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Start-up revives once-vaunted DR-DOS

By , Network World
December 16, 2002 12:05 AM ET

Network World - LINDON, UTAH - A start-up is looking to dust off and buff up DR-DOS, a largely dormant operating system that still attracts a hardcore following but is best-known for a colorful past that some see checkered with missed opportunity.

DeviceLogics, a company co-founded last month by Bryan Sparks, former CEO and founder of Linux vendors' Lineo (now Embedix) and Caldera Systems (now SCO Group), has bought DR-DOS, which once competed against Microsoft's MS-DOS.

DeviceLogics purchased DR-DOS from Lineo, where it underwent minor functional development during the past few years. The start-up will develop a compact operating system - for kiosks, automated teller machines, point-of-sale devices, handheld computers and desktop PCs running legacy DOS applications. Observers say the operating system, which is expected to ship in the first quarter of next year, could be more efficient and less expensive than Windows XP Embedded, Windows CE or Linux.

Interest level high

"There are still a lot of people running DR-DOS on single PCs," says Troy Tribe, vice president of sales and marketing at DeviceLogics. "We are going to revise DR-DOS for the desktop, as well as provide a kiosk, embedded, point-of-sale and a handheld version. People are now having to do that work on their own."

Digital Research developed DR-DOS, a 32-bit operating system, in 1987 as a fully compatible alternative to MS-DOS for 80286- and 80386-based PCs. It succeeded creator Gary Kildall's Control Program for Microcomputers (CP/M). The most popular legend told is that Kildall, the CEO of Intergalactic Digital Research (later shortened to Digital Research), was piloting his plane the day IBM approached the company about licensing CP/M for its first microcomputer - instead, IBM signed Microsoft's MS-DOS.

In 1991, Novell acquired Digital Research, DR-DOS and CP/M, with plans to compete against MS-DOS in the DOS market. When Novell CEO Ray Noorda failed to capitalize on the plan to take over the DOS market, Novell sold DR-DOS to Caldera in 1996. Caldera, which Sparks founded with Noorda's assistance, then sued Microsoft for lost sales and unfair competition and settled out of court for an unspecified amount.

Simple development

Analysts say embedded DOS is important in that the development environment is simplified because the code is compact and the devices that use it often do not require a keyboard, mouse or more-complicated Windows-like display.

"It would probably be much smaller [than XP Embedded], take less machine resources, and because it is inherently simpler, some tasks would run faster," says Dan Kuznetsky, research director at IDC. "DOS runs very well in a small system by today's standards."

Challenges ahead

However, Kuznetsky says getting an embedded operating system such as DR-DOS accepted would not be without challenges.

"It would not necessarily have the same security or development tools that are up to today's standards; that would be a challenge," he says.

DeviceLogics says it will introduce a software developer kit in the first half of next year.

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