use MS-DOS 6.0 on a floppy to do the install). I also have a problem with corruption on my diskettes so my version is incomplete. An internet search failed to provide a place to download X-DOS but my search led me to....

Caldera OpenDOS 7.01

This has the advantages of being both DR DOS 6.0 and Novell DOS 7.0. It's also free for educational use (which includes me). It warrants detailed investigation, but the results so far are promising, though for some reason I can't get the automatic login script for Trumpet Winsock to work (it stalls before accepting the ppp command). I've tried Arachne (a shareware DOS browser) but I can't get it to even dial. It seems unlikely that these problems are due to the operating system though. Descent started out with problems...conflicts with the OpenDOS memory manager. I managed to solve this by setting DPMI=OFF in the config.sys and EMM386 PIC=ON in the autoexec.bat. Apart from being an excellent game, Descent is an invaluable test for DOS compatibility as it supports a large number of sound cards, is well behaved and has a number of command line options. I have now installed OpenDOS on my tower and successfully set up a mini network with three workstations and a keyboardless, monitorless printer server. However, network TSR's mean that I'm running into base memory problems. However, since I wasn't really using the network I went back to MS-DOS 6.2 on my tower (but still have OpenDOS on my laptop).

DR DOS 6.0

I now have a copy of DR DOS 6.0 but I don't think I'll be using it unless I want to check OpenDOS for downgrades or novell bugs. It does mean I have a manual though.

Windows NT 4.0

Since I now use Windows on my tower PC on almost every boot (to download e-mail) and more and more of the software I get on cover CD-ROM's requires Windows 95 or NT and I can buy said operating systems at an educational discount and OS/2 stopped working and wouldn't reinstall, I decided to bite the bullet and go for 32 bit Windows. I wanted to used NT because of it's status as a full 32 bit system. The install went okay but I can't describe how annoying crashes are when they don't occur systematically. NT would crash during startup up approximately three quarters of the time, so it would get in eventually but would take lots of sitting around pressing the reset button. Once in the system would work and then collapse for no apparent reason. Error messages were even more unhelpful than with Windows 3.x...hal.dll invalid or missing, etc. with no way of looking for conflicts through the device manager. Whether NT didn't like my AWE64 or my combination of IDE and SCSI hard disks I will probably never know but I no longer avocate NT as the best choice of Windows.

Windows 95

My educational copy of NT also came with Windows 95 which installed first time and even helped my get slightly further with subsequent attempts to install NT (e.g. by pinpointing the network card which I'd forgotten to terminate). Apart from frequent crashes (especially with Netscape...though that is the program I run most often) I haven't had any specific complaints about Windows 95 as a user. I still have MS-DOS on a separate primary partition in case I want to play any incompatible games, using OS/2 boot manager for selection. Since the educational discount was much less impressive for Windows 95 than NT I feel somewhat hard done by, but there's not much I can do about that other than change my hardware...which may happen eventually.

Return to OSCar Central

This page was last upgraded on 27 December, 1997.

Disclaimer: These are personal web pages. The views and opinions expressed in them are also personal and should not be construed as reflecting the views and opinions of Oxford Brookes University.