On XP, Evolution, and Why DOS Must Not Die - Page 2

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-07-16 Print this article Print

I found a fresh reason to think about legacy ports, and the value of direct control of hardware, when my son and I returned from Camp Emerald Bay to face a commitment to build a signaling system for a game of "Scout Trivia Jeopardy". I thought wed merely be rigging up buttons and buzzers, but my wife and son persuaded me that wed spend the whole night listening to arguments about which team had actually buzzed first. We needed a system that would only recognize the first team to buzz in, while also blocking out any team that pushed its button before the question was fully read—with appropriate time-outs and displays. A brief attempt to diagram a system of switches and relays convinced us that this would be hard. Credit my wife with being the first to say, "There must be some way to do this with a PC." Before bedtime Sunday, we had prototyped a parallel-port interface that could handle five separate pushbuttons; by Monday night, wed built the thing (with my son getting his first experience in soldering miniature connections) and written most of the software in good old BASIC according to my sons first actual flow chart. And by Tuesday nights meeting, it was even playing the Jeopardy theme song on startup, and displaying the name (or names—it also handled ties) of the patrols that had earned the chance to answer.
As we were leaving the local Signal Electronics store with some of the hardware that wed bought to do this project, the clerk (who had overheard our discussion) warned us, "Dont try to do this with Windows 2000 or XP. They wont let you get at the hardware." I found myself wondering if I need to treat our old DOS PCs as irreplaceable devices: Five years from now, will it even be possible to buy consumer hardware that enables this sort of hacking without drastic surgery? IBM, I see, still sells PC DOS 2000, the current version of the IBM PC DOS that is in my opinion the best retail version of DOS thats ever been offered—but Computer Discount Warehouse wont let me search its desktop PC offerings for any preloaded operating system older than Windows 95, although I can always load the latter in its DOS mode.
Some of your comments on my July 1 letter contrasted the promise of "cutting-edge technology" coverage with my reluctance to let go of what works today. Its a dilemma. The technologies that offer the greatest potential, though, seem to me to be in the domains of software and networks, not in the continual disposal and replacement of network nodes with more complex devices—and Id like to feel that each wave of technology gives me a superset of what I could do before, instead of constantly finding things that I cant do any more. Tell me how youre moving on.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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