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  Troubleshooting and  
Resource Guide
for Windows 95/98

History Lesson: MS-DOS
by Ward Christiansen
and an obituary for MS-DOS
from Byte


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MS-DOS Here's an off-the-top-of-his-head commentary (reprinted with permission) on the history of PC-DOS & MS-DOS from pioneer Ward Christensen, inventor of Xmodem & [w/Randy Suess] Bulletin Board Systems [BBSs], received February 4, 2000. Feel free to contact Ward at wardc@mcs.com if you have any details to add.

History lesson (from the guy who participated, as inventor of Xmodem and Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs)).

In the early days, there was the S-100 system, originally the "Altair Bus".

Aside: I wrote to IBM in '78 suggesting they come out with the PC and was told "We don't see a market for such a product". Sigh.

CP/M-80 was the operating system of choice for Intel based computers.

Microsoft came out with Basic for CP/M (and even before - cassette or paper tape based versions in 4K, 8K, and 12K). Interestingly when you pressed control-A, it would say "written by Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Monty Davidoff".

Some companies - among them "Seattle Computer Products" - made 8086 boards for the S-100 bus. (I bought a CPU-8085/86 from someone, but don't remember who - it wasn't Seattle).

CP/M-86 came out. It was the 16-bit version of the 8-bit CP/M-80.

When IBM came up with the PC, they went to Gary Kildall (personal acquaintance of mine) who had invented CP/M, but rumors have it he was having too much fun out flying his plane or something to discuss delivering CP/M-86 with the PC. Nevertheless, it was tested and IBM supported it and some people used it.

Meanwhile, sly Bill Gates (by which I mean I don't know who, but I mean Microsoft) was contacted about supplying an operating system. Having none, they went to Seattle and bought Seattle DOS - which Seattle had written in an attempt to help sell their 8086 CPU boards. (later on, law suits would result in additional money being paid to them for the success of MS-DOS, as I recall - I don't remember details).

Microsoft then sold or licensed this Seattle DOS to IBM as PC-DOS. It was customized for the PC. MS-DOS was the generic version, sold to other vendors. I don't know the timing history of this - whether MS and PC were offered at the same time or not, but at least they were both products of Microsoft based upon Seattle DOS. Later on, Microsoft saw the tremendous marketplace for operating systems, and I think backed off on supporting PC-DOS, so IBM had to somewhat go-it-alone. Actually I'm not sure if there's MS content in PC-DOS any more or not.

An aside: both MS and IBM worked on OS/2, and licensed source from MS to IBM, but after a couple versions - at the time Windows began being a big seller for MS - again MS pulled back, disallowing future OS/2's to be based upon MS Source code, so Windows 3.1 was the last Win compat in OS/2, thus spelling its death knell.

I have a terrible memory, and am very inaccurate about details, but I have qualified things I said to that extent such as timings, money, etc. Everything else is pretty much how it happened.

MS may be the big bad brother, but they sure didn't steal or clone MS-DOS from PC-DOS, and to say so is to pass on some kind of made-up urban legend.

(My thanks to Ward Christiansen for allowing me to reprint his work.
I sincerely appreciate the contribution.)

MS-DOS And in keeping with the theme, here's the "obituary" for MS-DOS, quoted from the October 29, 2001 issue of Byte:

MS-DOS passed away Thursday, October 25, 2001, at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Times Square in New York City.

MS-DOS was born in August 1980, in Tukwila, Washington, the creation of Tim Paterson and the Seattle Computer Company. Initially called QDOS 0.10 (short for "Quick and Dirty Operating System"), MS-DOS was a lifelong resident of the Seattle area. In late 1980, nonexclusive rights for 86-DOS 0.3, as the operating system was then known, were sold to Microsoft. In July 1981, as Paterson recounted in a June 1983 BYTE article entitled "A Short History of MS-DOS," Microsoft bought all rights to the DOS from Seattle Computer and changed the name of the operating system to "MS-DOS."

In the 1980s and early 1990s, MS-DOS was arguably the most widely used computer program in the world. There were many reasons for this, the least of which was the historical rise of the personal computer. But what set MS-DOS apart from other players in the personal computer operating system arena was Paterson's desire to make application development as easy as possible for for software developers. To this end, Paterson made the MS-DOS API similar to CP/M, an 8-bit operating system in widespread use at the time. Secondly, Paterson focused on making MS-DOS fast and efficient, something he achieved by writing it entirely in 8086 assembly language.

MS-DOS is survived by Windows 98, XP, Me, 2000, and CE, all of the same home. MS-DOS was preceded in death by Windows 1.0, 3.0, 95, and Windows for Pens.

In announcing MS-DOS's demise, Microsoft founder Bill Gates typed "exit" at the MS-DOS command line during the launch of Windows XP in the fall of 2001. He stated, "It's the end of the MS-DOS era," referring to the exorcism of 16-bit code from the Windows code base. Gates was joined on stage by industry leaders such as Gateway's Ted Wait, Dell's Michael Dell, Compaq's Michael Capellas, and Intel's Craig Barrett, all of whom have made millions of dollars from the late MS-DOS. TV personality Regis Philbin also appeared to pay his respects (or, more precisely, to be paid for paying his respects), and rock singer Sting led mourners in soulful renditions of "Ave Marie," "Take A Closer Walk with Me," and "Here I Am Lord" at nearby Bryant Park.

In lieu of flowers, we respectfully request that you make contributions to the charity of your choice.

Jonathan Erickson, Editorial Director, Byte.com

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