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by Russ Bellew · phone 954 873-4695

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My Early MS-DOS Adventures

Since I had so much invested in CP/M, I was reluctant to abandon it.  The Seequa Chameleon was just what I (thought I) needed. It contained both a Zilog Z80 to run CP/M and an Intel 8088 to run MS-DOS 2.11. Its disks were a pair of 5.25 inch diskette drives. It also came with a bunch of applications software. It was called "portable",  but was the size of a sewing machine and with its all-metal case it weighed almost thirty pounds. I lugged it aboard a few commercial flights and quickly gave up on its "portability". This was c 1985 - '86.



PC-XT Clone

There was nothing remarkable about my first PC-XT clone. Its 8088 CPU ran at about 6 MHz and contained a monochrome display adapter.
I installed Wordstar (3.3?), dBase III, and an early release of Lotus 1-2-3 on its Seagate ST225 20 megabyte hard disk, with room to spare.
I replaced its 8088 CPU with a NEC V20 and ran some CP/M programs on it. But by this time, CP/M was rapidly fading into my past.
Borland's Sidekick was a brilliant product. It was a TSR  -- Terminate and Stay Resident -- program that offered a calendar, calculator, text editor, address book, and ASCII table. It was typical Borland: small, efficient, and very functional. It remained an essential part of all my DOS installations for many years, until I finally climbed aboard the Windows train.
Using dBase III, I continued to develop my sales prospecting application that I'd begun to write in dBase II on my NorthStar Horizon. dBase III was a major step forward: it allowed multiple data and index files to remain open simultaneously, and expanded the dBase language. Still, there were a few functions -- mostly string manipulation -- that I wanted.
dBase III allowed patching. I forget the details, but I found that I could use MS-DOS's MASM 8086 assembler to write my own dBase functions, which I could then link into my copy of dBase III. My functions would become part of the dBase language on my PC! It was very nice and I credit Wayne Ratliff and others at Ashton-Tate for allowing extensions to their language.
I found that the A86 assembler, for most assembler programming, was quicker and easier to work with than Microsoft's MASM.
I bought an MS-DOS copy of Turbo Pascal, and continued writing small utility programs with it. It was easy to move from Turbo Pascal's CP/M version to its MS-DOS version.
Though I liked Multiplan, I could see that the future of spreadsheets lay with Lotus 1-2-3. Lotus' support was superb, and the 1-2-3 macro language and spreadsheet linking allowed fancy multidimensional spreadsheets beyond anything that Multiplan could do.
Also, like Wordstar, Lotus offered an extensive range of printer drivers.
I met programmer Bill Zimmerman in Cleveland. Bill had written a nice customer tracking system called Follow-Up. He'd written it in CBASIC's descendent, the CB-86 compiler and Access Manager. I began using Follow-Up and abandoned my dBase customer tracking program.
I installed a Watson voice card, which was manufactured by Natural MicroSystems. It provided a fancy answering machine with voice mail for multiple users . . . and hours of entertainment as I programmed it with its clunky "card" based high level programming "language". For its time, it was an amazing product.
I became an early fan of Peter Norton's Norton Utilities. They defragmented disks, provided a nice file management shell, and allowed low level byte by byte disk editing. (Subsequently, Norton's products devolved to bloatware.)
Gazelle Systems' Fastback Plus backup program was impressive. It backed up files to floppy diskettes at an amazing rate, by using DMA (direct memory access) for the floppy drives. This led me to Gazelle's Q-Dos, a file management shell that competed with Norton Commander. I preferred Q-Dos. X-tree was another strong competitor, but I could work more quickly with Q-Dos. All of these shells offered the ability to tag groups of files or directories, and then copy or move them en masse.
(Gazelle's founder and chief programmer was Eric Ruff, son of 1970s silver barker Howard Ruff. He lost Gazelle to his ex-wife during their divorce and went on to write Partition Magic and found Powerquest.)