WordStar for DOS 3.x Cannot Save Files When Run in Windows 9x and Me

Opening WordStar 3.3 from a Win9x DOS window appears to work but you cannot save altered files. Exiting Win9x and rebooting in Command Prompt Only mode works.


WordStar 3.3x uses File Control Blocks (FCBs) to manipulate files (open, close, rename, delete, etc.), which is why it can't deal with files that aren't in the current working directory on each drive letter.

FCBs are not fully supported in a DOS-emulation window in Win9x - some of the calls return 'success' when they have actually done nothing at all. This is why creation of a brand-new document file works, and the first subsequent edit/backup works, but successive saves fail. Deleting an existing .BAK file doesn't actually occur.

On FAT32-formatted drives, FCBs aren't supported even as well as that when running in real mode or 'Restart in MS-DOS' mode. WordStar 3.3x will fail to find any files (including its own overlays) if it is looking on a FAT32 drive.


To run WordStar 3.3x under Win9x, you should boot into real mode or reboot to DOS mode, and stay on a partition that uses the FAT16 format. Any partition under 512MB should meet this latter requirement.

Running WordStar from a floppy will also work and will save the need for repartitioning a FAT32 disk. However, some problems still exist:

  • It still won't work in a DOS-emulation window.
  • It won't work if you try to edit files on a FAT32 drive, even in real mode.
  • You can, of course, boot into real mode and copy the files you want to edit to a floppy that has WordStar 3.3 on it, but then you run foul of an entirely different problem, which is that the BIOS code that handles floppies can corrupt floppies if the program does frequent disk writes.
  • Floppies are slow.


Set aside a 20-120MB FAT16 partition for use with WordStar 3.3.

If the disk is already partitioned, use Partition Magic to make space for such a partition. Note that this may cause drive letters to change - especially of CD drives, etc. Partition Magic includes utilities to help correct for this.

Applicability to other versions of WordStar

Later versions of WordStar - WordStar 4 onward - use file handles to manipulate files and do not have these problems. They work properly in a DOS-emulation window so the above is not necessary.

Applicability to other versions of Microsoft Windows

Windows 3.x runs on top of a full version of DOS, which supports FCBs, so the problem doesn't occur in Windows 3 versions or in Windows for Workgroups.

Windows Me is a derivative of Windows 98SE, itself based on Windows 95. Windows Me removes yet more DOS compatability, and so the problem is also applicable to Windows Me.

Windows NT4, Windows 2000, and Windows XP, don't run on top of DOS but have a DOS emulation that supports may DOS programs. The FCB problem in WordStar 3 doesn't occur when WordStar is run under these operating systems.