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The Power of 9 Characters

format c:

The MS DOS Manual taught me the true power of the PC.

Typing those 9 characters and hitting Enter made a very large change in my computer.

Before I ran that command, my computer booted. I turned on the power switch and I got a prompt to perform an action. After, it didn’t do anything.

Something like this had never happened with my last “home computer,” the Atari 800 XL. No matter what I did with that device, it (almost) always did the same thing when I turned it on. But after format c:, my new PC was not the same.

I do not remember how I learned about format c:. I do remember, at a summer job in college, when a co-worker jokingly told me about rm /*, the UNIX equivalent. But in each case, it taught me to, as some say, “Read the Freaking Manual!”

If you haven’t been so brave (or brash?), both format c: and rm /* can have the same effect on a machine. Wiping the contents of the hard drive completely. Afterwards, the computer is lifeless, until you reinstall an operating system. This, I learned from a book.

Afterwards, the computer is lifeless, until you reinstall an operating system. This, I learned from a book.

These days, you can learn similar lessons from sites like superuser.com Websites can be so much more dynamic than a paper book. However, it the case of this answer to the question is another important lesson that hasn’t changed for many years, “Backup Early. Backup Often.”

I didn’t really love reading the MD DOS Manual back in the day. Really, it was only the words and actions of my father that made me do it. I had begged and begged for a computer. My father told me that if I wanted to have a computer, I had to learn how to use it. He never seemed surprised that I had erased everything on the computer. And, he didn’t seem surprised when I restored (almost) everything to it. But others were amazed by both.

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