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Jun 28 2009

Happy Birthday

I first met my friend James a bit over 10 years ago (well, we’d been in the same place a couple of times before that, but we hadn’t really met). It took me several years after that to get to know him, though, and not because we didn’t spend a lot of time together.

Mutual friends of ours held–”parties” is probably too formal a word, let’s say “at homes”–nearly every Friday night for a few years before they moved out of state. If you knew when and where to show up, the company and the atmosphere were great. James and his wife, Sara, and my husband and I were the most regular of guests. I came to know Sara pretty well and heard plenty about the great joy that was her masters thesis. But James….

James was generally just off to the side with his laptop, typing incomprehensible gibberish. I say that advisedly. There are plenty of programming languages I don’t know well, but they don’t look like gibberish. James speaks Spanish, Klingon, a few standard computer languages…and machine code.

He was writing an operating system. He was sitting at these, admittedly informal, social events and writing FreeDOS while the rest of us talked about gardening, grad school, writing and general silliness.

FreeDOS was meant to replace MS-DOS, for which Microsoft had announced they would discontinue support. It was meant to allow people to continue to use older software and hardware long after the big money-making machine said they should be obsolete, even if they still had all their working parts.

That’s what FreeDOS did. It allowed people who couldn’t afford to buy a new computer every three years to continue to operate. It allowed people who still loved their low-res games to keep pulling them out and playing them when nostalgia gripped them. It allowed people to buy a PC with an operating system on it without being beholden to Microsoft. FreeDOS did what it set out to do.

James has been stepping away from the FreeDOS project over the last couple of years. It will run on without him, most likely. There are people as dedicated to the project (obsessed) as James has been. But it’s time for James to let his baby make its own way.

FreeDOS is 15 years old today. It’s young for most people’s babies to be on their own, but it’s downright venerable for an operating system.

James, happy birthday to your baby. And even though we teased you about it at the time, it’s amazing cool that I had the honor of being there while it happened.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    Jason Thibeault

    Wonderfully touching. Like I said at Greg's, geek envy.To close the circle and hopefully increase how important Google sees this as news, I posted here: http://www.lousycanuck.ca/?p=1425

  2. 2
    Jim Hall

    Thanks for the awesome post! :-)FreeDOS has always been more than a hobby for me. With FreeDOS, I found something that not only scratched a personal itch (Microsoft was "taking away" MS-DOS) but something that was extremely interesting and engaging, as well.But that made for some "interesting" social engagements, as Steph points out in her post. It's true; I would bring my laptop to parties, and spend most of the evening coding updates to various FreeDOS utilities, or contributing to the next FreeDOS distribution. Always managed to have fun, though!I'm stepping away from FreeDOS so I can focus on other things, like a Master's degree. This has been a very long transition, which is a good thing. Others had the time they needed to become comfortable in the roles I held for so long. I announced my future departure in February, and it became official in May. That said, it's late June and I'm still doing a few things to help out. Eventually I'll have to peel myself away.

  3. 3
    DrMcC

    Wow. I had forgotten about James working on this during the Friday get-togethers. Thanks for the memory!-Laura

  4. 4
    Blake Stacey

    Man, this is making me want to code a batch file and play Nibbles. Thanks for the memories! :-)

  5. 5
    Kelly McCullough

    Nice. Linked.

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