MS-DOS: Recommandlined Preview

It’s been nearly a quarter-century since Microsoft launched an aggressive marketing campaign for Windows 95, targeting computer shop owners around the world with excessive beatings and extreme acts of vandalism, all with the ultimate goal of discouraging further adoption of the then-dominant Disk Operating System.

Governments around the world unanimously and sternly objected to the Microsoft’s actions, the growing threat of a world where corporations hold more power than governments do, and Western nations responded by firmly reducing the company’s tax obligations. But the results were clear, and Microsoft later stated in earnings reports that their “systematic elimination of any individuals sympathetic to Disk Operating System was crucial to the success of Windows 95.”

Satya Nadella personally saw parts of his hometown burn when Microsoft sent the death squads into the slums of Hyderabad, India to eliminate all known copies of DOS. (Few estimates for casualties exist, Microsoft claims that hundreds of millions of dollars were made in the attack.) The now-fifty-one-year-old head of the company believes times have changed and it is now time to make amends and apologies to the survivors.

Can Satya Nadella bring smiles to the faces of those whose loved ones were brutally murdered by his company?

The reparations campaign will center around an exciting return to the Disk Operating System for one of the companies that helped bring the platform to global prominence, with MS-DOS: Recommandlined likely to launch sometime later this year. In doing so, Microsoft is boldly resisting the temptation to create a remastered version of Windows that brings the classic platform to modern computer hardware, and the company is doing open invites to cutting-edge journalism websites such as this one in order to show how the project is coming up to shape.

When the project was announced via fax machines located around the Seattle area, long-time fans of DOS immediately found the appropriate floppy disks and connected to Usenet using their dialup internet, and many individuals posted forceful ASCII images expressing their displeasure that this new version of DOS would (at-minimum) require Intel’s 486DX2 66-Megahertz powerhouse processor. That’s why the lead designer for the Recommandlined project, a 24-year-old recent graduate student by the name of Samuel Austen, wanted to assure me that the project was a love letter by the fans and for the fans.

“Obviously, the world grew up, and a lot of people apparently did not,” Austen stated. “Windows 10 is the best Windows ever and computers sucked back then, but in order to explain this to the bulletin board crowd, I had to configure the ‘baud rate’ on my modem and I didn’t go to school for six years to learn that.” Moments after asking that I do not republish these comments, Austen took me directly to the project, spanning several floors of Microsoft’s San Francisco offices and hundreds of dedicated programmers and artists preparing Recommandlined for its public debut.

While there is concern that Recommandlined is being authored by individuals who have never lived a day in their life where command-line software mattered in the consumer consciousness, the company has been diligently working with older individuals who fit the command-line demographic, offering homeless people outside the Microsoft building a hot meal and a bottle of water for their input.

While I was waiting for Microsoft employees to set up the demonstration, I asked one of these individuals, an aging gentleman who would only identify himself as the “Soldier of God”, what he thought of the Recommandlined project, and whether he was excited that command-line operating systems were getting their due in a world that has passed the software by.  “Soldier” quickly explained that it was “going to die” and began stabbing the wall with a plastic fork.

But most of the fears concerning my immediate safety were eased when I sat down with Recommandlined and was immediately floored by the cutting-edge presentation. Needless to say, my childhood had finally come back, and it was clear that the company had done their job. The white text on a pitch black background was being presented in 4K resolution at sixty frames per second on a specially-designed tube monitor weighing close to two-hundred pounds.

Screenshots do not do the program justice. Only live footage can capture the grace and aesthetic of Recommandlined.

Now, the demonstration was not without its issues, appearing to slow down during particularly complicated uses of the “dir” command, and multiple uses of CHKDSK revealing no issues with the integrity of the hard drive. Particularly jarring was that Austen assured me that the program was running on “home consumer hardware”, but further analysis seemed to suggest the demonstration was actually a real-time presentation of a 3D Paint image that was being modified by dozens of Microsoft artists in real-time to react and respond directly to my “inputs”.

But bullshots or trumped-up presentations have long been a practice of the computer software industry, and during the presentation, Microsoft provided with this excellent free T-shirt that says, “WINDOWS THE FUN EVER STOP AT MICROSOFT?” Perhaps the shirt was not carefully tailored towards the Recommandlined demonstration, but the thrill of this hilarious pun was so extreme that I forgot to do my job as a journalist.

Regardless, it was obvious that Recommandlined was still very much in the alpha phase, and Microsoft has big plans for continuing to advance the creation of the software, looking to provide an authentic 1990s software experience with ambient sound based on television and radio shows of the 1990s, and a simulated ecosystem of viruses and glitches that would frustrate (immerse) even the most committed and die-hard fans of the command-line platforms.

This sort of commitment to excellence and detail may be confusing to individuals who started using a personal computer in order to download Valve’s Steam game distribution client, but you have to remember that Microsoft is taking a big risk by attempting to cater to an audience that expected great things when they put down thousands of dollars every couple of years to update their computer technology during an exciting era for the format.

And as I was leaving the Microsoft headquarters, it was evident that the pressure was mounting for the company, that while they are now making close to 100 billion dollars in revenue every single year, I could smell the small contingent of committed fans who had been waiting decades for this moment to come, a group of half-a-dozen individuals who could make or break Microsoft in the year 2019.

The self-appointed leader of the group, 61-year-old Jim William Haskins, identified himself as third-in-command at the “DOS Federation”.  After reassuring Jim that I was not carrying any computer technology made after 1997, he agreed to briefly discuss the situation, stating that he once owned a computer shop dedicated solely to the distribution of DOS software, and that as Windows 95 became the standard, he found it impossible to adapt and went out of business.

But before I could project my stupidity and ignorance on the world, and explain the complex realities of a rapidly changing society, the Soldier of God was being escorted out of the Microsoft building and quickly identified the DOS supporters as the “sacrifice”. The ensuing brawl between the DOS crowd and the homeless camp and law enforcement seems to be a mere taste of the excitement that Recommandlined will bring when it is launched sometime later this year.