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Blast from the past as Microsoft releases MS-DOS and Word for Windows source code

Sometimes we get so involved with Windows 8, Surface, and other products from Microsoft that we forget about their humble beginnings. Microsoft itself has not forgotten where it came from though and has released the source code for early versions of MS-DOS and Word for Windows. If you wish to step into a time machine and travel backwards to the 1980s where the adventure began, read on after the break.

The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California is helping to make the code of early versions of MS-DOS (short for Microsoft Disk Operating System) and Word for Windows available for public viewing. The museum itself has generations of content and knowledge that aim to help preserve four decades worth of computing history; established in 1996, the museum remains non-profit to this day.

Microsoft states that the move to display the code publicly is intended to “help future generations of technologists better understand the roots of personal computing”. The code certainly is a mind-turning perspective for students today; the original MS-DOS had only 300 KB of source code to accompany it (that is less than 0.002% of the minimum required space to install Windows 8).

For those who do not know the history of Microsoft, we strongly recommend watching the movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley” with Noah Wyle and Anthony Michael Hall; it is a necessity for all geeks around the world to view this film.

Otherwise, the super short story of MS-DOS coming to life comes from a partnership Microsoft formed with IBM in the early days of personal computing. Unlike many other operating systems that where produced during that time, Microsoft requested that they keep the ability to license out their software. Because IBM believed that all of the money was in the hardware and not software – they agreed and the rest is history.

For more information, visit the Museum of Computer History’s website by clicking here.

Trivia Question: Microsoft actually bought the base source code of MS-DOS from Seattle Computer Products developer, Tim Paterson – how much did they pay for that source code in 1981?

Source: Microsoft

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Reader comments

Blast from the past as Microsoft releases MS-DOS and Word for Windows source code

62 Comments

Agreed, they are becoming more and more personable while the other companies are going in the opposite direction.

Pirates of Silicon Valley is a great film. Awesome performances (slightly caricatured but not by much), it's fairly factually accurate, and has a great message about the ethics of tech companies copying each other which was happening even way back then.

I'm guessing the trivia question answer is somewhere around $1,000. But how much did Tim Paterson get in things like royalties?

For some reason I remembered 30K. It was called QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System, naturally Microsft dropped the quick and kept the dirty...)

btw, instead of that bad movie, the PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds is much better and goes into details on the history of PCs

Microsoft bought QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System) for $50,000 but did not disclose the MS & IBM deal at time of purchase. However, Mr Paterson quit Seattle Computer Products and went to work for Microsoft later that year.

I just read a biography about Bill Gates and the forming of the Microsoft empire! That was a very minute detail that I think I still remember. $10,000?

Dos 5 was common when I started in IT though I did mingle with Dos 3 from time to time. I'm sure I must have used 4 as well but I don't really remember. I remember stumbling across a few machines running PC DOS as well. That was a treat. Even at that DOS sans Windows was in the minority where I worked. Most of the machines I worked on had Windows installed. The legal and law enforcement offices were generally the last to move away from DOS menus because of their slow upgrade paths with WordPerfect versions. That and they had some of the oldest and clunkiest hardware that wouldn't run Windows.

 

It's funny - people are complaining about the unusually long life of Windows XP but it's actually pretty normal. In the mid 90's I was still limping along (and deploying "new") MS DOS machines with WordPerfect, Lotus, Multimate, or terminal emulators - depended on the need. Some of these machines were even scrapped together 286's that just wouldn't die. DOS requirements in general lasted well into the 2000's and there's probably still production DOS apps out there. We retired our last NT machine only a couple years ago. The last Windows 2000 machine only a few months ago. We expect XP to last another year or two. This stuff hangs around for a long time.

Not too many people remember the IBM version. Gold star for you! Bonus question: do you also remember the Digital Research version?

Nope! I never had a chance to use it. I was more of a Novell and Workgroups networking kind of guy. I also got to play with aging HP and WANG minicomputers (terminals and punch down blocks - yay!). I did a lot of replacing of "old for the new" at my first real IT job. Replacing token ring with 10-baseT ethernet, replacing terminals with PCs, building serial based printer networks, introducing Novell (and later NT), retiring green bar dot matrix printers for lasers - that sort of thing. The cool thing about that was I got to learn about both the old and the new so I remember a lot of the classic mid-late 80's technology even though I was in grade school when most of it came out.

Wait - I take it back - I Do remember DR-DOS!! I remember rebuilding the network for the local Police gangs taskforce office and replacing all of the DR DOS installations with MSDOS 5.1 and Wordperfect. I did the same for the Narcotics task force but they had no machines. It was all "new" - old hand-downs that were new to them anyways.

Even at the time it was funny - deploying new installs of production 286 machines "upgraded" to 3mb RAM in 1994.

Egads I think I'm getting old :)

The guy who was mentoring me at the time called it "Durr DOS" with a rather insensitive and unprofessional (but occasionally hilarious) emphasis on the DURR.

Not wanting to date myself, but I can relate to your experiences. I find it so hard to believe that the new generations are so willing to throw their money at the latest "smartphone" or PC just because of so-called specs. While at the same time they listen to crap mp3s and watch videos on a 4 inch screen and pretend to know technology. Get yourself a real audio and video system, enjoy vintage technology and stop worrying about the latest specs.

It would be basically useless though. Keep in mind this is an EXTREMELY OLD version of dos. Many games of the early 90's won't even run on it because they needed a newer version.

not to mention the emulator would run like ass since dynarec techniques are currently verboten in wp apps
 

The best MS-DOS versions were 3.3 and 5.0!  For sure!

 

I remember I had different boot setups for different games.  Some needed EMS, some needed XMS.  You had to manually assign ports and IRQs for every device you had to make sure they didn't interfere.  And if you had more devices than IRQs, you had to disable some to run others.  Again, different boot setups.  You practically had to have a degree to figure out how to run all the games that were out there.  Ahhh, the good ol' days.  
 

haha MemMaker.  Oh yeah, but that didn't come out until DOS 6 or something, right?

 

I just remember how taxing games like Wing Commander 2 was.  I had to free up every damn piece of memory I possibly had on my 386DX-25.  Had a boot disc specifically for WC2.  And another for Zone 66.  And another for Ultima Underworld.  And another for... well you get the point.

 

Thankfully, DOS/4GW (and eventually PMODE/W) saved us from all of that and you could run just about anything from a single boot setup.  
 

Lol... All the manipulations to himem.sys, ems.sys, drvspace.sys, emm386.exe switches... Great memories, but so glad we've moved on :). And IRQs.... I forgot all about that!!! Uggghhhhbh

well good to see we've come full circle. the color choices of DOS are the same as with windows phone. Because you know, it would kille them to use more than two out of the 16,777,216 colors possible in today's screens.

Idiot?

apparently you dont have Windows Phone if you really see only 2 colors, or just your brain is too retarded for that... or I would say color blindness but nah, you are just stupid. and that can be fixed.

but hey if WP design bothers you much... why dont you get something else? or you are just here to write retarded comments and complain about everything just as always? like if you couldnt get something that fits your retardness? hmm ok ok

the color blind folks all work for the WP team because you know, you can have black text on white backgrounds, or white background with black text. off course you do not use windows phone for you would know this very simple fact, making your opinion not particularly relevant.

Dude, we get it, you hate Microsoft. Please move on to something else and stop wasting your and everyone else's time. If nothing else please seek counseling because the type of loathing obsession you've shown multiple times here is not healthy

Soooo, IBM was short sighted and decided software wasn't going to make any money. Instead, they focused on the devices.... Do you see where I'm going with this?

It's not that Microsoft's recent purchase of Nokia devices means they are focusing on devices, they are just ensuring that at least one manufacturer (themselves) will have the guts to invest in the hardware to run their shiny new software. Windows phone 9 will look amazing but without hardware it won't make them any money. IBM had both and gave up software, I'm sure if they had to make that decision again they wouldn't :)

The DOS that most people know actually started in version 2.0. Microsoft added so many new features in DOS 2.0 that made almost all DOS 1.0 features obsolete. It was version 2.0 that introduced the .EXE executable file format, the FAT file system, and the use of file handles (replacing DOS 1.0's FCB). These DOS 2.0 features have survived up to now. Microsoft bought DOS 1.0 from Tim Paterson. But DOS 2.0 was all Microsoft.

That makes me wonder: why does MS (or other big companies) release more source code of their abandoned software? Why not make the source code available for all the OSes that ran on the 9x Kernel? Surely there cant be that much in it that could technically compromise their currently supported OSes, can there? They could even release it under their own license disallowing derivative works so they would at least have a legal stance against clones or releases based on this.

I agree. I think it would be great! Gives great insight into how people thought at the time. Would also be fun to see how coding has evolved.

They can't. The WIN32 API introduced in windows 3.1 is still core to windows today. They could probably release the last version of DOS (which believe it or not was included with winME, just very difficult to get to) by itself and not cause a problem, but anything that touches WIN32 could open the door to linux clones actually running windows software without any compatibility issues.

Yea, this is a shocker....MS never releases source code for anything. Not sure the advanage of using it today with today's hardware. Might be fun to go back for a while but, nothing really too usefull in today's world..

Then prepare to be shocked again. You are absolutely wrong! Microsoft has been releasing source codes for decades. I remember in the early 1990s, I received the full source code of the entire Microsoft C library. I also looked at the source code of Microsoft WordPad (an app that Microsoft published with Windows). Microsoft regularly releases source code to guide software developers in developing their own applications. There's a ton of source in MSDN. Also take a look at http://www.codeplex.com.