So, in a sense, today’s the 30th birthday of MS-DOS. That’s because on this day in 1981, Microsoft rebranded the 8-bit operating system that it acquired as part of its contribution to the first IBM PC.
I used DOS every day of my working life in the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s, and although early versions were rather limited in features, there were islands of stability and usability along the way. I have fond memories in particular of the 3.31, 5.0 and 6.22 releases; by the last of those, I was wringing all but a few KB of usable memory out of the RAM in the machines I supported. But RAM disks and memory managers could only stretch so far, and by the mid-1990s, users and IT staff alike were ready for a change.That change turned out to be far more gradual than anyone imagined; although Windows 3.1 turned out to be the first truly usable graphic shell for DOS, it wasn’t until Windows 95 – with all of its problems – that users could finally stop thinking about the command line, and it took until the release of Windows XP for Microsoft to expunge DOS from the lowest layers of its consumer-grade operating system.
Do I miss DOS? As much as I miss any release of the Mac OS before System 6, which is another way of saying “Not at all.” But I do miss the applications that ran on top of DOS, in many ways. Between dBASE III, Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect and XyWrite, those were tools that may look primitive today, but which in their time enhanced business productivity in ways that had been inconceivable in the late 1970s, when the original work on what became DOS took place.