A Quick Look At The 30-Year History Of MS DOS


Photo: Dylan Love

That iconic black screen and blinking cursor are no longer in active use, but they’re hardly forgotten.It was 30 years ago today that Microsoft released DOS to the world, but the things that happened behind the scenes would shock you.

Almost everything leading up to that moment is filled with deception, legal battles, and lots and lots of money.

Here’s the story of one of the most important operating systems in computer history.

The story of DOS begins with Tim Paterson.

Paterson was a designer and engineer at Seattle Computer Products. When his company needed a way to test a new computer chip, a 16-bit Intel 8086, he wrote QDOS -- Quick and Dirty Operating System.

In order to put together the operating system so quickly, Paterson copied the APIs of another major operating system, called CP/M, by going through the manual to make sure it was fully compatible.

It worked, and QDOS was later commercially available under the name 86-DOS.

IBM designed a new computer that depended on the same Intel 8088 chip and they needed an operating system for it.

IBM approached a young Bill Gates for help.

Gates shared plenty of ideas with IBM and even told them he'd write an operating system for them.

Instead of writing one, Gates reached out to Paterson and purchased 86-DOS from him, allegedly for $50,000. Microsoft turned it into Microsoft Disk Operating System, or MS-DOS, which they introduced on this day in 1981.

Microsoft licensed DOS to IBM and numerous other companies.

It was the deal of the century. Microsoft retained all the rights to DOS and the money started pouring in.

Legal trouble began.

Digital Research, the company that originally created CP/M, found out that DOS was suspiciously similar to their own OS. They threatened legal action against IBM.

IBM responded with an agreement.

They would offer the IBM PC for sale with the consumer's choice of DOS or CP/M.

A machine running CP/M conveniently cost an extra $200. Digital Research lost lots of market share and was eventually bought out by Novell.

Now Microsoft and IBM had a strained relationship.

They couldn't agree on what to release as a successor to DOS, so they officially 'broke up.'

Microsoft turned its version of DOS into Windows and IBM turned its version into OS/2.

The rest is history.

Microsoft announced they'd no longer support MS-DOS in 1994. Everything on the consumer front was about graphical user interfaces, thanks in large part to Apple. (Some would say that Apple had stolen the graphical user interface from Xerox, but that's a story for another time.)

DOS is discontinued, but Linux is still in full swing.

NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos

Want to read a more in-depth view on the trends influencing Australian business and the global economy? BI / Research is designed to help executives and industry leaders understand the major challenges and opportunities for industry, technology, strategy and the economy in the future. Sign up for free at research.businessinsider.com.au.