IT Confidential: Last DOS Standing - InformationWeek

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9/15/2006
04:45 PM
John Soat
John Soat
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IT Confidential: Last DOS Standing

Microsoft products don't get old, they get better--don't they?

America is all about newness. For one thing, America still is a relatively young country. If an American didn't coin the term "youth culture," Americans certainly embodied it. Nowhere is that more true than in the computer industry, where youthful optimism and adrenaline fuel the engine, and "Next Big Thing" has always been the mantra.

That being true, what's the opposite? America hates old? That may be too harsh a judgment for the country at large, but not for the technology culture, where product cycles dictate consumer desire, and hipness trumps experience almost every time.

In a recent column, I wrote about Microsoft's strategy to offer support for its legacy products ("Are You Experienced? Microsoft Wants You!"). I also asked readers to share with me the oldest Microsoft products still running in their organizations. I received enough responses to convince me that, while the culture worships the Next Big Thing, there's still plenty of ain't-broke-don't-fix-it technology left standing.

All eyes these days may be focused on Microsoft's next generation of Windows, Vista, but there are a multitude of older Windows versions still running out there. "Windows 98 would be the oldest OS in our enterprise" is typical of several responses I received, as is this straightforward message: "Win95 on a standalone pin-stamping machine."

Admittedly, most responses referred to simply one or two systems, most running in small businesses or in niche areas of big businesses, like this: "We still have two computers running Windows 95 and one running Windows 3.1 for some old, specialty programs that we occasionally have to use."

You might guess that government organizations would be a mother lode of, uh, historical technology, and you'd be right. "We have government equipment that runs [specialized] software," wrote one respondent, "with no funding to upgrade the specialized software so it will work on a newer OS. There are several systems running each of these versions: DOS, WFW 3.1, Win 95, Win 98, Win 98se, Win NT, Win 2000, Win XP, Server 2003."

What surprised me most was how far back some of these systems go, technologywise. Representative of several responses was: "A touch screen point-of-sale system that runs under DOS 6.22." Another respondent said: "Still do my billing with DOS 6.22 on an Epson Equity II. Works just fine."

Surprisingly--or perhaps not--MS-DOS still has a devoted following. "Data recovery work is done at my little shop using DOS. Plain old DOS 6.0 works best for the way the app is programmed. And no, it can't work in a Windows DOS box, either."

That leads me to the winner of this particular exercise: "I am running DOS 3.2 on a NetWare file-and-print server. It's been running for 13 years--no Y2K patches, no hiccups, no beeps or bumps or blue screens of death in the middle of the night ... just keeps running."

Amen, brother. On the other hand, there might be something to say for newness. One person wrote in who interviewed for a job with a retail furniture chain. "Their sales seemed healthy at $50 M for 5 stores, but I knew they had problems when their IT system was described as 'DOS-based.' They recently declared bankruptcy."

Ouch. When is Windows Vista coming out, again? Can I reserve my copy today?

Hey, I'm hip!--aren't I? An industry tip sure would help, so please send one to [email protected] or phone 516-562-5326.

Rob Preston's column will return next week.


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