Q. I need accurate and up-to-date information on public companies.

With dial-up computer services offering everything from stock market information to airline reservations, is there one that offers what I want?

A. Try the Disclosure Database, which offers a wide range of information on more than 12,000 public companies. Its data is extracted from reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. For example, here's where you'll find that 10-K, 10-Q, 8-K, annual report or proxy statement you're looking for.

With Disclosure, you can monitor the competition, compare a company's assets and liabilities, gauge the development of a market and analyze a company's financial position and potential. Company reports include a company profile, financial statements, a listing of officers and directors and a management discussion. Ownership reports include information on owners with holdings of 5 percent, institutional holdings and insider holdings, and an ownership and subsidiary summary.

You can locate an individual company by its stock symbol or name. Disclosure's company screening procedure helps you select companies by setting multiple constraints, such as location, total assets, book value, market value and sales.

Individual reports are $5 or $10 per company. For a single company, the collection of company reports costs $15 and the group of ownership reports cost $25. Call Disclosure Information Retrieval and Delivery Services at 1-800-843-7747 or 301-951-1463. Access also is available through CompuServe Inc. 1-800-336-3330 or 614-457-8600.

Q. What is a DOS shell?

A. DOS, which stands for disk operating system, is a program that per forms most of the necessary housekeeping functions on your disk. These include organizing, locating, moving, copying, storing and retrieving the information that resides there.

Unfortunately, to get DOS to do these functions, you need to learn what many consider to be cryptic instructions. For example, to get DOS to copy all the files named "myfile" from one disk to another, you might have to type something like this:

COPY C:/SUBD/MYFILE. A:

To run a program, such as a word processor, that is buried in a DOS sub-directory, you might have to type:

CD /SUBD1/SUBD2

WP

For some, Greek might seem easier to learn.

The word "shell" suggests a layer of protection. A DOS shell "protects" the novice user from the cryptic world of DOS. A typical shell will display easy-to-understand instructions from which a user can make a selection.

In the copy example, the user chooses the word "copy" from the shell's selection menu. Next, the shell displays all of the files on a disk. The user picks the files to be copied by highlighting any file or group of files using the arrow keys on his keyboard.

The shell then asks where to place the duplicated files by displaying all disks in the computer. Simply use the arrow keys to highlight the destination disk. Running a program is just as simple and done in a similar manner. Shells can make DOS operations intuitively clear.

An excellent DOS shell can be found in a comprehensive collection of utilities called PC Tools Deluxe ($149), available from Central Point Software, 503-690-8090.

Send questions to Craig Crossman, Business Monday, the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Please include your phone number.