I don't want to boot into Windows for certain tasks.
How can I boot my machine straight to a C:/> Prompt?
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If you mean bring up a command prompt when you start Windows, you can always put a shortcut to cmd in the Startup group.
If you are talking about ONLY having the command prompt when you start -
Go in to the registry and go to:
Look for a Key called
Shell and change it's value to
As others have said in the comments, by doing the first, it will simply load a command prompt after explorer has loaded. If you do the second, you will need to type
explorer at the command prompt in order to load explorer as only the command prompt will load.
Depending on what you want to do you can use Windows to make a DOS boot disk and boot with that instead of the normal boot. You can also install network drivers and there are drivers such as NTFS4DOS that allow you to read and write NTFS partitions, but it will take some more research to build your disk.
Windows 98 definitely could do this. I used the F8 trick to open a real mode dos prompt all the time, back then. In XP and later, however, that no longer exists. Thus, if you're running anything more recent than 98, which you almost certainly are, Windows just won't let you do this, you have to load Windows before you can get an (emulated) dos prompt.
The obvious solution, of course, would be to go find a copy of dos 6 (or FreeDos, or etc.), make yourself a partition, and dual-boot. But that's not perfect, either - my experience is, any form of real-mode dos prompt is likely going to be able to support either ntfs file systems (with some fiddling), or long file names, but not both.
(The safe mode that's been mentioned might also be a possibility... but I recall it being intentionally horribly crippled, as far as what you can run in it.)