Monday, 1 March 2004

16-bit Apps

Raymond Chen: Why 16-bit DOS and Windows are still with us

As a development organisation, we have a number of DOS apps that are essential to us. We still deal with a lot of DOS-based hand-held terminal hardware (e.g. the Symbol PDT68xx, 61xx or other 3000-series) - indeed, I think we wrote three or four entirely new DOS-based applications last year. Where possible, though, we try to use our application server software and write the actual application with a desktop development tool (VB6 or, recently, a .NET language). This is only possible in a wireless LAN environment, though - while it works over a wireless WAN, this is obviously quite costly for a thin-client environment.

Until the appropriate vendors come up with Win32-based toolsets for these devices, or they die out completely, we need DOS compatibility. Our main compiler for these platforms is still Visual C++ 1.52 (the second most common is Microsoft C 6.0!) However, we also develop for Windows CE and require eVC and Visual Studio .NET 2003. So I have compilers on my work system that are more than ten years apart (IIRC).

Less important Win16 programs include B-Coder Professional. We're still using version 3.0 because, well, it works, and 4.0 offers only a few extra symbologies for a large outlay of funds. The configuration tool for a D-Link network printer adapter is also a 16-bit app (it has a web configuration tool, but that's not very helpful when you don't know the device's IP address).

However, I'm contemplating moving the development environment into a Virtual PC VM. After all, I don't use the IDE for developing DOS applications, except to maintain the makefile and perform the build. Any coding is usually done in TextPad, if it's not a cross-platform project such as the application server's thin client (where it's normally done in Visual C++ 6.0 or in eVC 3.0).

For the most part, though, Windows CE-based devices now cost less to purchase than the DOS devices, and are getting closer in functionality, design, and battery life. The new MC9000-G looks to be on a par with the old PDT68xx in ergonomic terms.

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