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.
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 New Zealand 'the best country to work as a prostitute', says sex worker advocacy group
- 2 Purity balls: Girls in the US making virginity pledges as fathers vow to 'protect purity'
- 3 Mother 'will allow son's circumcision in return for release from prison'
- 4 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 5 Female Muay Thai champion hustles coaches to give them a beating
Eurovision 2015: Graham Norton returns with another cutting commentary - his best lines
Beyonce angers fans by pouring expensive champagne into hot tub in Nicki Minaj 'Feeling Myself' video
Eurovision 2015: The best moments from Australia's random entry to Lithuania's gay kiss
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Eurovision 2015: Estonia seemingly enters Louis Tomlinson from One Direction
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland