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Frequently Asked Questions

The release set of PFE files contains a FAQ.TXT file, in which you'll find common questions about PFE - and even some of the answers to them. Here we have the same material; but this page will be updated from time to time.

This version was last changed on 4 January 1999, and applies to PFE release 1.01

If you find any problems with PFE not covered here, please mail them to me at

You might also like to consult the set of Application Notes which contain information on various specific problems you may encounter.

What version of PFE is recommended for my current environments? I use Windows 3.10, Windows NT and Windows 95

PFE is supplied in two forms: the 16-Bit Edition (PFE.EXE) and the 32-Bit Edition (PFE32.EXE). The recommended versions for various platforms are these:

   Windows 98                   32-Bit Edition
   Windows 95                   32-Bit Edition
   Windows NT 4.0 (Intel)       32-Bit Edition
   Windows 2000 (Intel)         32-Bit Edition 
   Windows 3.1x                 16-Bit edition
   Windows for Workgroups 3.1x  16-Bit Edition

Note that here "Intel" covers genuine Intel processors (like the Pentium) and Intel-compatible processors such as those from Cyrix and AMD.

I'm using the 32-Bit Edition, and I've set up associations so that I can open files in PFE by double clicking the names in File Manager and Explorer. It works fine most of the time, but if the name contains spaces it doesn't - PFE seems to think each part of the name is a filename all by itself

The problem here is that the most obvious command line to use in your association:


is not correct. Since PFE allows multiple files to be named on the command line, you must use some extra syntactic elements in the association.

To set up your associations easily and correctly, and to enable some right-click menu functionality under Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000, you need to set them up in the "Associations" panel of the dialog started by the Options Preferences panel.

If you want to create associations yourself you can do so: the command line to use is

pfe32 "%1"

where the "%1" part ensures that the filename you click on is contained in quotes when the command is issued. However, if you do this you won't see the context menu items relating to PFE; and you may not find future enhancements will work correctly.

I'm using the 32-bit Edition, and sometimes the flashing insertion point marker just disappears and I can't type into any window. If I switch to another application and back to PFE, it works fine. What's wrong?

You are most probably using a Microsoft IntelliMouse with version 2.2 or later of the drivers that provide a facility known as "Universal Scrolling" (standard with Windows 98 and Windows 2000).

The driver aims to provide wheel support for applications that don't themselves implement it, and there are some bugs in how it works with some programs, including PFE. This version of PFE usually can get around the driver bugs under Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and Windows 98, but there can still be problems under Windows 95 - turning the mouse wheel or clicking on it may cause the symptoms described.

The solution is to disable the "Universal Scrolling" feature for PFE. Click on Start|Settings|Control Panel and then double click on the Mouse icon to get to the IntelliMouse control panel, and select the "Wheel" tab at the top of the dialog.

Next, click on the "Exceptions" button, click on "Add" in the new dialog that appears, and browse to find the PFE32.EXE executable program file. Clicking on "Open" will add PFE to the list of programs for which the driver will not provide "Universal Scrolling".

Once you've done this, you'll still be able to scroll PFE windows by turning the mouse wheel, but you won't be able to scroll by clicking the mouse wheel and moving the mouse. Incidentally, it won't matter if you move the PFE executable to some other folder or install a new version - the mouse driver identifies the program from internal information within the executable data.

How can I arrange that edit windows are created to use the maximum area available in the MDI client area?

You can do this with the Options Preferences command. Start the preferences dialog and select "Window Control" from the list of option categories on the left. This shows you a panel that lets you configure exactly how child windows will be created

Why don't all the TrueType fonts I have installed on my system appear in the printer and screen fonts dialogs?

Because PFE is a programming-oriented text editor, rather than a word processor, it supports only fixed pitch fonts (ones in which all characters occupy the same width on screen or paper). There are, sadly, very few fixed pitch fonts available. There are no plans to add variable fixed pitch support in a future release.

I want PFE to remember the names of more than the last 5 files I've edited, so I can pick them quickly from the File menu. How can I do this?

You can configure the Most Recently Used (MRU) list with the Options Preferences command. Start the preferences dialog, and select "MRU List" from the list of option categories on the left. This shows you the panel that configures the MRU list.

You can configure the total size of the list, and how many files from the list will appear on the File menu (you will be able to select from the entire list with a dialog command that will follow the list on the menu). You can also specify that the File menu should be drawn in two columns rather than one if you want to show a large number of files. Note that you will need to exit PFE and restart it before your changes take effect.

I don't like the standard Windows File Manager, and prefer to use a third party one. How can I get the File Manager item on the Execute menu to start this instead of the standard one?

You can configure what the various "Manager" items on the Execute menu do with the Options Preferences command. Start the preferences dialog and select "Windows Managers" from the list of option categories on the left to show the panel that handles this

For each of the menu items, you can specify that PFE should run either the standard manager program supplied with Windows, or runs a command line of your choice

I use 4DOS-for-NT as my Windows NT command processor instead of Microsoft's cmd.exe - how can I get the Execute DOS Prompt and associated tool bar button to start this?

Normally, PFE will use the executable file named in the COMSPEC environment variable as the command processor. If this variable is not set, it uses the standard defaults "" under Windows 3.1x, and "cmd.exe" under Windows NT and Windows 95

You can define the command processor you want to start with the Options Preferences command. Select the "DOS Shell" panel to configure what is started by the Execute DOS Prompt command; select the "Command Processor" panel to configure the command line used to run applications by the Execute DOS Command To Window command

I use Windows NT on MIPS and DEC Alpha platforms - is there an executable of PFE32 for these?

PFE32 exists only for Intel and PowerPC hardware. There are no plans for MIPS or DEC Alpha versions

How can I record my keyboard macros for use in other sessions?

The macro that you record as you type on the keyboard - known as the active keyboard recording - can be saved at any time with the Macro Save Recording command; PFE will automatically load it at the start of the next session.

You can also build libraries of macros that you can assign to keys of your choice using the Macro Librarian command.

How does PFE manage to allow more than 32K of text to be edited in an edit control?

PFE doesn't, in fact, use standard edit controls to show text. The windows you see are ordinary MDI child windows, and the text is drawn explicitly by PFE as required. Internally, a complicated memory management system keeps track of where each line of each file is stored.

Why, if I have word wrap switched on for a window, will PFE wrap text only when I'm typing at the end of the line and not when I insert in the middle of it?

The current design of PFE is set to do things that way for efficiency reasons. However, the Edit Text Reformat and Edit Text Reformat Paragraph commands allow you to reflow text to fit the current wrap margin at any time.

Why do I get Help file not found when I ask for help?

Make sure that you have the help file pfe.hlp in the same directory as the pfe.exe or pfe32.exe executable program

Why is the default of 32 undoable actions so small? Surely, when I'm typing text, I'll fill that up in 32 keypresses?

Actually, no - the undo system doesn't work in quite that way. It records specific actions in its stack, such as a drag-drop move of text, or a cut of the highlighted text. When you're typing, each keypress is considered as part of a single action, which is terminated only when you do something different, like moving the caret with the arrow keys, or switching to another window.

Then, when you use the Undo Typing command, PFE will remove all the typing you've performed in that action (a future release of PFE will probably let you undo typing actions character-by-character too)

You can change the number of undo actions that PFE records with the Options Preferences command. Start the preferences dialog and select "Editing Files" from the list of option categories on the left to show the relevant panel that lets you set the size of the list

If I select some text and start to drag it to a new location, how can I change my mind without having to drop the text somewhere and then undo the action?

You can cancel a drag-and-drop in one of two ways. If the highlighted text is visible in the window, move the mouse cursor somewhere inside it and release the left button. Alternatively, press the Escape key before you release the left mouse button.

How can I use drag-and-drop to move text from one window to another?

In the current design, PFE supports drag-and-drop only within a window. Inter-window operation may be added in a future release.

How can I configure PFE so that the File Save command and its associated tool bar button are always available? At the moment, I can only use the command when I've changed the file in some way.

By default, PFE enables the File Save command only when the file showing in a window has altered. This gives you some feedback (complementing the 'file changed' marker in the status bar) that helps you avoid un-necessary saves.

You can use the Options Preferences command to change this setting. Start the preferences dialog and select "Saving Files" from the list of option categories on the left to show the relevant panel. Check the box labelled "Allow File Save on unaltered files" to make the File Save command and the toolbar button always available

I like the window that runs DOS commands with output capture to start full screen, and to have specific tuning details set. How can I do this?

DOS commands with output capture are run by either the pfedos.exe (for Windows 3) or pfedos32.exe (for Windows NT) helper modules. To change how the windows are created, set up suitable PIF files pfedos.pif and/or pfedos32.pif in the same directory, and use the Windows PIF editor to set the details as you require

How do I insert a Form Feed into a file, or specify it in the Find and Replace dialogs?

To insert a Form Feed (or any other non-typable character) use the EditTextInsertASCIICode command, which is by default mapped to Ctrl+Q. This starts up a dialog that lets you select Esc and Ctrl+A - Ctrl+Z easily by name, or specify any ASCII code you like as a number.

To specify Form Feed in the Find or Replace dialogs, write it as the two- character sequence "\f". You can also specify end-of-line by "\n" and tab by "\t"; and you can specify an arbitrary code as "\xhh", where "hh" represents two hex digits. Remember that if you actually want a "\" character, you need to write it as "\\".

Why do I see lots of files with type .&&& (PFE version 0.05.006) or .$$$ (PFE version 0.05.007 and later) in my directories?

These are the backup files that PFE produces whenever you save a file. If a file of the same name exists already, PFE renames it with a type of .$$$ before writing the new data to disk.

The Options Preferences command allows you to configure some defaults for how backup is handled. Start the preferences dialog and select "Backup" from the list of option categories on the left to show the relevant panel.

In this dialog, you can disable all backup permanently; choose to have PFE make backup files to the same directory as the original file but with a file extension of your choice; or to make the copy into a file of the same name as the original, but in a subdirectory of the directory containing it

The File Save As dialog and the Options Default Modes and Options Current Modes dialogs also let you control some backup actions on a per- file basis

I used the Options Preferences, Options Default Modes and Options Current Modes command to set background colours for my edit windows and the main PFE workspace. Why are the colours I get not the ones I selected?

Depending on what type of video adapter you have fitted to your computer, only a very few of the infinite number of colours can be shown as pure or "solid" colours. Normally your system will provide 16 such solid colours, and you will see these in the block of colours shown at top left in the colour selection dialog.

When Windows is asked to display some other colour, it has to use a technique known as "dithering", that simulates the shade you want. For example, it might produce a pale blue by drawing a fine grid of dark blue lines on a white background; this will appear to be the colour you wanted when seen from a suitable distance.

Dithered colours are very unpleasant to use as backgrounds for text, and writing text on such a background is very much slower that if the background were a solid colour. For these reasons, PFE does not support the use of dithered colours, but instead translates the colour value you select to the closest available solid colour.

I work with a number of large projects and would like to have separate customised PFE environments. Can I do this?

With the 16-Bit Edition, you can use PFE's ability to locate its initialisation file pfe.ini in an arbitrary directory to do this.

With the 32-Bit Edition you can use "multiple configuration sets" in the registry to the same effect.

These facilities are controlled by the Options Preferences command; the Help button on the dialog will take you to descriptions of how they operate.

What are the licensing arrangements for PFE? I use it at home and would like to do so at my work too.

PFE is FreeWare. You don't need to register to use it, and there is no fee. You can use it at home, or at work without restriction.

If you'd like to include PFE on the distribution disks with a commercial product you can obtain a licence that will enable you to do this.

The help file contains full details on the current usage and licensing position.

I'm editing files on a NFS-mounted partition with the 16-Bit Edition, and whenever I save my edit changes the long name of the file disappears and all I see is the NFS-generated 8.3 name. What's happened?

The problem is in the way that PFE makes backups when you save files. In the current version, any existing file is renamed to be the backup copy, and a new file is created with the old name to save the changes into.

The step of renaming the file breaks the association that NFS maintains between the DOS 8.3 name and the file's long name. Thus, when PFE creates the new file to save - using the 8.3 name - NFS can no longer translate this to the "real" name and so has to pass the 8.3 name itself to Windows.

The only circumvention available in the current release is to disable making backup copies in these circumstances.

This problem does not arise in the 32-Bit Edition

Why can't I open more than one file at a time with the File Open and File View commands? Previous versions of PFE allowed me to do this.

In this release, the various file opening dialogs all default to allowing you to select only one file at a time.

You can use the "General Options" panel of the dialog started by the Options Prefences command to enable multiple selection; however, under Windows NT 3.51 some long file names will not appear correctly (see the next item)

I'm using Windows NT 3.51, and I used Options Preferences to allow me to open more than one file at a time in the File Open command. However, my long file names don't apear any more - I just see the DOS 8.3 names

There is a basic flaw in Microsoft's design of the library that provides the standard file open dialogs under Windows NT 3.51 (this code is not part of PFE). Essentially, it can't handle long file names that contain spaces if you also allow multiple files to be selected. Long file names without spaces are handled correctly; but Microsoft's code automatically shows those with spaces as 8.3 names in order to get around their design error.

In its default mode of operation, PFE allows you to open only one file at a time, and here the problem does not arise.

Unfortunately, there is no way to beat this problem - if you want to open multiple files at one time, you won't see names with spaces in.

On the good side, though, the problem does not arise at all if you're running Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0

How do I change the font that I use to print files out? In previous releases there was a "Font" button in the Print Setup dialog, but it's gone now

The printer system uses the same user interface and dialogs as other applications; the Print and Print Setup dialogs you see are the standard ones that are part of Windows.

Unfortunately, the way that Windows works with these dialogs means that it isn't possible to select fonts from them. You should use the File Page Setup command for this and to define printer page margins

I'm using the Execute DOS Command To Window command to run my compiler, which will prompt me for input if there's an error. Using the 32-bit edition I see the compiler output in the console window, but I never see the prompts and the output window seems to lock up, although if I type the expected reply blind it all seems to work. What's going wrong?

The problem here arises because PFE is essentially trying to subvert the compiler, fooling it into thinking that it's writing to the screen (as it normally would) when actually it's sending all its output to PFE (actually, to a small helper program that PFE runs for this purpose).

If the compiler or other program is simply writing, then it all works fine. But as you've seen, there are problems if the program wants you to perform input. Normally, when a program writes to the screen, Windows makes sure that all the output is sent there directly and not stored in the program's or Windows's buffers. Thus, you see the prompt as soon as the program writes it, and you know what to do.

But when PFE runs the compiler, the output is actually not to the screen, but to PFE. The compiler itself doesn't know the difference, but the underlying I/O systems and Windows certainly do. Since they know the program isn't writing to the screen, the compiler's output will be buffered for efficiency - thus it's quite possible, and actually most probable, that the prompt string will be stored in a buffer waiting to be written to the screen when the compiler asks you to type - so you never see the prompt.

There is no way round this problem, unfortunately. Although techniques are available for programs to detect what's happening and make sure that you _do_ see the prompt, you'll be lucky to find one that uses them.

The moral, sadly, is that the Execute DOS Command To Window command is not suitable if the program you want to run will ever require you to type in to it rather than simply generate output

I like to work with tab width of 4 in my files, and I can set this up with the Options Current Modes command. However, if I edit the same files again, the tab setting reverts to the default of 8. How can I change this?

The Options Current Modes command affects the modes applied to only the current window; the effect is limited to that window, and when it closes the settings are lost.

To do what you want - which is to define the default modes for a file - you need to use the Options Default Modes command.

You'll find full information on how to use this command in the help file. Basically, you can define a number of mode groups, which are collections of filename patterns like "*.c *.h readme.*". With each mode group you define the default modes you want; then, if any file you open has a name matching something in a mode group, the relevant default modes are applied.

I put the 32-Bit Edition of PFE on my desktop for handy access, but now it can't find the help file and if I try to run DOS commands I get a message "Unable to run pfedos32 helper module"

You've probably made a copy of the pfe32.exe program file on your desktop, rather than creating a shortcut. When you make a copy, Windows copies the executable file to a special directory on your hard disk, and when you click the icon, the program is started from there.

PFE will run happily like this; but when you ask for help, or try to run a DOS command, it will find that the pfe.hlp help file and pfedos32.exe helper module are not in the same desktop directory as the program.

The solution is to delete the copy of PFE from your desktop and create a proper shortcut - if you use the right mouse button to drop the PFE program file from its folder to the desktop, you'll see an option to create a shortcut on the menu that appears.

I have a 3-button mouse with drivers that emulate the wheel in a Microsoft Intellimouse, but PFE doesn't seem to respond when I try to use the middle button for scrolling

A standard Microsoft Intellimouse actually provides two distinct modes of operation: the central wheel can be both rotated as a wheel and clicked as a button.

Rotating the central wheel is normally used for scrolling, while clicking it initiates a feature known as auto-panning, where the window moves to follow the mouse movement.

With a real Intellimouse, PFE supports wheel-driven scrolling, but not auto-panning; therefore mice that emulate only auto-panning will have no effect.

I have a spelling checker that works fine with NotePad and some other applications, but not with PFE. Why is this?

External spell-check applications have to make some sweeping assumptions about how the application they're told to work with actually operates. Normally they assume that the application's text windows are a standard feature of Windows called an "edit control", or provide some emulation interfaces to this. With NotePad this is true; however PFE neither uses a standard "edit control" nor (at present) provides an emulation interface

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