Psst! Wanna buy a used operating system?

Microsoft said that DOS was dead, but now they've changed their minds.

Microsoft, it has to be said, is not good at keeping its promises. Anybody with old copies of computer magazines can find fulsome promises from the corporation's executives that Windows NT Version 5 (since renamed Windows 2000) would be released by, oh, the end of 1998. Current forecasts are that it won't be available until 2000 - and there's still time for that date to slip.

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.

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project