Multi-tasking MS-DOS 4.0

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"MS-DOS 4.0" redirects here. For the standard, non-multi-tasking version, see MS-DOS 4.01.
"MS-DOS 4.1" redirects here. For the similarly named, non-multi-tasking version, see MS-DOS 4.01.

Multi-tasking MS-DOS 4.0 was a release of MS-DOS developed by Microsoft based on MS-DOS 3.1[citation needed] whose headline feature was support for multi-tasking. Lack of interest from OEMs, particularly IBM, led to it being released only in a scaled-back form. It is sometimes referred to as European MS-DOS 4.0, as it was never released in North America. It should not be confused with PC DOS 4.00 or MS-DOS 4.01 and later, which did not contain the multi-tasking features.


Microsoft announced "MS-DOS 4.0" in early 1986, and demonstrated it in September of that year at a Paris trade show. However, only a few European OEMs, such as Apricot Computers, SMT Goupil (fr), and International Computers Limited (ICL) actually licensed releases of the software. In particular, IBM declined the product, concentrating instead on improvements to MS-DOS 3.x and their new joint development with Microsoft to produce OS/2.

As a result, the project was scaled back, and only those features promised to particular OEMs were delivered. In September 1987, a version of multi-tasking MS-DOS 4.1 was reported to be developed for the ICL DRS Professional Workstation (PWS). No further releases were made once the contracts had been fulfilled.

In July 1988, IBM announced "IBM DOS 4.0", an unrelated product continuing from DOS 3.2, leading to initial conjecture that Microsoft might release it under a different version number.[1] However, Microsoft eventually released it as "MS-DOS 4.0",[citation needed] with a MS-DOS 4.01 following quickly to fix issues many had reported.


As well as minor improvements such as support for the New Executable file format, the key feature of the release was its support for preemptive multitasking. This did not use the protected mode available on 80386 processors, but allowed specially-written programs to continue executing in a "background mode", where they had no access to user input and output until returned to the foreground. The OS was reported to include a time-sliced scheduler and interprocess communication via pipes and shared memory. This limited form of multitasking was considered to be more useful in a server rather than workstation environment, particularly coupled with MS-Net 2.0, which was released simultaneously.

Other limitations of MS-DOS 3.0 remained, including the inability to use memory above 640 KB, and this contributed to the product's lack of adoption, particularly in light of the need to write programs specifically targeted at the new environment.

Microsoft president Jon Shirley described it as a "specialized version" and went as far as saying "maybe we shouldn't have called it DOS 4.0", although it's not clear whether this was always the intention, or if a more enthusiastic response from OEMs would have resulted in it being the true successor to DOS 3.x. The marketing positioned it as an additional option between DOS 3.x for workstations, and Xenix for higher-end servers and multiuser systems.


  1. ^ IBM DOS, InfoWorld, Jul 18, 1988, p. 77