Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Many moons ago I rescued a three-box suite of Digital Research, Inc. (DRI) GEM sofware from a dumpster at work.

GEM (Graphical Environment Manager) was a windowing system created by DRI. The first version for DOS-based 8086 computers shipped on February 28, 1985. This version of GEM is an almost direct copy of the Macintosh (DRI was sued by Apple and later had to change various aspects of their interface).

The eponymous GEM suite includes:

  • Write
  • Paint
  • Draw
  • Graph

And GEM Desktop in the darkness binds them.

My plan is to eventually unload the GEM suite on eBay, but I have been hoping to devise a way to preserve a copy of it for myself.

I recently came up with an old 5.25" floppy drive and wrestled it into submission on an Athlon XP box. Windows XP, however, didn't like the drive or anything that I put into it. With VMWare Workstation installed under Windows XP, I was able to intall a copy of MS-DOS 5 onto a two megabyte virtual hard disk. VMWare, it turns out, was able to dummy down the hardware interface and let me read data off of these old 5.25" diskettes. The additional beauty of this is that VMWare Worskstation will let me clone this install and preserve a working copy!

Perhaps it's hard to appreciate the extent to which it was necessary to dummy things down. Bad enough that I had to work with 360k capacity 5.25" floppies, but when it came time to configure GEM Desktop, I chose the highest point of 1985 technology for my install: IBM's Enhanced Graphics Adapter (EGA), which renders a whopping 16 colors at up to 640x350 pixels. Mice had just begun to scurry around amongst the dinosaurs in 1985... I configured for a Microsoft bus mouse.

Here's a screenshot of the GEM Desktop component that I installed:

1 comment:

MountainLaurel said...

So cool! I'd love to see that. I didn't even know anything about Windows till about 1990.

How much do you think you might get on Ebay?