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Software Platform Finds New Competition

Microsoft's venerable DOS operating system slowly bows out of the rapidly evolving computing market as newer systems take its place

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DOS is the world's most popular software. It helped spawn the personal-computer revolution. It sits in more PCs than any other software program in the world. But the reign of the venerable operating system is coming to an end.

Eager to embrace graphical interfaces, software companies are quietly putting DOS out to pasture. Consider:

* Microsoft Corporation, the Redmond, Wash., company that makes DOS, is still working on a new version of the operating system. But first, it plans to release a new version of its popular graphical Windows system. For the first time, the program will run without DOS, the underlying operating system that allows other software programs to work.

* WordPerfect Corporation, the Orem, Utah, company that made its name with a DOS-based word-processing program, says it has no plans to release a major new DOS upgrade. ``The majority of development effort is going to Windows'' and other graphical-user-interface systems, says company spokesman Jeff Larsen. WordPerfect's Windows programs are outselling its DOS software 3-to-1.

* Other software companies are also concentrating new development on Windows and graphical operating systems such as OS/2 and the Macintosh and PowerPC. But they are skittish about ending DOS development until they are sure their huge base of DOS customers has switched to other operating systems.

``There are no plans to discontinue DOS products at all,'' says a spokeswoman for Lotus Development Corporation in Cambridge, Mass. In May, the company is expected to release a long-overdue upgrade of its DOS 1-2-3 spreadsheet program.

But the handwriting is on the wall. Sales of Lotus's desktop DOS applications fell more than $210 million last year, while its Windows applications grew 74 percent. The company's Windows business accounted for 70 percent of fourth-quarter revenue.

``We are certainly continuing to do DOS releases on some of our more needed applications,'' adds Sandra Hawker, a spokeswoman with Borland International Inc. in Scotts Valley, Calif. For example, the company last year released two versions of its dBase database program, which so far only comes in DOS.

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