The EDIT program that comes with DOS looks like another external
DOS command, but in this case it is more appropriate to call it an Applet.
An applet is the name given to a small, limited application. In this case, EDIT
is an ASCII text editor. It is a handy application, composed of EDIT.COM (the
application itself), and EDIT.HLP, which contains all of the Help files. Also,
EDIT is a BASIC program, so you need to have QBASIC.EXE available as well if
you want to run it. This is not a problem if you are running EDIT from a hard
drive where you have installed DOS, but if you want to run it from a floppy
disk, such as an emergency utilities disk, you need to remember to place QBASIC.EXE
on the same floppy as EDIT.COM.
Why use EDIT?
EDIT is a very basic text editor. You would not use it for writing
a novel, or for desktop publishing. But it is a very handy little program for
two major uses in DOS. The first is for editing DOS configuration files. The
two files most commonly edited this way are CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT. The
second common use for EDIT is to create or edit batch files.
Batch files are files that contain DOS commands which are executed in order
whenever the batch file is run. We will cover both of these topics in future
installments, but first it is useful to learn a little about the tool we will
How to use EDIT
From the command prompt, simply type the command EDIT.
This will open EDIT, and you will see a screen that says “Welcome
to the MS-DOS Editor.” Under this is an option that says <Press Enter
to see the Survival Guide>. This brings up a one screen summary of how to
get around in EDIT. It turns out that this involves some keyboard commands that
carry over to Windows as well, so learning this can pay dividends in the future.
Someday you may actually need to know how to navigate Windows without a mouse,
and knowing these keyboard equivalents will pay off.
On top of your screen is the Menu Bar. This has the following
Menus, which should be familiar to anyone who has used Windows, since the menus
are very similar. You have File, Edit, Search, Options, and Help. Pressing the
ALT key activates the Menu Bar. The first letter of each menu is now shown in
White to indicate the “hot” letter you can use to activate that menu.
The FILE menu is already highlighted in a black box. If you hit “enter”,
that menu will open down. If any menu choice is highlighted, you can hit enter
to select that menu choice. You can use the arrow buttons. The down and up arrows
move up and down within a menu, and the right and left arrows move from one
menu to the next. Note that each menu has many options that also have “hot”
letters, or some other keyboard shortcut. “Hot” letters work by holding
down the ALT key while pressing that letter. So, if you are working on a file,
and want to check the HELP system, you just hold down the ALT key and press
“H”, and that menu will open. In Windows, it works just the same,
except there the “hot” letters are underlined.
If you look at the bottom of the screen you see some other keyboard
shortcuts. The first one is also for the Help system, which you can get to by
pressing F1. That is not two keys, but refers instead to the “function
keys” at the top of the keyboard. Pressing F1 for help is another semi-standard
in the Windows world. Not all programs follow this practice, but most do. So
if you are ever at a loss in any program, press F1 and see what happens.
At this point, you know at least three ways to get to the Help
system, and two ways to get to any menu option. With a little practice you can
get around quite easily in EDIT.
If you open the EDIT application as we did above, you will see
that you are working on an “Untitled” document. The moment you save
the document (ALT+F, S), you will see the title change to the name of your document.
The SAVE dialog window allows you to create the name. (Be sure that it is no
more than 8 characters, and no more than 3 letters for the extension. This is
DOS!) You can also choose whixch directory or drive you want to save it to,
and once you have everything right you need to select OK (or if you change your
mind, select Cancel). To navigate from one element to the next on this screen,
you use the TAB key.
You can also include a file name as an argument in the EDIT command.
If the file already exists, EDIT will open that file. If it does not already
exist, EDIT assumes you are creating a new file with this name, and opens a
blank screen ready for you to start typing.
EDIT is a fairly primitive application, but it does have some
good basic capabilities. From the Edit menu, you can do Cut, Copy, and Paste
in your files. And from the Search menu you can Find a text string, and even
Change it to something else when you find it. In the Options menu you will find
that you can the default color scheme, in case white text on a blue background
disagrees with you.
EDIT with a mouse
It is possible to use a mouse with EDIT. Remember, though, that
is DOS, and in DOS you have to load the mouse driver yourself before you can
use a mouse. In many of the cases where you will want to use EDIT you will not
have a mouse driver installed, and I have therefore focused on using a keyboard.
In the long run, you will be happier mastering keyboard navigation, and using
the ALT key, the arrow keys, and the TAB key will become second nature. And
if you ever do find yourself trying to navigate in Windows with a mouse, these
skills come in handy. Many times I have seen people completely stymied by a
situation where a program window has somehow moved to the point where all of
the control buttons are “off” the screen. So there is nothing for
the mouse to click on. I sit at the keyboard, hit a few keys , and everyone
says “How did you do that?” Definitely cool.