Sunday, June 15, 2014

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 ...