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Microsoft Donates MS-DOS and Word for Windows as Open Code

Source code for Microsoft's MS-DOS and Word for Windows programs is now publicly available via the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

Microsoft donated the code of MS-DOS versions 1.1 (released in 1982) and 2.0 (released in 1983), as well the code for Microsoft Word for Windows 1.1a (released in 1989). It's possible to download the code from the museum's Web site, although there's still a license agreement to approve first, which allows only noncommercial use.

Microsoft became a global corporation of 100,000-plus employees and $43 billion in revenue (as of December) largely through sharp dealing in its software licensing practices over the years. The company developed MS-DOS for IBM after purchasing the rights to QDOS from Seattle Computer Products in December of 1980 for $25,000. However, when Microsoft signed its contract with IBM, it didn't have such an OS to sell, according to an account by Len Shustek, chairman of the Computer History Museum. Microsoft later retained the rights to license the OS to other PC clone manufacturers by paying an additional $50,000. Seattle Computer Products later sued Microsoft for concealing its IBM relationship, resulting in a $1 million out-of-court settlement.

On the wordprocessing front, Microsoft did not achieve success with its 1983 release of Microsoft Word for DOS, Shustek noted. WordPerfect dominated the wordprocessor market for about 15 years. However, the release of Microsoft Word for Windows changed that scenario.

"By 1993 it [Microsoft Word for Windows] was generating 50% of the word processing market revenue, and by 1997 it was up to 90%," Shustek stated, in a blog post.

Shustek attributed the success of Microsoft Word for Windows to "something extraordinary" in the program but he also pointed to Microsoft's marketing as a cause.

There's also a technical reason for WordPerfect's loss of market share, which dragged on through the U.S. court system for years. Novell finally lost an appeal in the case in September of 2013, following a hung jury verdict. Eleven jurors to one juror had decided the case against Microsoft. It was clear from an old memo that then-CEO Bill Gates had deliberately held back Windows 95 APIs needed by WordPerfect's developers and other wordprocessor makers to complete their applications for Microsoft's emerging operating system at the time, which featured an improved graphical user interface. However, the judge in the case essentially ruled that Microsoft could use its Windows monopoly to thwart its competition in the applications market.

Microsoft used the legal system early on to muscle into former hobbyist territory. Over the years, that commoditization has engendered enmity and distrust among open source software communities, which currently center on the Linux operating system and the open source Libre Office. In more recent years, Microsoft has put efforts into ensuring interoperability with open source projects that may have traction with the business community. The company spun off its Open Technologies Inc. wholly owned subsidiary about two years ago to that end.

In any case, Microsoft's move to release MS-DOS and Microsoft Word for Windows as open source code comes about 30 years too late for open source advocates.

In addition to warehousing Microsoft's code, the museum showcases other software programs as artifacts. Other examples in the museum are Apple II DOS, Macpaint and QuickDraw, IBM APL and Adobe Photoshop.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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