The superiority of obsolete operating systems


Filed under Musings, Software showcase;
3 comments.

The savvy comedians of LoadingReadyRun — who have previously tipped their hat to computers of yore with their Desert Bus fundraiser, references to HyperCard, and spotlight on the Apple II — are at it again. In today's weekly video, "The New Old Thing", they put forth an earnest proposal: replace Windows 8.1 with MS-DOS.

Earlier this year, MS-DOS's source code was donated to the Computer History Museum, joining a collection that already includes Apple's DOS 3.1. LRR's video makes a compelling argument for why this newly available older operating system is a superior productivity platform. An excerpted transcript follows, though I've replaced references to MS-DOS with DOS 3.1:

Newer stuff isn't necessarily better. Think of DOS 3.1 as a hand-crafted, artisinal operating system. [A GUI, mouse support, 3D graphics, 1080p video, the Internet] — all that stuff just slows you down. DOS 3.1 turns your computer into a mean, lean computing machine. Background processes hogging up all your memory? DOS 3.1 only runs one program at a time. Distracted by TVTropes at work? DOS 3.1 doesn't go on the Internet! It just gets out of your way and lets you get your work done.

What's so great about a GUI anyway? How many times have you lost a file in that maze of folders on your computer? With DOS, you just type the name of the file, and bam! You're there! And you don't have to worry about remembering the name of the file, because they can only be eight characters long, anyway. And another thing! A Windows 8 install is almost 20 gigabytes. DOS 3.1 is only 300K — as in kilobytes! It takes up less space than that picture you tweeted this morning of your venti ice non-fat hazelnut macchiato.

Bottom line: if you want to mess about and play Angry Birds, just use your phone or your tablet. When you want to get some serious, distraction-free work done, DOS 3.1 is for you.

I made several similar observations six years ago when I argued that GS/OS is better than Windows Vista and OS X (an article I've since wished I'd written for Juiced.GS, not Computerworld). We keep using this software because it provides a focused environment with familiar, fast methods for accomplishing specific, basic tasks. Older software is more stable, secure, compatible, and portable.

Like A2Central.com once said: it's not obsolete — it's proven technology.

UPDATE (May 15, 2014): DOS is good enough for George R. R. Martin!


  1. Olivier says:

    For me, the old new thing is something completely different, and yet related:
    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/oldnewthing/

    ;)

  2. Although everyone has their favorite nostalgic bit of retro hardware, my "get 'er done" setup was my Apple IIGS with ZipGS accelerator and SCSI hard drive, running not GS/OS but ProDOS 8. (I used it, essentially, as a souped up Apple IIGS.) That was my AppleWorks engine, as well as my Talk Is Cheap telecom engine. It ran fast, had keyboard shortcuts that I knew inside out (from frequent use), and I didn't have to lift my fingers from the keyboard to pickup and move a mouse to point and/or click. And the subdirectory oriented ProDOS 8 disk system made it much easier to organize stuff than DOS 3.x ever could do.

  3. Great! Now I want a venti iced mocha. And Krispy Kreme.