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Windows 8 may not excite some, but Mr. Martin makes a compelling case why even Windows XP may be unattractive

Windows 8 is proving to be a release much like Windows Vista for Microsoft Corp. (MSFT).  Sales have been good, but not great, and the internet has been filled with hate.  Lambasted by internet critics, Windows 8 has failed to push Microsoft's user base away Windows XP.
 
I. A Game of DOS
 
The argument made by many is that Microsoft’s previous operating systems -- Windows XP, or more recently Windows 7 – were considered the pinnacle of OS design. And those critics complain that the choices Microsoft made in its new operating system(s) was (or were) mistakes that regressed the utility of the product.
 
Author George RR Martin -- perhaps the most prominent living master of fantasy fiction -- has offered up an intriguing set of views on this OS debate.  And while his views are a bit outside the mainstream, it's interesting to see how they echo the opinions voiced by Windows Vista and Windows 8's detractors, including the Windows XP-for-life crowd.

George RR Martin
George RR Martin is a king of fantasy fiction. [Image Source: Nancy Newberry]

Fellow writers closely scrutinize Mr. Martin largely because he's ascended to both commercial and critical acclaim with his seven-book saga A Song of Fire and Ice.  Adapted into cable TV's most pirated and perhaps hottest series -- Game of Thrones -- the storyline is currently in its home stretch on the book front, with Mr. Martin working on the final two novels.

Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows on cable television. [Image Source: HBO]

It might surprise some, but Mr. Martin has published the first five books in the series not on a modern operating system like Windows 8, or even a mildly aged one like Windows XP, but rather on a positively ancient one.

He comments in an appearance on Conan -- comedian Conan O'Brien's hit program on Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX) TBS:

I actually have two computers. I have the computer that I browse the internet with, that I get my email on and I do my taxes on. Then I have my writing computer, which is a DOS machine not connected to the internet. Remember DOS? I use WordStar 4.0 as my word-processing system.

I actually like it, it does what I want a word-processing programme to do and it doesn't do anything else. I don't want any help, you know?

I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lower case letter and it becomes a capital. I don't want a capital. If I'd wanted a capital, I'd have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key. Stop fixing it.



Thus in a Windows world Mr. Martin is still stubbornly sticking to a tried-and-true predecessor from a simpler time. 
 
II. The Perfect OS?
 
For those unfamiliar with the "perfection" that was/is DOS, DOS stands for "disc  operating system".  Mr. Martin's choice of MicroPro's WordStar 4.0 -- a software that launched in 1987 and was replaced by WordStar 5.0 in 1989, suggests he purchased his computer in 1987 or 1988.

MS-DOS
Before Windows, there was DOS. [Image Source: Computer History Museum]

Further, while multiple DOS existed, by that time one particularly version -- Microsoft's MS-DOS -- had come to dominated nearly all personal computer sales (other than designs from Apple, Inc. (AAPL)).  At the start of 1987 MS-DOS 3.1 and 3.2 PCs were on sale.  In August 1987 Microsoft released MS-DOS 3.3, which shipped that holiday season.

Microsoft announced MS-DOS 4.01, which including advanced extended memory support (EMS), large partition sizes up to a whopping 2 gigabytes, and powerful multitasking.  It seems probable that Mr. Martin had either an MS-DOS 3.3 or an MS-DOS 4.0.1 PC -- let's hope for the latter.

MS-DOS 4.0
MS-DOS 4.01 came out in 1988. [Image Source: Computer History Museum]

Windows did exist at the time (Windows 1.0 launched in 1985), but was rather crude and in some ways less powerful/usable than the more refined text-line OS, DOS.  In 1988 Microsoft's latest and greatest version of Windows was Windows 2.1.  Mr. Martin would start writing his first novel in the series (A Game of Thrones) in 1991.  By August 1995, he was courting publishers, and Microsoft was releasing Windows 95, which relegated Mr. Martin's favorite OS (MS-DOS) to somewhat of a backup capability, typically relegated to use for bootstrapping, troubleshooting, and backwards-compatibility with older apps.
 
Mr. Martin published his book a year later in 1996.  

A Game of Thrones
[Image Source: eBay]

Meanwhile, his favorite OS's downgrade to companion product would continue on newer PCs through Windows ME, the last Microsoft OS to feature a fully integrated version of MS-DOS.  Later Windows NT operating systems, such as Windows XP would include a command line tool that offered MS-DOS-like features via emulation, but the days of MS-DOS as a full-fledged OS were over.
 
III. Aging OS is Hacker-Free Haven, if Crude
 
This is actually not the first time Mr. Martin commented in a 2011 post to his LiveJournal blog (humorously entitled Not a Blog):

So here's the thing. I am a dinosaur, as all my friends will tell you. A man of the 20th century, not the 21st. Yes, I have been using a computer for twenty years now, but while I cruise this interwebby thing with a PC and Windows, I still do all my writing on an old DOS machine running WordStar 4.0, the Duesenberg of word processing software (very old, but unsurpassed). I have my website, which someone else runs for me, and I have this LJ account, the blog that I vainly called my Not A Blog in hopes that might prevent me from blogging.

But that's it.

I am not on Facebook.

I am not on Twitter.

I will not be on the next new thing to come along, the one that makes Facebook and Twitter as obsolete as GEnie and CompuServe and The Source, those halcyon communities of yore.

George RR Martin
George RR Martin doesn't use Facebook or Windows. [Image Source: ABC News/George RR Martin]

In a crazy way there's some truth to Mr. Martin's criticism of his peers' use of newer operating systems.  Fantasy writer JK Rowling suffered leaks of parts of her final Harry Potter series of books.  OJ Simpson's infamous book If I Did It leaked before publication.
 
In 2008 Stephanie Meyer had been working on a follow-up to her best-selling Twilight series, which would have retold the story from the point of view of the male vampire protagonist, Edward Cullen.  After part of her manuscript was stolen, she quit the project.  She remarked that she was "too sad about what has happened to continue working on Midnight Sun."  Her critics rejoiced, but her fans were devastated.
 
More recently Candace Bushnell (author of the book Sex and the City, which was turned into a popular series) was the victim of hacking May 2013, having a manuscript of a new book leaked.  And in Jan. 2014, Quentin Tarantino was so devastated by the leak of his script for a movie adaptation of the book The Hateful Eight, that much like Ms. Meyer he shelved the project indefinitely.

Quentin TarantinoQuentin Tarantino shelved work on The Hateful Eight after hackers copied the script off his PC and leaked it to the world. [Image Source: Grantland]

Mr. Martin's fans can sleep soundly, though.  The fantasy veteran is unlikely to be hacked anytime soon, so long as his manuscripts sit in the trusty MS-DOS.
 
Mr. Martin's secret weapon was even the subject of satire when Chronicle.su in 2012 wrote a piece (presumably with tongue planted firmly in cheek) that claimed hackers had infiltrated Mr. Martin's computer and had leaked a draft of how A Song of Fire and Ice would end.  In an alternate timeline the story might be true, had he used the newer internet-connected Windows operating system.  
 
With that in mind, one must begin to wonder if maybe Mr. Martin is right -- if we should forget not only Windows 8, but Windows XP as well, and just stick with good old MS-DOS.

Sources: Team CoCo on YouTube, Not a Blog [George RR Martin's blog], BBC News





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