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The 'DOS Ain't Done 'til Lotus Won't Run' Myth 425

Otter writes "We've all heard the story of Microsoft's battle cry of "DOS ain't done till Lotus won't run". Adam Barr investigates the myth, interviewing various Microsoft and Lotus old-timers (including Mitch Kapor), and finds no basis for its legitimacy or any case of 1-2-3 actually not running. Whom to blame for Lotus Notes is not discussed."
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The 'DOS Ain't Done 'til Lotus Won't Run' Myth

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  • How can this be? Does that mean my whole life as a MS-bashing Slashdotter is nothing but... nothing?!? Well, I'm sure "DOS Ain't Done til Linux Won't Run"!!

    On a more serious note though, the first reply in the article says it all.

    Microsoft is a for-profit company, so it will do anything to make a profit. If billions of people are rushing out to buy Longhorn so that they can play Tux Racer, Microsoft will make sure "Longhorn ain't done til Tux Racer run".

    It's also interesting to see from one of the comments:
    • People are making fun of us!!!!!

      There is a huge difference between a grassroots campaign, which the OSS evangelists CLAIM to embrace, and a lust for success so strong that it overwhelms all logic and crosses over into hilarious hypocrisy, which the OSS evangelists actually DO embrace. It's not universal among the OSS fans, but a quick look around will easily find its presence -- for example, virtually any multi-paragraph anti-Microsoft post is guaranteed a positive moderation here at Slashdot.

      People l

      • In the end though the bad karma does come back to bite them in the ass.

        As a forward, there are three levels of advertising:
        • Advertising how good your product is
        • Advertising how much better your product is compared to a specific competitors product
        • Advertising how bad your competitors product is

        The effectiveness of these three levels is the same as the order above.

        Focusing on your product leaves the impression that your product is strong; most companies that are at the top of their industry (like Coke)

    • How can this be? Does that mean my whole life as a MS-bashing Slashdotter is nothing but... nothing?!?

      Don't worry you can continue bashing microsoft and you can even use the phrase "Dos ain't done till lotus won't run" [slashdot.org] in a week or so to get +5 moderation.

    • by Otter ( 3800 )
      COME ON!! People are making fun of us!!!!!

      That'd be me (the submitter). I was 0 for 10 on submissions (actually worse than that -- my streak goes back longer than the user info page tracks) due to my stubborn refusal to append an OSIR. I finally give in, and -- bingo!

      Could this be the development that makes Linux the dominant desktop OS?

  • Without the explanation in TFA, I would have interpreted "DOS ain't done until Lotus won't run" as the motto of people still hanging onto their pre-pentium machines, unwilling to upgrade to any GUI until they couldn't run their old DOS apps anymore. There were quite a number in the '90s who wouldn't upgrade to Windows 3.10 or 95 because, heck, they didn't see a need.

    I doubt many of those people still exist 10 years later, but I'm sure there are a few people happily clacking away on their Wangs, saving to

    • You'd be surprised how many legal offices still use WP5.1.... They see no need to upgrade because these legal ladies are blazingly fast with WP.

      Heck, many still use Netware 3.11 as their server lol.
    • There were quite a number in the '90s who wouldn't upgrade to Windows 3.10 or 95 because, heck, they didn't see a need.

      Didn't see a need? There WASN'T a need. 3.1 moved with the speed and grace of a wounded elephant in quicksand, while DOS spun like a top. It was the new apps (and lack of support for the old) that drove users onto Windows, not any virtues of the OS.

      And Agenda!! Does anyone remember Lotus Agenda (a DOS app)? The PIM of the Gods! The most amazing open-ended information manager ever crea
    • Well, if we're interpreting "done" to mean "finished; irrelevant; obsolete", then an altered form of the myth

      DR-DOS ain't 'done' until Windows won't run

      turns out to be true, after all.
    • I think that "neo luddite" is quite harsh. If anything, it's 1984-speak encouraging unnecessary consumerism. I happen to run very (5+ years) at home and at work because.. well... they work. This used to be the geek way... be frugal, and make it work. Now even the geeks have caved into the consumer culture... buy the newest thing, even if you don't need it (best example of this is the Apple fanatics). A Luddite was a person who was angry with the new technology and hated it. I simply see it as not need
      • Actually the Luddites had a rather bad press. The original Luddites weren't fanatical anti-progress thugs, they were actually rather discriminating in what they did and didn't smash up - their beef wasn't with machinery itself, but actually with the working practices associated with the machinery, which was replacing skilled manual labour with cheaper, less-skilled labour where people were being forced to work harder, to produce more goods for less pay.

        There were occasions when Luddites smashed frames in on
    • Without the explanation in TFA, I would have interpreted "DOS ain't done until Lotus won't run" as the motto of people still hanging onto their pre-pentium machines, unwilling to upgrade to any GUI until they couldn't run their old DOS apps anymore. There were quite a number in the '90s who wouldn't upgrade to Windows 3.10 or 95 because, heck, they didn't see a need.

      I thought the claim was Windows era rather than DOS, but the fact that no Lotus people can remember a problem is significant. It really never

  • by s20451 ( 410424 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @07:11PM (#13226513) Journal
    From the article:

    And there was an incident in the early pre-release days of NT where our boot sector code broke multi-boot with OS/2; in that case, despite claims of outrage from the Blue Ninja Clan, it was simply that we had never tested that configuration; once we heard about the bug, we fixed it and added it to our test mix.

    This made me laugh; Windows installation has never been shy about overwriting LILO (and later GRUB), and the Linux user base has to be roughly as large as OS/2's was in its heyday. But hey, all's fair.
    • and i'm pretty sure most linux installers run straight over anything else that is in the mbr too

      theres always a conflict between making stuff work automatically and not stepping on stuff you don't understand thats already there (especially when you have to consider the case that the mbrs current content could simply be random garbage rather than something you don't recognise and should ask about)

      ofc they don't like to acknolage that linux exits putting in code to look for lilo/grub in the mbr would be ackno
      • That's not the point. It's actually possible for you to install Linux on a Windows machine and have it dual boot, but good luck trying to put Windows on a Linux box and have it work the way you want it to. Unless, of course, you were actually looking to make your Linux setup unuseable...
      • "and i'm pretty sure most linux installers run straight over anything else that is in the mbr too"

        Don't know whether this is boot-sector or MBR, but I've installed Knoppix, Mepis, Mandrake, Ububtu, Vector, and Suse, and they've all installed a boot-loader that lists your Windows partition as one of the options if you're dual-booting.

        Most of those systems also ask you during installation which OS you want to boot by default.
        • most linux bootloaders are capable of booting the boot sector of a dos/windows partition.

          so the norm is generally to put the linux bootloader in the MBR and then search for dos partitions to add to its list.

      • and i'm pretty sure most linux installers run straight over anything else that is in the mbr too

        No, they don't.

        There is a very good reason why nearly anyone installing a dual-boot from scratch partitions and installs Windows FIRST and Linux SECOND. It is because while Linux installers are happy to leave Windows in place and booting properly, the Windows installer will happily WIPE the boot sector/MBR and leave Linux inaccessible until you jump through hoops, in spite of the fact that there is little reason
    • This made me laugh; Windows installation has never been shy about overwriting LILO (and later GRUB),

      That's why i use Windows' own NTloader to boot my linux distros. That way i can reinstall windows and linux and still be able to boot both without overwriting any of them.
    • Interesting that they consider Windows 2k to be early NT. Win2k also trounced the OS/2 bootmanager, and not just during installation but every time it ran. Changing a byte or 2 in bootmanager stopped this and MS fixed the problem in SP1.
      At that every version of Windows I've installed (win98 was the last) announced that I had OS/2 on my computer and would never be able to use it again. This was easily fixed by using fdisk to reset bootmanager as the bootable partition.
      Win95 (at least the first one) also inst
    • "Windows installation has never been shy about overwriting LILO (and later GRUB)..."

      For a rare change, this isn't Microsoft's fault. To the best of my knowledge, every "install" program for every version of DOS, Windows-as-an-OS, or OS/2 writes a new MBR (Maser Boot Record). The MBR was never, ever intended to contain an OS-specific boot loader. It contains the partition table, and the code to find the active partition and boot the PBR (Partition Boot Record). It has been that way since IBM and Microsof
  • I remember a quite notorious bug with NT SP3 that broke Notes clients and servers on both NT Workstation and Server.

    Of course, that was just bad QA by Microsoft or Lotus. but it used to be used as the example of 'why you shouldn't immediately patch your NT boxen'.
    • quite notorious bug with NT SP3 that broke Notes clients

      That's funny, I tell that story as SP6 as it actually went GA prohibiting access to TCP/IP for all users except Administrator. That's why 6a came out a week or two later. At least that's how I tell it ;) I thought SP3 was stable for quite some time.
    • Wasn't this the bug where microsoft "closed" ports under 1024 to non-admin accounts (like most unix boxes had) and Lotus was purposefully using a low port rather than just creating a normal effemeral port.

      Lets see - you start a new security policy, and your software violates that policy... Yup - it doesn't work

  • Uses it to run Lotus 123 and some forestry consulting software.
    • It's interesting this topic came up. My father likes Lotus 1-2-3 over excel and has some multi megabyte lotus worksheets at work that won't convert properly (due to some functions [this greatly anoys his boss who is MS's bitch]) into Excel (and he doesn't want to have to re-program them in). He also prefers lotus over excel. (no clipy, and doesn't do what it thinks you want to do, among other things). It's currently running along on 4 different machines. Two pentium 3's (one at work, one at home), a P4
      • Same here, he has a copy of Excel, but he still uses Lotus 123 most of the time because he knows it so well and has written many macros for it, and Excel doesn't offer him that much more over 123.
      • I remember the plain disbelief when I told people that Excel was originally a clone of 123. Gave me a look as if I was telling them the world was flat. 123 was THE spreadsheet, and when you got used to the keyboard commands you could do things incredibly quickly ... like 10 times faster at least. Still Excel is now a fine product, and not like the old 123 but then if 123 had survived what would it have looked like by now? Interesting to see that in my copy of Excel (2002) you can still turn on Lotus-123 mod

    • in my day we had lotus 12
  • Regardless of whether the quote is true, I'd still like to see the company that makes the OS and the company that makes software that runs on the OS be separate entities.
  • I tried installing Windows from 3.5" floppies using my 1581 disk drive on my Commodore 64. No dice. I even SYS 64738'd the system at least 10 times and the darn thing wouldn't even read the weird 1.4 meg format that Microsoft stores their floppies in.

    Clearly, they're cutting Commodore out of the market.

    • Well actually.... On MY Apple IIgs...with a PC transporter card installed (complete with the optional 8087 coprocessor)...I did load DOS 5.0 and..on that Windows 3.0 . The PC Transporter was a 8086 vintage coprocessor card that sported a 8086 CPU, 640k of memory, and a few ports for attaching 5.25 360k drives, a 800k Apple II drive (which it saw as a 720k) and a AT style keyboard. You could also hook up a CGA monitor or use the included "color-Switch" board to hook it to the existing Apple RGB screen.
  • This might just be a /. variation on the factual test applied to gray boxes in the 1980s: "it ain't really IBM PC compatible until it runs Lotus 1-2-3 and draws a chart".
  • Lotus Notes... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zhiwenchong ( 155773 ) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @07:17PM (#13226554)
    ... was invented by Ray Ozzie [wikipedia.org] who modeled it after the PLATO system at the University of Illinois.

    For a long time (ca. 1990s), it was considered superior to Microsoft Exchange, until the Internet came along (i.e. became popular) and everything changed.

    Notes was actually quite a clever piece of software during its heyday. No one else could do replication at the time. The only thing that people hated about it was its price: it cost too much for what it did.
    • it cost too much for what it did.

      You mean have an interface like early 1980's IBM software with an organization like the Soviet buraeaucracy?

      I can't speak about what it could "do", but it is the worst, bar none, UI of any application I've ever used or seen. There are Visual Basic 3.0 apps written by 10-year-olds that are better designed.

      My hatred of Lotus Notes, from being forced to use it at two different jobs, knows no bounds. And I jump at any opportunity to flame on it I can. Mod appropriately.
      • It may be flamebait, but it ain't wrong!
      • I'm with you. I just started at a new place that does Lotus Notes about 8 months ago. Not just email - they do *everything* in Notes. Project management, AFEs, knowledge base, etc, etc. I hate it.

        The UI is unspeakably horrid. And it randomly hangs or crashes if you don't click the buttons they expected you to click in the order they expected you to click them in.

        Want to open up Notes and open your Inbox with 1,000 messages in it? On a P4 with half a gig of ram, you'll be swap-thrashing for about 3 sol
      • I'm right up there with you, buddy. Seriously, "no Lotus Notes" is now a condition of employing me... if you expect me to support Notes, hell, even just USE Notes, no dice. Get somebody else.
    • The only thing that people hated about it was its price...

      No, people also hate its UI. And the API is no great shakes, either. (Not to say that Exchange is any better in these areas...)

    • The only thing that people hated about it was its price: it cost too much for what it did.

      As someone who has had to deal with Blowtus Goats, let me assure you that the priece was NOT the only thing that people hated about it.
  • The reason it's so easy to believe stories like the lotus one is that it fits the Microsoft philosophy very well.

    Consider their desire to not bother supporting standards in their browsers.

  • From the first comment to the article:

    "DOS Ain't Done til Lotus Won't Run" - I can't say that I've ever heard that phrase before, but it definitely sounds like something the Slashdot crowd would say.

    Ahh to see yourselves as others see you....
  • And Windows 3.0 didn't explicitly check for DR-DOS and print out a messages stating that it wouldn't work properly with anything other the MS-DOS either... except that I actually saw that error message on a CRT in the lab.
    • And MS actually lost a court case about that, but hey, today's teenagers don't know that so I guess we're in the "rewriting history" phase.

  • To imply this is a slashdot meme is patently wrong.

    I remember this saying. It camer about when a MS Dos release came out, and Lotus stopped working. Then MS ignored people who need help. I was one of those people.
    Fortunatly it worked with other companies DOS.
  • I came via Apple II+ -> Amiga -> Ibm.

    It was well known back then that "Dos isn't ready until Lotus 1.2.3. doesn't work" because it (and other competitors) were repeatedly broken with dos 3, dos 4, dos 5, dos 6, dos 6.22, dos 6.2, etc. Excel always worked- amazing. A few weeks to a few months later, they would figure out what microsoft had done to them and a patch would fix them.

    The new variation as of windows 95 was to certify a product as "ready for windows". Word95 broke standards (back doo
  • The is the Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters website to some that admits to working for Microsoft... I'm sure he'd be real forthcoming about it if he had some dirt on Microsoft, wouldn't he? Gee, what are the chances that Microsoft is actually paying him to write this blog?
    • Holy shit, where do I sign up for that job? Does Microsoft serious pay bloggers, or are you just a paranoid nutjob?
    • I'd say that the author gets some brownie points for explicitly declaring his affiliation. Or at least loses fewer brownie points. Either way, it's a hell of an improvement on Steve Barkto et al.
      • Agreed, I appreciate his disclaimer very much. However, he can hardly be viewed as an impartial critic of Microsoft, especially since Microsoft can and will fire his ass for saying anything negative about Microsoft in a blog, as I beleive they have done to others.
        • I don't claim to be an impartial critic of Microsoft, but at the same time Microsoft won't fire me for saying negative things about the company. They will however fire me (correctly) for leaking NDA information or trade secrets.

          - adam

  • I was a hardware designer back then so I know what I'm talking about. If DOS didn't run Lotus, people wouldn't buy it, plain and simple. Lotus was the killer ap. Microsoft had nothing that would take it's place and Microsoft absolutely needed it to sell DOS. Either propaganda or mindless speculation.
  • Disassembly (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <perry.matt54@[ ]oo.com ['yah' in gap]> on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @07:30PM (#13226657)
    interviewing various Microsoft and Lotus old-timers
    Forget interviewing people. If you really want to know if some ancient software prevetned another piece of software from working then disassemble it and get it over with. Looking at the code is the only way you can know for sure.
    • And if you don't find any evidence by disassembly, which is awfully error-prone and complicated, don't fear. Microsoft certainly DID sabotage DOS to keep Lotus apps from working. They are inherantly evil, after all.
    • Looking at the code is the only way you can know for sure.

      Know what? The developer's intent? The organization's intent?

      At most, the disassembled code *may* show you what caused the incompatability. It won't describe to you in lurid detail how the developer plotted against the innocent user code. Once the incompatability is found you may not be able to discern whether it was intentional, and if so you certianly won't be able to determine malicious intent. At best you can infer it.

      Besides - as
  • How MS played the incompatibility card against DR-DOS [theregister.co.uk]

    Not only was the error message completely bogus, but microsoft went to significant lengths to try to encrypt the detection code. This is known as the infamous "AARD" code. It was discovered by Geoff Chappell and Andrew Schulman wrote about it in Dr. Dobbs' journal.

    In the antitrust trials, evidence (internal emails) were uncovered which proved this was a deliberate move on the part of microsoft.

    an email from Phil Barrett (lead developer of windows 3.1):


    • an email from Phil Barrett (lead developer of windows 3.1):

      heh, heh, heh . . . my proposal is to have bambi refuse to run this alien OS ? Comments ? The approach we take is to detect dr 6 and refuse to load.

      There are other examples and evidence, but this is one of the most damning.

      1) It was certainly well known among developers that Microsoft's own software had access to undocumented parts of the API. This was certainly true in DOS and in Win 3.1.

      2) I'm amused when I run early versions of Quick Basic on my
  • You know, one of the dumbest things about an article like this is the attempt at being definitive.

    It's like writing an article that states "We asked the CIA about assassination, and the CIA said it never killed anyone. When we interviewed various ex-CIA employees, they agreed."

    Does this guy really believe that he'd find someone who would say "oh yeah, we used to f*ck up competitor's stuff all the time."

    I'd say "look at the trail of broken applications behind the various DOS revisions, not the mea culpas of
    • You left out the part that goes, "We asked one of the alleged targets of the CIA assassination plot and he said, 'Nope, I don't remember being assassinated.'"

    • In one sense I can't refute what you say. But I don't know why the *Lotus* people would feel compelled to deny it if it had really happened. Presumably they would have been annoyed about it and looking to vent.

      I'll also point out that when I actually researched this article (sent email to the former Lotus employees) I was not working at Microsoft, so I was just random computer user to them.

      - adam

  • The Slashdot story sounds to me like revisionism. There were many cases of incompatibility. Maybe they weren't put there deliberately, but incompatibilities that degraded serious competition seemed to take a long time to fix.

    Here's an example from today, in Windows XP SP2: Why is it that, during an install or re-install of Windows XP, Windows can never find the Logitech mouse drivers? Windows finds other mouse drivers. Is it because Logitech makes better pointing devices than Microsoft?
  • So next I suppose we'll find out that the Holocaust never really happened, and African slaves in the confederate south were generally happy and well treated.
  • Nowadays, I know from personal experience that today Microsoft takes application compatibility very seriously.

    What I remember was a DOS upgrade where QEMM.EXE wouldn't load, but renaming it to XEMM.EXE (or anything else) loaded and ran just fine.

    Yes, Microsoft pulled this crap against various software vendors, even of Lotus wasn't one of them.

  • "Proudly serving my corporate masters" -- need I say anything more?
  • I always heard it about Windows 3.1.

    "Windows isn't done until Lotus won't run."

    Never heard that 'saying' concerning DOS.
    • by RetiredMidn ( 441788 ) * on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @09:18PM (#13227295) Homepage
      I always heard it about Windows 3.1.

      I agree. I was at Lotus for quite a while starting in 1983. In the early days (1-2-3 v1 and v2, and MS-DOS 2.x and 3.x), Lotus and Microsoft were quite friendly, and we had NDA access to a lot of stuff from Microsoft, including MD-DOS releases. [I also saw early releases of Windows 1.x documentation and remember thinking how pathetic it was next to Inside Macintosh -- but that's a whole other story...]

      Anyway... In the spirit of this "friendly" cooperation, I remember attending technical presentations from Microsoft about OS/2 Presentation Manager and how important it was for us to architect our applications in anticipation of OS/2 so we'd be ready when it hit the street; and feeling like we'd been had when Microsoft switched their emphasis from OS/2 to Windows 3.x, and had their applications all ready to go while Lotus was invested heavily in an OS/2 suite.

      From that point forward, 1-2-3 was on the ropes vs. Excel and it seemed like every OS move by Microsoft with Windows kept us off-balance; there was also the issue that the Excel developers seemed way better informed about developing for Windows 3.x than the rest of us. There was wide speculation that Microsoft was publishing and encouraging the use of APIs that their application developers did not use. It was (and is) easily believable that there was a philosophy of "Windows isn't done until Lotus won't run."

      On another, contrary, note, I also remember (later) a page 1 Wall Street Journal article about the development of Windows NT under Dave Cutler. IIRC, one of the points made in the article was that NT had a huge team of developers (50?) adding code to NT that was conditional on the application being run; i.e., "if the current application is PhotoShop, perform this operation this way" for compatibility. It was presented as a representation of Microsoft's commitment to compatibility, but, IMHO, it's a shitty way to write an operating system...

  • "Nowadays, I know from personal experience that today Microsoft takes application compatibility very seriously."

    Sure, like their Java compatibility and XML compatibility. Please, give me a break. Have you been living in a cave or is MS sending you a check?
  • Don't you think five apostrophes in a single story headline is a bit... excessive?
  • The "it ain't done until Lotus won't run" comment by an unnamed Microsoft executive was reportedly made during the development of MS-DOS 4, not the 3.x or the later version 5.

    The truth is that when released onto the market MS-DOS 4 with Microsoft's first attempt at a Character based User Interface (CUI) Shell and switching task manager was *NOT* backwardly compatible with a *LOT* of third party software. This included problems with Lotus 1.2.3 and many Turbo Pascal v3 and v4 programs that used third party

  • It's common practice to re-write history, so this article isn't a surprise. It's also common to pretend that people used to play together nicely "in the good old days". You might, however, ask why the rumor came into existence, what evidence people found for it at the time, and why it was believed.

    I find latter-day appologists to be lacking in credibility. You can believe them if you want. Next we'll be told that the "Netscape Engineers are weenies" affair was a myth, too. And I'll believe that just ab

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan