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I am trying to find a way to do task-switching/swapping (not necessarily multi-tasking) in a DOS environment. I have tried DesqView under DOS 6.22 but I don't have any real success. I hear that DR-DOS had something called TopView which was a contender.

I have often wondered about changing from MS-DOS to DR-DOS. Is there a non-destructive way to install it? What's the best version to try? Is it 100% compatbile with MS-DOS? If not, what are the limitations?

I am using an IBM 5162 (286) with 1.5MB of EMS.

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    The DR-DOS 6 task manager was TaskMAX rather than TopView. In DR-DOS 7 it became TaskMgr.
    – john_e
    Jun 10 at 8:19
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    It’s pretty compatible. Just remember not to install Windows 3.10 beta. Jun 10 at 9:25
  • And if you had at least a 386, installing GRUB4DOS might have been an option. Though I don’t know which architecture the official binaries are built for, so it might have still required building it from source. Jun 10 at 17:01
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DR DOS, at least version 6 or later (Novell DOS, DR OpenDOS etc.), provides an uninstallation option: the installer preserves the current boot sector and system files, and DR DOS can then be uninstalled (using the UNINSTAL command) and the system restored to its initial state. DR DOS also supports alternate CONFIG.SYS files (DCONFIG.SYS) which can be used to support multi-booting, with some extra effort (I can’t remember the details off-hand).

The installer can be started in a number of ways, either by booting from the installation floppy, or starting the setup program from MS-DOS. It’s a wizard-style installer, with built-in help.

I would suggest trying the latest available version of OpenDOS 7¹ if you want to go down this route. DR DOS is highly compatible with MS-DOS: the official interfaces are supported as-is, and many undocumented interfaces are handled as well.

However, as far as multi-tasking goes there are a couple of important caveats in your situation. DR DOS does have built-in task-switching and multi-tasking (using the “Task Manager”, or TaskMAX in earlier versions), but multi-tasking requires a 386, and task-switching with OpenDOS 7 on a 286 requires 3MiB of memory. Earlier versions of DR DOS (5.0 and 6.0), using TaskMAX, swap tasks to disk by default, and should work on your system as long as you have enough disk space for the swap file.


¹ DR DOS 8 no longer includes the task manager. As far as version 7 goes, 7.01 got third-party enhancements (notably, FAT32 support) which might not be relevant on a 286 with a small hard drive; later versions don’t have these improvements.

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  • Thanks for this! I was surprised to hear 3MiB required. That's a shame. I have an Intel AboveBoard, and AFAIK the max it can host is 2MB per board, so I'd have to piggy-back it with another board to get more RAM than 2MB and finding aboveboards is like getting blood from a stone, so that's that idea gone! MS-DOSSHELL did to task swapping too. Not sure how good it was tho. Jun 11 at 10:57
  • Yes, the MS-DOS DOSSHELL program did indeed provide task swapping, it might be worth giving that a shot. Jun 11 at 11:31
  • I used task switching back in the day in DR-DOS 5.0 with TaskMAX on a 286 system with 1MiB total (640Ki base, 64Ki HMA, 320Ki XMS) without problems. The 3MiB requirement must be something new. Jun 11 at 20:29
  • @Michael that’s interesting, I didn’t dig as far back as DR DOS 5.0. The 3MiB requirement is documented in OpenDOS 7. Looking at my manual for version 6.0 doesn’t indicate any minimum, but there TaskMAX swaps to disk by default. Jun 11 at 21:06

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