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Start-up revives once-vaunted DR-DOS

Dec 16, 20024 mins
Enterprise Applications

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.

Users within IT organizations have mixed opinions about using DOS.

“We do have DOS applications running on legacy dedicated hardware that’s sitting on real-time control systems, which simulate the hardware they are controlling,” says Peter DaSilva, consulting engineer at ABB, a power and automation technology company in Houston. “We don’t have any anticipation of upgrading them – ever.”

Others say having a command-line operating system available such as DOS is still the most direct way to troubleshoot a system.

“DOS is still the best way to run recovery programs, low-level disk utilities, removal of computer viruses, the flashing of the system BIOS and diagnostics,” says Jeff Johnson, an IT consultant in Boca Raton, Fla.

Johnson says that if DeviceLogics added features to DR-DOS that eliminated the need for commonly used utilities such as 4DOS and the Quarterdeck Expanded Memory Manager, while maintaining a small conventional memory footprint and compatibility, it would increase the chances of use by end users, PC hobbyists and developers.

DR-DOS will compete against a variety of other DOS implementations, including DataLight’s ROM-DOS, Paragon Software’s PTS DOS 2000 Pro and IBM’s PC DOS for Embedded Devices. In addition, an open source version of FreeDOS is available.

Location: Salt Lake City
Founded:November 2002
Product name:DR-DOS
Product type:Embedded operating system
Ship date:First quarter 2003
Founders:Bryan Sparks, CEO; Troy Tribe, vice president of sales and marketing; Bryce Burns, vice president of operations.
Funding: Self-funded
Fast fact:Sparks’ Caldera started the first of two antitrust trials against Microsoft.