Sunday, June 15, 2014

Microsoft Word 5.5 ... for DOS

    Microsoft Word 5.5 was released sometime ago. It was supposed to be a Y2K fix, just an update really. What Microsoft did instead was release the entire application for download with no restrictions, for free.

    As you can see, there really isn't much to it. So why would anyone in their right mind want to use 25 year old software? They wouldn't. However, most writers of fictions are probably not in their right mind, otherwise they would be accountants or something else with a stable pay check. For writers of fiction, this could be something great. 

    Word for DOS can be run in a program call "DOSBox". It can also be run in a Virtual Machine that is running DOS. These options would, on the surface anyway, seem to give you some advantages. You could enjoy sharing folders with a much newer operating system such as Windows 8, Ubuntu or even osX. You could have multiple copies open at the same time, each in its own window, doing its own thing. You could have research right along side what you are writing about. 

    But every major word processor for every new operating system, already does all that. So why use an antiquated version that is no longer supported? It is the ultimate in distraction free writing, that's why. 

    The best way to use Word for DOS, is by running DOS. Booting your computer into DOS forces you to use one application at a time. No task switching. Also, no interruptions by Facebook or email programs. 

    Of course, you probably don't have a floppy drive installed and booting from a live cd sounds good, until you need to save what you are writing. So what then is there to do? Create a bootable USB stick. Amazingly, SD Cards also work for this. In an upcoming post I will walk you through creating such a thing, and even provide a downloadable image you can use to create your own. 

    Once you boot into DOS, you will get a simple command prompt. Just type the word "word" and you are in. There is no font selection, there is only one font, pica. Even then that is the "printed" font. The font you see is called "system" and it is a fixed width font. 

    You can change some colors, and I suggest you do. You may be staring at this screen a lot. All I changed was the background to black, the rest I left alone. Play around with them for a while to get a feel for how it looks and works for you and your taste. 

    The point of such a simple interface is simple. Content creation. You are not publishing you work yet. You haven't even written it yet. You are not setting type face, margins, or any of that. It doesn't matter one little bit. The idea is to get as simple as possible so you can focus completely on the task of putting words to page. Nothing more, nothing less. Just writing. 

    Don't let the all this simplicity fool you though. Word 5.5 for DOS is very capable. It actually has "Windows" of sorts for working with multiple documents, a customizable dictionary and thesaurus. It also doesn't auto-replace or auto-correct anything nor does it auto-capitalize anything. This is a good thing if you are trying to use elvish words in your writing. 

    When you're done with your document, you can save it in one of two formats: RTF and DOC. So far I have opened RTF files in Word 2011 for Mac, Word Viewer for Windows, and Wordpad for Windows all without problems. The problem is the DOC format. If you have Windows and Microsoft Word for Windows you are golden. Simply download the converter and install it. The instructions are inside the self extracting archive. This, however, does not work for Word for Mac. Really though, for writing fiction, how much formatting do you need beyond what RTF will handle? These RTF files also import nicely into Word 2011 for Mac and into Scrivener. 

    If you are looking for the ultimate in distraction free writing, give Word for DOS a try. Really, what have you got to loose? 

Until next time ... 

Game of Operating Systems

    I know I know. I really need to make updates to this blog a lot more regularly. However, it has been a bit crazy at my house. I won't go into details here about all of it. What I will go into details about is George R. R. Martin, the creator of Game of Thrones and what he uses to write.

    Back on May 14th the interwebs were all a buzz because Mr. Martin said he still used a DOS machine and a DOS word processor called Word Star to create all of his works. Why would someone do that? Before we get into that, first I suppose I should let you know what DOS is.

    I grew up on Microsoft DOS, which is an acronym for "Disk Operating System". It is command line only, single use only and is very limited in what it can do. It is still in use today. "IF" you have a floppy drive, or if you so choose you can get a USB floppy drive and create a startup disk from within windows. This disk will run a stripped down version of the previous editions of DOS. It can be handy for flashing your BIOS, system rescue, or just because you can.

    Now, just because I said DOS is limited, doesn't mean it isn't capable. It actually has some features that you can't get in a modern version of anything from Microsoft, such as the "UNDELETE" command. That's right, you used to be able to recover accidentally deleted files. It actually works quite well. Even though it was command line only, that didn't stop developers from making graphical shells for DOS, or even games. DOOM, Castle Wolfenstien, all of the classic greats in fact were written for DOS.

    Another advantage of running DOS is stability. You can run a DOS for months, even years without a system crash. The fact is, without all of the overhead of a GUI, and the various drivers from different manufactures, that vary widely in quality, DOS is rock solid. You would be very hard pressed to break it.

    Speed is another advantage. Think about it. This Operating System was designed to be fast on a 25 year old processor. On a new system it is blazing. Even the cheapest, used, laptop you can pickup today will run it with no problem at speeds that are much faster that it was designed to run at. When you press a key, stuff happens. It's just fast.

    Finally, security. How many people today run DOS? Not many. That means for the most part your files are secure, because none of the modern software can read your document format. Most of the virus's and malware written today are written in Java. There is no Java for DOS.

    However, it is more than 25 years old, and does have its limitations. Such as a 2 Gigabyte limit on Hard Drive Size. Being limited to only the first 64 Megabytes of Ram, not that you'll ever need more than that in DOS. Hardware support is also extremely limited and you won't be able to access a Hard Drive that is formatted for NTFS (such as your windows install) without additional software.

    Now before you go on a rant about these limitations, keep in mind that I am talking about real DOS. Not the stripped down version that is to help you recover windows. Starting with Windows 95, DOS became version 7.0 and with each new iteration Microsoft has stripped more and more of it away because it simply isn't needed anymore. The last "REAL" version of DOS, one with all of the utilities and functionality you would ever need from a command line Operating System was Version 6.22, and is in my opinion one of the greatest Operating Systems to ever exists.

    If you want to try DOS for yourself, you can sometimes find copies on floppy disk at the local thrift store, or if you can google for the disk images, although that may lead to legal questions. Your morality is your own.

    As for Word Star and Mr. Martin? Well, as it turns out, Official Copies of Word Star are actually hard to come by, and with good reason. The people that still use Word Star are nearly as fanatical about it as Mac users are about Apple. You can still purchase a copy, which I would recommend if you really want to use it. However, a long time ago Microsoft released Microsoft Word for DOS 5.5 for free. It is still available for download and works very well.

    If you do use Microsoft Word for DOS, keep in mind that modern version of Word cannot read the documents you creates unless you save them RTF format. The original DOC format is no longer supported by Microsoft, though I have heard you can get a converter file. I have yet to test it.

    In my next post, I will go into more details about Microsoft Word 5.5 and why it could be a solution for some.

    Until next time ...