Tuesday, March 29, 2005



In the beginning, there was DOS….actually, there was Apple but I have no real experience with Apple so we are going to talk about DOS.

A short note here: If you are interested in personal computing history, get a copy of Triumph of the Nerds on DVD. This is a 3 hour special made in 1995 covering the evolution of personal computing from the early 70’s through the release of Win 95. I make all of my new employees view it. For an industry full of really smart people, some of them made really dumb decisions.

In late 1985, MS DOS was becoming dominant but CP/M Kaypros were still popular. In our local area, this may have been due to the only computer store in the area selling Kaypro, though when I bought the store in 1985, the inventory included an IBM PC and the departing owner was working with an incredibly powerful IBM-AT.

Since I had just replaced a CP/M Kaypro with a Kaypro 16 DOS computer, I was in favor of DOS. Copy is far easier to learn than PIP. I think I sold off the remaining CP/M products and began stocking DOS systems. As I said earlier, we dabbled in Atari but only sold one. That became a support nightmare.

For younger users who have never used DOS, the idea of doing things with a command line is foreign, and intimidating. Might have to remember more than your name! The command line, however, was good enough for the times and with a little effort, easy to use. Of course UNIX users are experts with the command line and Linux is most flexible with a command line environment. It is also worth noting that with the release of XP Pro, Microsoft has brought certain command line utilities back to the desktop. In the Server environment, they never left. Just hid behind the curtains, so to speak.

For the average user, about the only command required was the ability to open the wanted application. Early on, a number of menu programs were developed so that an integrator like me could call the menu in the autoexec file and all of the user’s programs would be available by just highlighting a menu item or typing a number. I believe the concept became part of DOS, the DOS Shell, with the advent of version 4, but it may have been earlier. Even certain utilities, like format and copy, could be automated with a good menu.

Though DOS has been much maligned due to the limits of the command line interface, there were some very positive aspects. First, considering the hardware of the day, the IBM-AT ran at 8 MHz, DOS was fast. Programs loaded and closed rapidly. Also, since virtually everything was text, specialized graphics drivers were unnecessary. Hercules did develop a monochrome graphics adapter in the early 80’s to allow graphs and charts to display but virtually everything was monochrome. You had your choice of green or amber for the monitor…mostly green.

Color did come to DOS in the form of CGA and then EGA. However, neither standard gave really clear text. CGA was really fuzzy, with only 4 colors. As late as 1989, one of my acquaintances in the business still recommended monochrome to all his customers. Color was expensive and blurry. The database programs he was developing for sale also didn’t benefit from color so that may have been a consideration! Anyway, color was becoming popular, even if pricy, and with the advent of EGA, quite useable. Then IBM released the PS/2 and VGA.

With the release of the PS/2 and VGA in 1987, IBM sought to set a new standard for computers. The PS/2 went nowhere. VGA is still the basic standard we use today. Color computing began to replace monochrome in the general market place. Zenith released the first true flat screen CRT, the FTM 1490, and color took off.

Of course once color became standard, DOS was doomed.

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