MS-DOS may be one of those things you’ve heard of before, but not really understood what it is – or was. So here is the explanation…
It stands for Microsoft Disk Operating System and was popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. It is what is referred to as a command line operating system. Yes, just like Windows, it is an operating system, but DOS was used on IBM computers.
However, Windows is a graphical user interface (GUI) operating system, meaning it has buttons, pictures, icons and supports a mouse. MS-DOS uses a command line interface, meaning to use it, you type instructions onto the screen where the blinking cursor appears in order to make the computer do something.
So for example, if you wanted to browse to a different folder, instead of opening up Windows Explorer and clicking on folders and drives, you would have to type in the command cd followed by the name of the folder (cd = change directory.) Or to see a list of sub-folders in a folder, you would type dir for directory.
Basically, to use MS-DOS, or any DOS based operating system, you needed to memorise plenty of different commands to get the computer to behave like you wanted. No pictures, icons, mouse, desktop, start menu or any other graphical goodies you are used to now.
MS-DOS also could not multi-task. You could not run multiple applications at once and switch between them. You had to finish one task before beginning another. Unthinkable in today’s world.
But in the 1990s Microsoft developed Windows, and Apple developed their own graphical operating systems, and MS-DOS was phased out. It was not a clear-cut phasing out though. Early versions of Windows, including Windows 95, still required DOS which would run in the background while Windows provided a more user friendly interface (and the capability of multitasking!)
However now MS-DOS is merely a relic of a bygone era when to use a computer you really did need to know your stuff. Command line interfaces like MS-DOS are now usually just seen in movies and throwback documentaries.
So what is/was MS-DOS? Just like Windows, it was an operating system, but it was also the precursor to Windows. It was an example of what operating systems looked like before we had graphics.
Also if you remember MS-DOS and have a somewhat geeky sense of humour like us, you’ll probably find this t-shirt pretty cool. It’s available on TeePublic.com here.