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The Start of an Empire: MS-DOS Celebrates 30th Birthday

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 45 comments

A small software company acquired the license to the QDOS operating system on July 27, 1981 and laid the foundation for an empire that would dominate the computer software world.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen spent $75,000 for QDOS and began selling sub-licenses for $47,500 in 1981 and $95,000 after that.

IBM was the first customer and received a slightly modified version of MS DOS 1.0 that was offered as PC DOS and sold by IBM for $40. However, Microsoft had sold IBM DOS and BASIC for $400,000 before they actually had access to the DOS operating system. Gates and Allen originally had planned to sell IBM their own Xenix OS, which was derived from UNIX and designed for Intel's 8086 processor, while IBM decided to go with Intel's 8088 CPU instead. Microsoft's solution eventually surfaced as QDOS.

While Microsoft turned DOS into a massive success, Tim Paterson is considered to be the inventor of DOS and wrote the first versions of MS DOS, up to version 1.25. Paterson got out of school in 1978, joined Seattle Computer products and had DOS running on prototypes by January 1979.

Gates initially estimated that IBM could sell about 200,000 DOS PCs, but more than 1 million were eventually sold by the end of 1984. Those first commercial PCs integrated Intel's 8088 processor and ran at 4.77 MHz. The first DOS PC, however, was offered by Seattle Computer products as a set of plug-in cards, including a 8086 CPU card.

Seattle Computer Products wanted $150,000 for the QDOS license, but was convinced by Gates to give it away for $50,000 as well as a $25,000 license fee from a customer that Microsoft kept secret. Sub-licenses for MS-DOS created the first windfall for the young company. In 1981, Microsoft had more than 15 million in revenue.

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  • 20 Hide
    pbrigido , July 29, 2011 6:32 PM
    ah, the good old days of computers. I wouldn't trade in my rig I have now, but I do miss those nostalgic years.
  • 20 Hide
    dalethepcman , July 29, 2011 6:35 PM
    2megs.. it was all about getting as much out of the first 640k as possible and still having sound and joystick function in your dos games.

    Playing jokes like...
    prompt I know your going to just play strip poker again
    and...
    edit autoexec.bat
    @echo off
    attrib +h config.sys
    attrib +h command.com
    echo stop touching me!!!
  • 19 Hide
    The Greater Good , July 29, 2011 6:09 PM
    Coolcomment.bat
Other Comments
  • 19 Hide
    The Greater Good , July 29, 2011 6:09 PM
    Coolcomment.bat
  • 15 Hide
    The Greater Good , July 29, 2011 6:16 PM
    @ echo off

    echo I remember back in the day of editing the autoexec and the command.com files just to load the programs that needed all of my 2 megs (yes, two 2 megabytes) of memory. Computers sure have come a long way since my 386 SX-15 (15 MHz) with Windows 3.1 and DOS 5.0.

  • 20 Hide
    pbrigido , July 29, 2011 6:32 PM
    ah, the good old days of computers. I wouldn't trade in my rig I have now, but I do miss those nostalgic years.
  • 20 Hide
    dalethepcman , July 29, 2011 6:35 PM
    2megs.. it was all about getting as much out of the first 640k as possible and still having sound and joystick function in your dos games.

    Playing jokes like...
    prompt I know your going to just play strip poker again
    and...
    edit autoexec.bat
    @echo off
    attrib +h config.sys
    attrib +h command.com
    echo stop touching me!!!
  • 13 Hide
    bourgeoisdude , July 29, 2011 6:38 PM
    Starting MS-DOS...
    (dot-matrix printer noises)
    HIMEM.SYS is testing extended memory...done.
  • 7 Hide
    passingcomment , July 29, 2011 6:46 PM
    I was able to tinker with DOS as a youth on an old workstation my father had lying around. I still remember the hours planning and making file structures, then the hours moving files around until everything was where I wanted them to be. It was fun, and it helped me comfortable with command.
    pbrigidoah, the good old days of computers. I wouldn't trade in my rig I have now, but I do miss those nostalgic years.

  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , July 29, 2011 6:49 PM
    config.sys
    Add LASTDRIVE=Z so then MS-DOS recognizes some CD-ROM drives like Creative :-)
  • 3 Hide
    davewolfgang , July 29, 2011 7:02 PM
    I still have a book that has every MSDOS command in up to 6.1 (.2?).

    I found it useful even in XP for some office network mapping on boot (net use lpt3: \\*server name*\hplj4050 - because this old lawyer still likes to use WordPerfect 3.0), but I haven't touched it since 7.
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , July 29, 2011 7:04 PM
    I rememeber being poor and getting software meant going to the library, taking out a book and spending days/weeks copying programs out them. The books always had a couple of typos and errors in them which was always fun if someone had not pencilled in the correct character. Machine code was always fun to type.
  • 3 Hide
    clonazepam , July 29, 2011 7:12 PM
    I remember having that old MS-DOS book that could double as a booster seat... rofl...

    I don't remember exactly how old I was, under 10, and so impressed with myself learning how to partition a 20MB HDD and unzip files! :D 
  • 6 Hide
    cmcghee358 , July 29, 2011 7:20 PM
    I started learning MS-DOS around 5.0, when I was about 13. My mom had bought a 486DX50 when was a big deal. Had 4 MB of RAM and I think a 120MB HDD. Cost $1500.

    Used to BBS it up in Davis CA!

    But all that time spent tinkering then, really impresses people when you open the command prompt and start flying around doing dir /s /ah /p commands and finding all kinds of files they didn't know existed.
  • 4 Hide
    bystander , July 29, 2011 7:27 PM
    I remember using both MS and PC DOS on an XT with 640kb of ram and a 20mb harddrive. Things sure have changed. To be honest, I found PC DOS was faster and more stable than MS DOS, but PC DOS was not advertised as much.
  • 6 Hide
    nebun , July 29, 2011 7:33 PM
    4.77 MHz....try to boot at that speed and see how long it takes, lol
  • 6 Hide
    cptnjarhead , July 29, 2011 7:42 PM
    I remember configuring a config.sys file to allocate 640k so i could play darklands :) 
    the good old days!
  • 3 Hide
    jdamon113 , July 29, 2011 7:45 PM
    Bill, You the man.....
  • 9 Hide
    mchuf , July 29, 2011 7:50 PM
    Didn't use it much, so I don't really miss it. I prefered the machines from Commodore and Apple. PC's didn't become the superior platform until DirectX gaming.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 29, 2011 7:51 PM
    I remember using Z-DOS (Zenith PCs) on a Zenith Z100 and MS-DOS 2.1 on Sperry PCs. The Zenith Z100 was similar to a Radio Shack TRS-80, with monitor, keyboard and floppies all in one unit. No hard drive, just 2 5.25" floppy drives. Later on there was an addon card that allowed Z100s to run MS-DOS.

    On the Sperry PCs I had to move the format.com to a different folder and create a format.bat because people kept trying to format the floppy drive and were formatting the 10mb or 20mb hard drives instead.

    Were those the "good old days"? LOL
  • 0 Hide
    jhansonxi , July 29, 2011 8:14 PM
    QDOS was just a clone of CP/M. PC/MS-DOS is dead but FreeDOS lives on.
  • 0 Hide
    MrBig55 , July 29, 2011 8:40 PM
    I still use a lot of features of MS-DOS in my programs, and all support Windows Xp (all service packs), vista/vista sp1, Windows 7, as well as 32/64 bits for every of them. Of course there are differences in the way each OS interpret some commands so I need to install the latest version of these on the different systems. I cannot do half of what my programs are doing without MS-DOS. Even though it's not capable of doing too sophisticated things, I do use the most powerful functions to accomply a lot of tasks. Next I have to acquire SSL commands to add to these DOS programs since DOS

    I remember using DOS since Windows 3.1. It brings a lot of souvenirs back into memory ^^ Just prior Windows 3.1, I did not have any way to stock data other than the ridiculous amount of ram available. Playing Sim City 2000 would have been an overkill but also better game than those I had on my Commodore 64/128 (owned both)!! Oh well time has changed quite a bit.
  • 4 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , July 29, 2011 8:46 PM
    Bought my first pc in December 1984. It was a genuine IBM pc. I think the OS was DOS 2.1.1 or maybe 2.2.1
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