Fun with orthodox file managers: Norton Commander, DOS Controller and Volkov Commander

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Most of us are familiar with the Norton Commander, one of the most popular orthodox file managers for DOS. The last version for DOS is v5.51 which adds long file name support, accessible via an selection named Wide from the Left and Right menus. This version appears to have been released in a hurry, as only the copyright date was updated to 1998 – descriptive text for the Wide entry was not added to online help. Preceding version 5.51 was version 5.0, released in 1995, with more support for viewing different file formats, particularly Excel 4.0 .XLS files. Unfortunately v5.51, despite being released in 1998, is not able to view Excel 5.0 format (which support multi-sheets). The DOS version of Norton Commander was abandoned shortly after.

This is a screenshot of NC 5.51 running under NTVDMx64, showing long file names and 1GB emulated disk space. Take note that the displayed disk space is limited to 2GB.


Volkov Commander 4.0 is a lightweight NC clone. It has all the bells and whistle of NC, except for the viewers, and consumed only ~200KB, instead of more than 4MB. Volkov Commander 5.0 adds long file name support but was an unfinished project as many features such as editor or help system were missing. This is a screenshot of VC4 running in 50-line mode (EGA) under ntVDMx64:


If you want something even lighter, you should definitely try the DOS Controller (DC.COM or DC-SK). At 48KB, it has most of the features of Volkov Commander 4.0 except for directory copying and file viewing (replaced by a very good editor). Although deleting a directory (and all its subdirectories) is supported, nothing will happen if you press F5 on a directory – you will have to copy the files it contains manually. This is a screenshot of DOS Controller running in DOSBox:


To note, VC4 supports directory copying whereas Norton Commander did not support this until version 5.0. Another limitations of the DOS Controller is that it does not display network drives in its drive letter selection list and only shows physical drives. If you mount a network share via Microsoft Network Client, or if your disk appears as a network drive through its driver (e.g. a ZIP drive using PALMZIP), then you will not be able to select your drive using DC. NC and VC has no such issues. Unfortunately the author did not release the source code so I am not able to fix this issue.

Notwithstanding the limitations, the DOS Controller runs well on a 8088 and is good enough for my HP 100LX and PC-XT clone. VC4 runs well on a 8088 too whereas NC5 requires at least a 386. Both VC4 and DC can be fit onto a 360K floppy disk (or a 512KB SRAM card), whereas NC is just simply too large. For modern day vintage computing usage, I guess either DC or VC4 should be good enough.

A copy of the DOS Controller can be downloaded here. No version number can be found either in the executable or in the readme. I guess only one version was ever released!




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A tough developer who likes to work on just about anything, from software development to electronics, and share his knowledge with the rest of the world.

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