Plenty of people, including me, are no fans of Windows 8. But be happy it's here -- at least you don't have to compute like people did in the days of DOS. Then again, if you want, you can now return to those days, thanks to the free code being made available to all takers.
Microsoft and the Computer Museum have cooperated in a project to make MS DOS 1.1 and 2.0 as well as Microsoft Word for Windows 1.1 available to anyone who wants them. You can download the source code here.
Roy Levin, distinguished engineer and managing director, Microsoft Research, gives a brief history of DOS on the Official Microsoft Blog. He heads down memory lane and explains how Microsoft built the operating system for the first IBM PC, based on an operating system the company licensed from Seattle Computer Products.
But Levin didn't tell the whole story. IBM's first choice for building an operating system wasn't Microsoft, but instead a company called Digital Research, which was working on an operating system called CP/M-86, a 16-bit version of the company's existing CP/M operating system. Why IBM ended up with Microsoft instead is shrouded in a bit of mystery. Some say that Digital Research founder Gary Kildall went off flying instead of meeting with IBM about building an operating system for the company. Others say that Digital Research simply refused some of IBM's terms. (For perhaps the definitive explanation of what really happened, get a copy of Gates: How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industry--and Made Himself the Richest Man in America.)
No matter the cause, though, Gates managed to snag the IBM deal for himself, then built MS-DOS on top of 86-DOS from Seattle Computer Products. Microsoft paid only $25,000 to license 86-DOS -- possibly the best $25,000 investment any company has ever made.
If you find yourself complaining about Windows 8, you should try using the early versions of MS-DOS -- or any version of it. You'll come screaming back to Windows 8 in a heartbeat. Everything was accomplished via a command-line interface, every program you installed had a completely different look and feel and worked differently -- if you could manage to install them, that is. Forget graphics. As for mice, they were still only rodents.
If you're looking to see what Bill Gates thought of MS-DOS and the future of computing when Microsoft released MS-DOS more than 30 years ago, check out this interview he did with PC Magazine back then. It's worth the read. Here's one of my favorite parts, when Gates is taking about the future of storage five years from the time of the interview:
"There are 300-megabyte disks down in the $10,000 to $15,000 range now. If you can spread it across 20 users -- that is, with a good networking scheme -- you could justify it."
Only $10,000 for 300 megabytes of storage? What a steal!