postheadericon TECH TALK: If Only Human Development Progressed Like Software Development


Last time I reviewed the latest in tech for Mac users, the newly released OSX Lion operating system from Apple, so this time I wanted to write something for PC users. This column is all about the oldest in consumer operating systems: Microsoft DOS.

Today DOS celebrated its 30th birthday. It was bought for $25,000 USD from a company selling a bit of code that they called the Quick and Dirty Operating System (QDOS), and that code was written in just two months way eback in 1980.

A year later that code would become the standard for the IBM PC Operating System, and was the underpinning for the first version of Microsoft Windows. The rest is history - and the computing world has never been the same since.

At the time, I had just started working at IBM, fresh out of school, and still remember my fascination with the 5 1/4” floppy disk. Once inserted, that disk brought up DOS on a monochrome monitor with a blinking green cursor.  Oh the joy of typing in “copy myfile lpt1” and watching in wonder as your plain black & white text zapped out over a noisy dot-matrix printer that was the size of small refrigerator. Back then it took much less to excite folks then with today’s iCrowd.

I bring this up as I recently read that Nepal has one of the youngest populations on the planet, with a median age of 21. So most of you reading this are probably wondering what the heck I’m going on about... monochrome, command line, floppy disks, typing...

But short of sounding like a SLC history exam, let me just say that in the olden days, tech was just as exciting as it is today, sans touch displays, swipes and wipes, and music players the size of your wrist-watch.

You would be amazed by how much fun we could have with a disk that held 720kb in total, which is probably about the size of your last email. In that space, we could calculate our mortgage rate and maybe play a game of pong - whoohoo! But today, with 1,389 times more space, we are hard pressed to hold all our baby photos, home movies, and CVs with cover letters on our one-terabyte hard drives.

So as I flipped open the lid on my Windows 7 system this morning, I was struck by how far computers have come in just 30 short years (but not necessarily people). A watched a screen that rivals my own eyeballs and that can produce more colors than I could ever possibly see. My web-browsing program opened in the blink of an eye, instead of waiting 5 minutes on a blinking cursor.

Considering where computers were 30 years ago, today’s computing environment is nothing short of a miracle. Or so I thought until I started reading some online comments on the news of the day.
But a friend did tweet me something tasteful: a new iPad app called PADD was just released that turns your tablet or phone into a device that was seen first in a 1987 episode on the set of Star Trek (The Next Generation). The creators of the series placed this device in the year 2376, but in reality we have the working model in 2011. It seems, if one uses Star Trek and other Sci-Fi visualizations as a gauge, we are far far ahead of schedule.

But where are we going so fast? One has to wonder...

In the 30 years since DOS was introduced, poverty has not been reduced for most of the world's population, in fact, in a recent World Bank Development Report, it is estimated that 1.5 billion people are worse off then before. And not one low-income country (suffering from on-going violence) has achieved a single Millennium Development Goal.

So ends this birthday celebration of Microsoft DOS, which was an initial effort worth $25,000 USD, and has allowed a single company to now profit an estimated $74,000,000 USD each day of the year. Progress? You tell me.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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