Sure, personal computers had existed before, but today marks the 25th Anniversary of the melding of Microsoft and IBM in the form of MS-DOS.
I’ve always liked computers, and seeing as how I was not quite 7 when this monumental merging occurred, and 11 when I got my first PC, its no surprise that MS-DOS is a huge part of my computer history. It seems unfathomable now, but when I took my first job working with computers, Windows 95 was out but wasn’t the standard yet. I was still installing MS-DOS 6.22 on machines, and Windows for Workgroups 3.11. I had a briefcase (and I used to wear a tie to work every day) and inside was always stashed my trusty copy of 6.22, and a few cobbled together boot disks for diagnostics and virus scanning (DOS had no “Safe Mode” to load into to hunt down spyware -of course, there wasn’t a whole lot of spyware- you can to book from a floppy disk and scan from there).
Long before getting a job though, back when I was 11, my parents brought home our first family PC, a Leading Edge IBM PC Clone. It was an 8088 processor, 8MHz, with 512k of RAM. Yeah, that’s a “k” there, half a megabyte. It had a 20 megabyte hard drive in it, and it seemed like we’d never fill it up (20MB these days is about 4 or 5 MP3s). There was a switch on the back where you could set the processor speed down to 4.77MHz, just incase 8 was too fast (and it was for some games). It didn’t have Windows, it booted into DOS and then from the autoexec.bat file it would load up a program called PCMenu, where you could get to the Leading Edge Word Processor, Lotus 1-2-3, and a few other applications. All games were played from disk. We spent a ridiculous $350 to upgrade that machine to 640k of RAM, and another $200 or so on a modem, I think it was 1200 baud, maybe it was an early 2400. And for $50 of my own hard earned cash (you have no idea how hard it was for me to save that and not buy other stuff), I bought an AdLib soundcard from a kid named Ari at school so that our games could play a little more music instead of just beeps through the PC speaker. Not music like you hear out of PCs today, but hardly more than synthesiser, it was awesome. Through the modem I discovered BBSs, back when you’d have to pick up a local trade magazine, or in my case a MicroCenter sale paper, to find the numbers. That’s right, we dialed up the BBS direct on the phone and logged in. There was an Internet, but at that point only schools, the government, and few businesses were really on it. I even ran a BBS for a while, one summer, and only at night when no one else wanted to use the computer.
Eventually we got a new PC, a 386. It was either 16 or 25 MHz, and it had 1024k of RAM, a whole megabyte. This one came with Windows 3.0 installed. And it had a SoundBlaster sound card and a VGA video card. Finally, games played in 256 colors! Well, when they supported them. My parents let me keep the old 8088 in my room, even got me my own phone line, and that pretty set me in with PCs for the rest of my life. Of course, even with a computer in my room, I still used the 386. I mean, the 8088 couldn’t play games like DOOM, Warcraft and Lemmings. Then one day, my friends and I all chipped in and bought network cards (co-axial, naturally) and would get together and play games of DOOM and Warcraft against each other. And when I say “get together” I mean that we would disassemble our PCs, and take them over to one person’s house where we’d put them back together, install network cards, hook up and play into the wee hours of the morning. It would still be a while before ISPs showed up in our area.
After that, when we bought the Pentium 90, the computer history gets a little less interesting (to me anyway). We put Windows for Workgroups on it (made the networking LAN parties easier), and eventually upgraded to Windows 95. It was another PC that saw Windows 98. And since then I’ve gotten a new PC every couple of years, each one at least twice as good as the last. Now my laptop PC, that I’m writing on right now, has double the horse power of my desktop, and my desktop is old enough that it can’t play any new games anymore, except World of Warcraft and other games that go for style over pushing the limits of your machine. My network has gone 100% wireless. And instead of using my phone to connect to the internet, I now connect to the internet to use my phone.
Well, this trip down memory lane was fun. But now its done, and I have boxes to unpack. Feel free to share your own memories of PCs gone by and raise a glass to MS-DOS… I still have my disks of 6.22, its just a shame that PCs don’t come with 3.5″ floppy drives anymore.