Psst! Wanna buy a used operating system?
Microsoft said that DOS was dead, but now they've changed their minds.
Monday 12 April 1999
Missing deadlines is one thing, but reversing strategy publicly announced by Bill Gates is another. Yet that is what Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's president, did last week, by announcing that in 2000 there will be a new version of Windows 98 - still based on the creaking MS-DOS operating system.
That followed a similar announcement, made last Tuesday, that users would have to pay for a CD-rom of bug fixes for Windows 98 - followed the next day by a "clarification" that, in fact, the bug fixes would be free (and available over the Web), but that the CD-rom would contain updated drivers and new software, and so cost money.
Faced with this, you may wonder whether Microsoft's left and right hands (and its two left feet) know what they are doing. But there is a common thread. Microsoft is so enormously profitable - with net profit margins of more than 30 per cent on sales (most companies manage 10 per cent) - that it needs a continuous stream of revenues from old products just to stay still. With Windows NT5 receding like the horizon, it needs something else: something old.
Why should MS-DOS form part of that? Because it is much easier to rejig the Windows 98 operating system than Windows NT. The former is intended for consumers, the latter for businesses that need something solid, and that will take Microsoft to task if it is not. The public holds no such leverage.
MS-DOS was Microsoft's first product; and even that was not its own. It paid $50,000 for the rights to Q-DOS (for "Quick and Dirty Operating System") written in six weeks around April 1979 by a programmer at Seattle Computer Products who was trying to clone Digital Research's eight-bit CP/M operating system for Intel chips.
The Windows 98 or Windows 95 that you see on your machine today may look flashy, but, in truth, it is communicating with the hard drive and processor by way of MS-DOS. Windows 98 was meant to be the last gasp of MS-DOS; after that the operating system would be rewritten wholesale, with a new "kernel" and interface to the chip. That's Windows NT.
Obviously, a consumers' version won't be ready next year. Hence Ballmer's announcement. Yet you have to wonder what, if anything, can possibly be squeezed on top of Windows now. "New features," promised a Windows product manager; which experienced users will interpret as new incompatibilities and bugs. Some people never learn, and, happily for Microsoft, many of them buy its products.
Case in point: the CD-rom (expected to cost $30) due in the autumn will "upgrade" Windows 98 with bug fixes, new USB drivers and home networking capabilities, plus Internet Explorer 5.0. You might not see anything worth spending money on there, but Microsoft is sure many people will. And that's a promise.
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Ebola outbreak: What is bushmeat – and is it to blame for the disease that has killed thousands?
- 3 Star Wars memorabilia called a 'bit of plastic' on Antiques Roadshow by Fiona Bruce valued at £50,000
- 4 Meet Thea, Norway's 12-year-old child bride
- 5 Russell Brand might seem like a sexy revolutionary worth getting behind, but he will only fail his fans
Breaking Bad season 6 is still not happening
Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 5: Period drama falls disappointingly flat
Doctor Who, Flatline - review: Clara isn’t half bad as the Time Lord
Alfred Hitchcock's unseen Holocaust documentary to be screened
X Factor 2014 results: Chloe Jasmine and Stephanie Nala sent home
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Sorry Judy Finnigan – Ched Evans is no less sickening than an alleyway rapist
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Workers 'could be forced to pay £5 a week' to get benefits
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'