The history of DR-DOS

I’ve always found the world of DOS versions and variants to be confusing, since most of it took place when I was very young (I’m from 1984) so I wasn’t paying much attention to computing quite yet, other than playing DOS games. One of the variants of DOS I never quite understood where it was from until much, much later, was DR-DOS. To this day, I pronounce this as “Doctor DOS”.

If you’re also a little unclear on what, exactly, DR-DOS was, Bradford Morgan White has an excellent article detailing the origins and history of DR-DOS, making it very easy to get up to speed and expand your knowledge on DOS, which is surely a very marketable skill in the days of Electron and Electron for Developers.

DR DOS was a great product. It was superior to other DOS versions in many ways, and it is certainly possible that it could have been more successful were it not for Microsoft Windows having been so wildly successful. Starting with Windows 95, the majority of computer users simply didn’t much care about which DOS loaded Windows so long as it worked. There’s quite a bit of lore regarding legal battles and copyrights surrounding CP/M and DOS involving Microsoft and Digital Research. This has been covered in previous articles to some extent, but I am not really certain how much would have changed had Microsoft and Digital Research got on. Gates and Kildall had been quite friendly at one point, and we know that the two mutually chose not to work together due to differences in business practices and beliefs. Kildall chose to be quite a bit more friendly and less competitive while Gates very much chose to be competitive and at times a bit ruthless. Additionally, Kildall sold DRI rather than continue the fight, and DRI had never really attempted to combine DR DOS with GEM as a cohesive product to fight Windows before Windows became the ultimate ruler of the OS market following Windows 3.1’s release. Still, it was an absolutely brilliant product and part of me will always feel that it ought to have won.

↫ Bradford Morgan White

I can definitely imagine an alternative timeline in which Digital Research managed to combine DR-DOS with GEM in a more attractive way, stealing Microsoft’s thunder before Gates’ balls got rolling properly with Windows 3.x. It’s one of the many, many what-ifs in this sector, but not one you often hear or read about.


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