Stands for "Disk Operating System." DOS was the first operating system used by IBM-compatible computers. It was originally available in two versions that were essentially the same, but marketed under two different names. "PC-DOS" was the version developed by IBM and sold to the first IBM-compatible manufacturers. "MS-DOS" was the version that Microsoft bought the rights to, and was bundled with the first versions of Windows.
DOS uses a command line, or text-based interface, that allows the user to type commands. By typing simple instructions such as pwd (print working directory) and cd (change directory), the user can browse the files on the hard drive, open files, and run programs. While the commands are simple to type, the user must know the basic commands in order to use DOS effectively (similar to Unix). This made the operating system difficult for novices to use, which is why Microsoft later bundled the graphic-based Windows operating system with DOS.
The first versions of Windows (through Windows 95) actually ran on top of the DOS operating system. This is why so many DOS-related files (such as .INI, .DLL, and .COM files) are still used by Windows. However, the Windows operating system was rewritten for Windows NT (New Technology), which enabled Windows to run on its own, without using DOS. Later versions of Windows, such as Windows 2000, XP, and Vista, also do not require DOS.
DOS is still included with Windows, but is run from the Windows operating system instead of the other way around. The DOS command prompt can be opened in Windows by selecting "Run..." from the Start Menu and typing cmd.
Updated: May 3, 2007