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Operating Systems

FreeDOS Is 20 Years Old 133

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the commander-keen dept.
Jim Hall (2985) writes "In a June 29, 1994 post in comp.os.msdos.apps on USENET, a physics student announced an effort to create a completely free version of DOS that everyone could use. That project turned into FreeDOS, 20 years ago! Originally intended as a free replacement for MS-DOS, FreeDOS has since advanced what DOS could do, adding new functionality and making DOS easier to use. And today in 2014, people continue to use FreeDOS to support embedded systems, to run business software, and to play classic DOS games!"
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FreeDOS Is 20 Years Old

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  • LHX Attack Chopper
    • by Sowelu (713889)

      Just rediscovered Alien Legacy, a true Sierra golden age underdog from 1994. It's a space colonization game that's not a 4X, how novel!

      I really really wish I could find all those old DOS TSRs from the mid-late 80s. I had one that put a bunch of ascii smiley face characters on the dos prompt that careened around and bounced off of lines of text; hold ctrl or alt to make them go in circles. I would not be surprised if it was really, truly lost in time with no remaining copies.

    • by AaronLS (1804210)

      Surprised to see someone mention one of my favorites. One of the few games where even losing was fun. Took a hit to the oil line? Now you've gotta get back to friendly borders before you crash.

      I found the copter controls/weapons management to be a nice balance between complex and arcade. I also loved getting to pick my loadout for each mission. Was a fun game for a computer that had only 512Kb ram.

    • Disagree ...

      * Castle Adventure http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org]
      * Doom
      * Master of Magic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M... [wikipedia.org]
      * Master of Orion
      * Shamus https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
      * Sopwith (went open souce!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org]
      * Sorched Earth
      * Zork

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      gunship 2000 is a way better chopper game.

      besides, Star Control II. and frontier first encounters.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I'm gonna go with Comanche: Maximum Overkill. Flying the Comanche through voxelized canyons on ground effect with the Thrustmaster HOTAS was one of the great joys of the DOS gaming era.

    • by mt2mb4me (550507)
      I like that one myself. Whenver I fire up dos box, I can help but spend 10 minutes playing alley cat.
  • I wonder if FreeDOS can run in virtual machine. Oh Google...
    • dosbox of course [dosbox.com]

    • by Jim Hall (2985) on Monday June 30, 2014 @07:13PM (#47354889) Homepage

      I wonder if FreeDOS can run in virtual machine. Oh Google...

      Yes, you can run FreeDOS in a VM! I usually recommend installing FreeDOS in a VM, especially if you don't plan to commit that computer to FreeDOS full-time. For Windows, I think most people prefer QEMU [qemu.org] or VMWare [vmware.com] or VirtualPC. [microsoft.com] On my Linux laptop, I run DOSemu. [sourceforge.net]

      • by iggymanz (596061)

        I use FreeDOS with grub in it to multi-boot thin clients that can only boot from a FAT formatted partition. funny some HP thin clients require that, others don't. I make "servers" out of thin clients, usually with OpenBSD

      • by fizzer06 (1500649)
        I have not been able to install FreeDOS in VMWare Player. Google has hits for instruction with regular VMWare. So far, I haven't found a ready made appliance.
        • I'm installing it right now... I chose the "Microsoft Windows" profile, and selected "Windows 3.1"... You need to make sure that the CD-ROM has the highest boot priority in the BIOS... (hammer F2 on reboots), eventually you'll catch it...

          the install is SLOW... no doubt about it.

          I also installed it on QEMU, and yeah terribly slow.

          With QEMU thought, I did get DOOM v1.1 with sound working, so that is nice!

        • Well... it installs, it's DOS4G/W (I'd forgotten!) and it'll run with all drivers disabled (I didn't test otherwise) ... Setup the sound card as a sound blaster

          Complete the Sound Blaster 16 Configuration.
          IRQ 5
          8-bit DMA 1
          16-bit DMA 7
          MPU-401 I/O address
          Disable (MPU-401 MIDI device is not supported)

          Once the game loads up the ship bounces around like crazy, and you get destroyed within seconds.. So, I'm guessing Descent doesn't handle fast machines, so while i

    • Descent is currently on Steam, I would be shocked if they did not bundle it with some mechanism for modern systems (probably DOSbox, as others have mentioned).
    • What does google have to do with this?
      • by tepples (727027)
        Probably thechemic's perception that Google finds more relevant resources on how to get old DOS games working on modern PCs than Bing or Yandex/DDG does.
        • Probably thechemic's perception that Google finds more relevant resources on how to get old DOS games working on modern PCs than Bing or Yandex/DDG does.

          OIC. I thought he was asking Google Inc. to provide him a technical solution to his problem, like building in a Chrome extension or something.

    • by arcctgx (607542)

      Apart from nostalgia, what is the reason to play Descent in FreeDOS? Better options are available, like the GoG version or source ports such as DXX-Rebirth. And of course there's dosbox, which I bet is much easier to set up.

      • No reason at all. I'm definitely open to suggestions, and I'll check out your suggestion for sure!
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      Last time I tried, I had to use DosBox and FreeDos (or maybe DOS 6.22) on a VM to run Descent and the Devil level editor. The game would only run on one, and the level editor on the other. I can't recall which was which. I used a floppy image on a file to share data between the two. Pretty nostalgic going back and playing that old game.
      • Nostalgic for sure. I miss that and Command & Conquer. I just may use your tips here and give it a go.
        • EA released Command and Conquer Gold as a free download a few years ago. That's the Windows 95 version using the Red Alert engine (so high-resolution 640x480 graphics!), but with the same game as the original. It ran quite nicely in WINE when I tried it (a long time go now, may need an old version as WINE doesn't monotonically improve, but according to the apps db it works fine and is rated 'gold', which seems appropriate...).
    • by mlk (18543)

      > virtual machine

      VM or emulator?

      How about an emulator running on the JavaScript Virtual Machine? You can do that. [copy.sh] ;)

  • A popular laptop OS? (Score:5, Informative)

    by systemDead (3645325) on Monday June 30, 2014 @07:14PM (#47354897)
    To add to the summary, FreeDOS is probably the 3rd or 4th most popular preinstalled OS for laptops, behind Windows and Mac OSX and maybe Chrome OS, but certainly higher than Ubuntu or any other desktop Linux. My HP laptop came with some version of FreeDOS that I since wiped off the disk. Installing FreeDOS gives OEMs the chance to have a nominally functional unit that can be tested for obvious hardware defects while not restricting the eventual user to their choice of a non-Windows OS.
    • by Jim Hall (2985) on Monday June 30, 2014 @07:22PM (#47354953) Homepage

      FreeDOS gets used in several pre-built computers. HP is one example - HP EliteBook [hp.com] comes with a FreeDOS option. And Dell used to do this, don't know if they still do. There are a bunch of vendors (especially in Europe and Asia) that pre-install FreeDOS, too.

      Alas, these pre-built computers have FreeDOS on them mainly as a clever way to get around a licensing agreement with Microsoft. I understand that Microsoft put a term in their Windows OEM license that prohibits system builders from selling "naked" computers - systems without operating systems. If you want to get the huge discount on Windows OEM licenses, so you can sell pre-built computers with Windows already installed, you may not also sell these "naked" computers.

      But there are plenty of people out there who don't want an operating system pre-installed (I presume these people are like me who prefer free software, and who would install a Linux distribution on their new computer) so system builders started shipping computers with FreeDOS pre-installed. I think the premise is that customers will reformat the drive and install Linux anyway, but the system builder didn't technically sell a "naked" computer.

      I actually think this is very clever and I like the idea. A few users do keep FreeDOS installed on their system; occasionally I get emails from people who decided to keep FreeDOS installed (and probably dual-boot into Linux) so they could use FreeDOS to play old DOS games.

      • by sremick (91371)

        Dell most certainly does still offer FreeDOS. Perhaps just on some of their business line, but it's there.

        We've chosen it to save money when we were just going to put our own non-MS OS on there. Ubunutu is also an option on a number of models. RHEL too, but that'll cost you.

        • RHEL too, but that will cost you

          I have downloaded before a full version, non-evaluation, fully working copy of RHEL before.... I believe this option still exists for those seeking it, but it is one of those well kept secrets and the link is burried deep somewhere at Red Hat's site. i.e. RHEL can be used for free, without support. It is possible Red Hat may have discontinued this for the "30 day evaluation" variety of free download, and that download link is gone forever, but regardless, Red Hat does not sell operating systems, they sell s

      • Isn't DOS a horrible operating system to run these days? It doesn't support any energy management, so your computer will run really, really hot. It's better to boot Linux and run dosbox.

        • by chipschap (1444407) on Monday June 30, 2014 @09:27PM (#47355945)

          Good point. I've observed this too.

          I have a bootable USB stick which boots into FreeDOS. The only thing on the stick, besides the OS and some utilities, is a copy of an old, simple word processor called Better Working Word Processor. When I really want distraction-free writing, I boot this up and there is simply nothing else to do but write (somewhat a la Jonathan Franzen, though I'll never quite have the reputation to go with it).

          But I do notice that even with the hard drive spun down, battery life is little better than running my full Linux Mint installation.

        • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday June 30, 2014 @10:51PM (#47356559) Homepage Journal

          Isn't DOS a horrible operating system to run these days? It doesn't support any energy management,

          false [fdos.org]

          • by yuhong (1378501)

            I don't think APM works on most modern machines though. There is the DOS idle utilities which execute the HLT instruction which is not much but is better than nothing.

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              I don't think APM works on most modern machines though.

              It's too bad you didn't read the link I provided, in which it is revealed that FreeDOS will use ACPI if APM is not present.

              • by yuhong (1378501)

                Didn't know this. Looks like it is pretty limited though, as ACPI is much more complex than APM.

      • Yup, that's exactly it. Another thing about those computers is that they are often more 'geek-oriented' overall. I got a vostro 1320 laptop with freedos, for instance, and it has a backside panel for easy access to the fan and heatsink assembly. Cleaning the computer is literally a matter of just removing a pair of screws. Compare to some other laptops where you virtually have to disassemble down to the bare motherboard just to get the fan clean. It was also about $90 cheaper than the windows version, even

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          It's nice that companies still make computers like this. I wonder when it will end.

          I've got a Vostro 1500 right here, you've gotta take the whole lid off the bottom before you can get to the fan. But yeah, that's better than most laptops. On the other hand, there's a Fujitsu T900 in the house and it has a little plastic panel you remove, then you can blow air through the system as well as out of the intake. That's better than any of this other jazz by far.

      • so they could use FreeDOS to play old DOS games

        That's not dumb or anything, but superfluous, considering this exists [dosbox.com].

        • True about games (dosbox as an easy alternative) but not business software. dosbox doesn't support printing (I think there is one mod that does, but the mainstream doesn't) so if you want to use your old Lotus Agenda or Ventura Publisher or Xywrite, etc., FreeDOS may be preferred.

          • Only if you've got a really old printer. Remember, DOS predates abstraction layers and clean printer APIs. You print from DOS by opening the serial or parallel port and sending some data over it. If you've got a DOS program that can print to PostScript printers, then you're better off printing to a file from DOSBox and then printing the result from the host OS.

            That said, there's little reason to use most DOS business applications these days. There are typically open source alternatives that are far b

      • by Threni (635302)

        If that's true they might as well put a Linux distro on it!

    • But if you ask the typical user of OS X that never questions anything and always insists on new shiney, any OS older than 2 years old is "obsolete." So this OS is obsolete 10x over!!

      disclaimer: I am a UNIX/Linux Windows & OS X systems admin, and prefer OS X for desktop, and even I can't stand the moronic whiney bullshit that the self-proclaimed "expert" mac users puke out... please see comments here [slashdot.org] to see what I mean, as if you didn't know already.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      FreeDOS was also a popular way to do firmware updates because it gets you to a well known state that's single tasking and nothing could interrupt the process. Especially nice was it was small and you could put it on a floppy with tons of space for your firmware and other things.

      Though nowadays, since most people don't boot from floppies, they now use Linux based update software - sure it's multitasking, but it's a nice controlled Linux environment to do stuff in. Especially since it doesn't have to all fit

      • by yuhong (1378501)

        I think UEFI is the best solution for things like this and many firmware update utilities already uses it for example.

  • Surplus (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RatBastard (949) on Monday June 30, 2014 @07:21PM (#47354949) Homepage

    Back when I processed computers to go to surplus I would DBAN the hard drives and install FreeDOS so that the guys at Surplus could show the customers that the computers would actually boot.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      No wonder this crap has been surplussed! It's not a real computer because it doesn't run Windows!

  • Now i feel old. I was there in the beginning.

  • With Commander Keen in my right screen, FreeDOS has hit me right in the childhood :) heres to another 20 YEARS!

  • Thanks for your contribution to the world, Jim! Makes me want to look for Scorched Earth now.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 30, 2014 @09:39PM (#47356039)

    There have been several times that FreeDOS has saved the day for installing BIOS updates on older(-ish) Dell servers and whatnot.

  • ... FreeWinXP. I'm sure it'll be out any day now.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    SpinRite, ( https://www.grc.com/spinrite.htm ) Steve Gibson's longstanding hard drive maintenance and recovery utility also uses FreeDos to boot. This means that it can work on all parts of the drive.

  • 5 years ago I was given an old HP Vectra workstation (256k Ppro 180 upgraded to a 1MB Ppro 200 with water cooling), removed both Matrox Video cards, slapped in a Soundblaster PRO 2.0, an Ensoniq Soundscape Elite, a Voodoo Rush, and after upgrading the machine to 192MB RAM, installed Win 98SE. DooM sounds amazing, Tie Fighter never sounded better. OS/2 Warp 3.0, DOS 6.22, win 3.11 and 98SE.

    For the really big games (Xwing Alliance/UT/Quake2), P3/800 , dual Voodoo2 in SLI, SB Live!. 513MB and 98SE with a Rage

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      As a fellow antiquitor, I covet your evicted Matrox vidcards :)

      Is it wrong that I keep a P4-3GHz (with ISA slots!) solely to run DOOM? :D Tho for some reason newer ISA sound cards refuse to play nice in it, so it makes do with the rather horrible-sounding SB16 that came in my original 486.

      Hmm, you don't happen to have a list of the various SET BLASTER lines for different SB cards?

  • Amazing game in all ways

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