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Happy birthday MS-DOS

Well, here's a blast from the past. Many of you reading won't remember this, but a long time ago, when you booted a Windows PC, you didn't get Windows launching right away. You had to open it as a program in the basic operating system, a text-based affair. And that basic operating system was called MS-DOS.

Standing for Microsoft Disk Operating System, MS-DOS was the foundation of Bill Gates' software empire. And to mark the anniversary CNET today offers some great history of the creation. It turns out it wasn't created by Microsoft at all, but bought.

On this day in 1981, Microsoft bought what was to become MS-DOS from Seattle Computer Products. SCP had developed the system under the name QDOS. Everybody knows MS-DOS stands for Microsoft Disk Operating System, but that's actually a neat bit of corporate whitewashing from Bill Gates and co -- QDOS originally stood for Quick and Dirty Operating System.

Yes, the foundation of the computing empire that would make Bill Gates the richest man in the world was a temporary fix. SCP had released in 1979 a processor intended to run Digital Research's CP/M-86 operating system, but the chip was ready months ahead of Digital Research's software. So in 1980 SCP's Tim Paterson came up with a basic OS that would act as a stopgap.

Microsoft then bought the OS for $75,000. But what Microsoft didn't tell SCP was that it was to supply the software to IBM -- in place of the Digital Research OS that had inspired the creation of QDOS in the first place.

Paterson joined Microsoft in time for the first release of the now-renamed MS-DOS in 1982. Microsoft went on to conquer the world of personal computing and finally took complete ownership of the software in 1986 in a $925,000 legal settlement with the original boss of SCP.

Of course, it wasn't till Microsoft created a graphical interface to run in MS-DOS - and called it Windows - that the PC market began to really transform. By 1995, MS-DOS had been blended into Windows 95 to create a single operating system - at least in theory. But next time you turn on your computer, look out for the text-based black-and-white screens that flash up before Windows kicks in. That's the legacy of MS-DOS, right there.

So happy birthday, MS-DOS. We'd say 'here's to thirty more years,' but that might be a bit ambitious.

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