Back in the dim, dark reaches of the 1980s you controlled your computer with keyboard commands, using a program called DOS. It stood for Disk Operating System, and had only two things going for it: it was lightning fast and super efficient.

Take Control of the MacDOS disappeared, or at least it appeared to disappear, because people hated having to remember commands like “CD,” which simply meant “change directory.” In fact, you had to know less than ten commands to do just about everything you ever wanted to with a computer, but even that was too much for many and first the Mac, and later the PC, showed us screens where you just clicked on pictures with a mouse. Actually it was Xerox that invented this approach to controlling a computer, but some genius in their executive office looked at it and said “You know, nobody will ever buy this,” and they abandoned it.

Enough with the archaeology! We move now to the present, where you can still control your computer with DOS commands. Windows users can reach their DOS commands by clicking on “start” at the bottom of the start-up screen, then “all programs,” “accessories” and “command prompt.” Viola, as we say in fractured French: you’re in DOS.

Mac users can do the same thing by calling up something called “Terminal,” which is located in the utilities folder inside the Mac applications folder. This produces the Mac equivalent of a DOS prompt. “Terminal is in fact the gateway to vast power,” writes Joe Kissell, the author of a new e-book: “Take Control of the Mac Command Line with Terminal.”

With Terminal or DOS, you have to know some commands. You may already know enough to be dangerous. In Windows, for example, entering the command “del *.*” could erase your whole hard drive. But if you learn only a few commands, here are some of the things you can do quickly from the keyboard:

• How to tell which applications are currently accessing the Internet

• How to rename or group together lots of files at once

• How to change hidden preferences

• How to understand and change file permissions

• How to automate common activities using scripts

We got to this topic through “Take Control of the Mac …,” because though it revives an old way of doing things, it is in itself, the new wave in publishing. It is available only as a download from the publisher, oreilly.com. There is no paper edition. There are no plans for a paper edition. We are about to be inundated with books that need no shelves, no paper, no ink and no bookstores.

Amazon’s electronic reader “Kindle,” and the “Sony Reader” are but the first of what are expected to be several similar devices to come out later this year or early next. The Sony Kindle DXReader has half a million books available for free. Apple is eyeing the e-book market as well. Major newspaper and magazines publishers are getting together to promote a larger reader, with the entire contents of a newspaper or magazine available to be downloaded and read on the screen. The downloads will come in over the Internet, either through your computer or by a wireless transmission, as the Kindle works today. This transmission typically takes just a few seconds. The first big screen reader, the Kindle DX, ships this summer and the cost is $489. At that price there won’t be a stampede to buy, but it’s a start.

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