The Woes of DOS in Modern Times

As Microsoft will tell you, there’s brisk traffic in computing nostalgia right now. But don’t forget: Windows 1.0 was reliant on MS-DOS. And for years, DOS was the only real solution for technically demanding games on the PC platform.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to play DOS games in 2019, even if they’re old enough to hang out in dive bars. Phil’s Computer Lab has a lot of interesting resources and a useful YouTube page. Vogons is an informative forum and fun to lurk in, too.

But there are a lot of caveats to installing DOS on new hardware. It’s possible that getting everything just right won’t even be possible now. The reasons… aren’t simple.

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Late October Grab Bag

  • After a decade using Twitter, I’ve thrown in the towel. I met a lot of great people and some of my best friends on the service, and didn’t take leaving lightly. But in the past few years it’s become a poisoned well of misinformation, bad actors, and bottomless outrage. That hasn’t been enough to scare advertisers away, as negative engagement is still very active there. User involvement driven by anxiety, rage, and fear is at least as valid as positive participation by the people looking to sell ads to frantic eyes. But the the service has become a dysphoric compulsion for most of its users instead of a healthy social medium, and that’s impossible for me to overlook or support.

Nobody is beholden to use a free service when it stops being fun. And don’t forget: all of the companies in the business of providing social media platforms monetize your distraction, selling the data you give them to organizations committed to using it. Going forward, I think Cambridge Analytica is going to be a fumbling baby step. I won’t speak for you, but I’m gonna find something else to do.

Advertising shot of a Silicon Graphics O2, with ’90s lighting that really pops. Found at

  • VICE has an entertaining piece about the cohort of computer hobbyists keeping Silicon Graphics machines alive in the 21st century. Like the community that’s playing the Atari Jaguar and making new games for it 25 years out, the community’s a sliver of what it once was. In the SGI users’ case there’s also justified grief and protectiveness over how eager PC builders are to snap up the dwindling quantities of this gorgeous, expensive hardware just to yank out everything that makes it distinctive and plop in standard PC bits. That’s a testament to how iconic the case designs are, and you’d think the company nominally holding SGI’s assets – first Rackable Systems, now apparently Hewlett Packard Enterprise – would partner with someone to make a limited edition run of PC cases. But the article leaves an important question unasked: how are these systems being used now?

The SGI Onyx, used for many purposes but most notably as development kits for the Nintendo 64. Picture courtesy Wikipedia.

A decade ago my hydrogeology professor had an old SGI workstation on his desk… but even then he almost exclusively used it as an X terminal connected to the Linux machine he kept in his laboratory. Do people in 2018 still incorporate them into 3D rendering jobs? Is anyone using them for production work? Are developers maintaining software for IRIX, the SGI Unix implementation that has been abandoned for the past decade? Without that perspective it’s a little like an article about people who love seventies folk music, and how these people go to concerts, run fan sites, build communities, and trade merchandise without ever talking about what the music is or why people love it.

Though at the very least I can confirm: they run Doom.

There’s No Mystique in Navel Gazing

Because I’m approaching middle age and nostalgia’s a sticky thing, I was pondering the Matrox Mystique again a few weeks back. Old computers are easy to find in America, and my neighbor has a system sitting in his garage that would easily accommodate the video card, and other period-appropriate hardware. A little fixing up, and I could be humming along in high late ’90s fashion again… and I flatly refuse.

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The Matrox Mystique vs. GLQuake: An Ancient Challenge

“So, uh, what’s a Matrox Mystique?”

Matrox is a company which designed video cards for IBM compatible computers, along with a selection of other multimedia-centric devices. In the 90s they were competitive in a crowded market, and the Mystique was a card they offered at the dawn of consumer-level 3D accelerators in 1996. It was the first video card I ever bought, and its marketing touted capabilities as a singular solution for fast, high quality 2D and video playback as well as video games.

The Matrox Mystique. Image found at

For 2D desktop work and video playback, it delivered. Video looked great, 2D was fast and fluid, and it was a major upgrade over the integrated video on my old Compaq Pentium 90. The Mystique also offered quality VESA video mode support, which was useful for the bevy of MS-DOS games still widely available. The 3D was an unfortunately different story. Their previous, well-received card was the Millennium, which offered some very basic 3D acceleration of line drawing and geometry. Matrox built upon that technical foundation for the Mystique but prioritized speed over quality while aiming to keep the complexity of the chip economical. Consequently, they left out so many rendering features that the card didn’t actually *work* with most games that came out afterward, or a fair number that already existed when it was new.

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