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Operating Systems Software

FreeDOS Turns 15 Years Old Today 124

Jim Hall writes "The FreeDOS Project turns 15 years old today! PD-DOS (later, 'FreeDOS') was announced to the world on June 28 1994 as a free replacement for MS-DOS, which Microsoft had announced would go away the following year, with the next release of Windows. There's more history available at the FreeDOS 'About' page and my blog. Today, FreeDOS is used by people all around the world. You can find FreeDOS in many different places: emulators, playing old DOS games, business, ... even bundled with laptops and netbooks. FreeDOS is still under active development, and recently released a new version of its kernel. A 'FreeDOS 1.1' distribution is planned."
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FreeDOS Turns 15 Years Old Today

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    • by isama ( 1537121 )
      yes, there is a utility called loadlin. Have fun.
      • Last time I used it it couldn't cope with modern kernels. I had to use linld, which worked.

        FreeDOS and linld are very useful for installing Linux to a machine which won't boot from a cd drive(for example a laptop with a damaged internal drive thats too old to boot from usb).

        • by isama ( 1537121 )
          My solution to the laptop problem is to take out the drive and put it into another pc. I've never actulally used loadlin :)
    • by Skapare ( 16644 )

      Maybe the 64-bit version can.

  • Why would you do that?

    These days, there are three main uses for FreeDOS:

          1. Running classic DOS games
          2. Running business software that only supports DOS
          3. Supporting embedded DOS systems, such as a computerized cash register or till

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      1. and 2. are easily taken care of by DOSBox. 3. is a valid point, but really only when you're talking about legacy DOS-based systems; otherwise, modern OSes are a better choice (and I've seen a surprising number of cash registers with Tux mascots on their screens, so Linux seems to be quite popular there).

      Of course, there's a 4. - putting older computers (especially pre-80386 PCs) to good use.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        1. and 2. are easily taken care of by DOSBox. 3. is a valid point, but really only when you're talking about legacy DOS-based systems; otherwise, modern OSes are a better choice (and I've seen a surprising number of cash registers with Tux mascots on their screens, so Linux seems to be quite popular there).

        Of course, there's a 4. - putting older computers (especially pre-80386 PCs) to good use.

        From the DOSbox wiki :

        "In theory, any MS-DOS or PC-DOS (referred to commonly as "DOS") application should run in DOSBox, but the emphasis has been on getting DOS games to run smoothly, which means that communication, networking and printer support are still in early development."

        So no, for running serious legacy applications you'd be better off with FreeDOS as opposed to DOSbox.

      • by Dogtanian ( 588974 ) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @01:52PM (#28505407) Homepage

        Of course, there's a 4. - putting older computers (especially [my emphasis!] pre-80386 PCs) to good use.

        It sounds nice, and it's a noble sentiment. However, isn't there a point where running computers older than a certain age simply to get something out of them is counter-productive?

        I mean, my 1998 Pentium-233 system is now (and has been for at least 2-3 years) so old that even many apps designed for "old" PCs won't run on it. A pre-80386 machine (i.e. 286 or older) will at best be approaching 20 years old, if not older! That's ancient.

        I doubt such machines would even have PCI in them. Would they (for example, if you were using it as a router) include Ethernet hardware that wasn't a bottleneck on a modern 10/100 or 10/1000 network?

        You might argue that getting even a little out of an old machine is better than it doing nothing, but how much electrical power will it require to keep running? Probably more than a small, inobtrusive modern device with the same functionality. Probably more than a six or seven year old laptop that you could get for little anyway.

        And that's the thing; you could probably get a six or seven year old computer for next to nothing (I bet many people are throwing working ones out) even if you don't already have one. Ancient, but still massively faster than a 286, 386 or even 486!

        Cut a long story short, if someone enjoys doing such stuff with a 286 for the sake of it, then fair enough. I just wouldn't say that it's really that much of a practical and/or environmentally-conscious choice.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          A pre-80386 machine (i.e. 286 or older) will at best be approaching 20 years old, if not older! That's ancient.

          I doubt such machines would even have PCI in them.

          No: it appears there wasn't much demand for 32-bit buses on 16-bit machines.

        • Mod parent up. I've got a Compaq Presario desktop from 2001 currently acting as a simple file server and IPv6 router, but I'm giving serious thought into replacing the whole thing with a plug computer [marvell.com]. Not only does the later consume only a tiny fraction of the power the PC is, but it's also considerably more powerful (better CPU and more RAM than the full desktop, imagine that).
        • isn't there a point where running computers older than a certain age simply to get something out of them is counter-productive?

          Most popular PC operating systems and popular PC applications do not support sharing a single PC between simultaneous users, each on one set of monitor, keyboard, and mouse. You need a separate PC per user. So even if the old PCs are old, they still might suffice to run a given app. Or are you talking about junking them and replacing them with new PCs? I read on, and apparently you are.

          Would they (for example, if you were using it as a router) include Ethernet hardware that wasn't a bottleneck on a modern 10/100 or 10/1000 network?

          If your connection to the Internet isn't more than 3 Mbps, why would you need more than 10 Mbps between the gigabit switch

          • So even if the old PCs are old, they still might suffice to run a given app.

            Let me emphasise this point:- The original poster was proposing (and I was responding to) the use of pre-386 machines; i.e. those around 20 years old.

            Yes, *obviously* they can still run plenty of apps- that was what they were meant for. Unfortunately, most of those single-user apps will be around 20 years old, and in the majority of cases newer versions will be far more powerful and usable.

            And if you tried using a 286 for even the most undemanding "modern" uses for an obsolete machine (e.g. pressing in

        • It sounds nice, and it's a noble sentiment. However, isn't there a point where running computers older than a certain age simply to get something out of them is counter-productive?

          There's TONS of low-power 386 and 486-based SBCs out there in the world, which are more than capable of running many simple automation tasks. It takes a nontrivial amount of energy to make a new computer, so as long as it's not a power hog like a P54c you should probably keep using old hardware as long as it doesn't take extreme effort. In many cases, sticking with older hardware minimizes effort. A well-known system is a huge support advantage. I could go on...

          • There's TONS of low-power 386 and 486-based SBCs out there in the world

            Yes, but we were talking about "pre-80386 PCs" (i.e. 286s at best!) which are *significantly* older.

            It takes a nontrivial amount of energy to make a new computer

            And it certainly takes a nontrivial amount of energy to run one.

            Don't get me wrong, it might still work out more efficient to run the older machine in some cases, but it's not merely a case of "it'd be going to waste anyway, so there's no harm in running it" that some people might think.

            Secondly, I didn't suggest that a brand-new computer (albeit a small energy-efficient one and *not* a big-box) was the w

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 28, 2009 @11:27AM (#28504071)

      My main use for FreeDOS is BIOS-updates for mainboards. Works beautifully.

      • I just got a new Biostar MB for my server.

        It has a neat feature in the bios, where you select a floppy drive OR USB key, and it will format it for a BIOS update. You download the bios update, place it on the drive, and reboot. You hit a magic key combination, and the BIOS updates itself.

        No OS needed beyond putting the file on the drive.

        This is the way to go. If you are at the point where this wouldn't work, well the board is bricked past DOS being useful anyways. ...

        My point, is relying on an OS to update t

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by areusche ( 1297613 )
      Because of one of my favorite star trek games won't run correctly in 64 bit Windows 7 :-P http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek:_The_Next_Generation_-_A_Final_Unity [wikipedia.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
        A Final Unity runs in DOSBox, which is a lot easier to install and use than FreeDOS and even works on non--x86 platforms (I've used it to play Worms on a PowerPC Mac, for example).
        • You guys all act like using DOSBox and FreeDOS are mutually exclusive. I typically use FreeDOS from within DOSBox when I need to run old DOS software.

          • How do you run FreeDOS inside DOSBox? DOSBox doesn't separate out the DOS-emulation parts from the hardware-emulation parts and doesn't support installing another OS.

            Are you confusing DOSBox with DOSEMU? DOSEMU is a virtualisation program used to run DOS (MS-DOS or FreeDOS) on Linux/x86. DOSBox is a portable DOS and PC emulator.

            • Ah. You're right. I just installed DOSBox and realize that it was not DOSEMU. :)

            • by Jim Hall ( 2985 )

              How do you run FreeDOS inside DOSBox? DOSBox doesn't separate out the DOS-emulation parts from the hardware-emulation parts and doesn't support installing another OS. Are you confusing DOSBox with DOSEMU? DOSEMU is a virtualisation program used to run DOS (MS-DOS or FreeDOS) on Linux/x86. DOSBox is a portable DOS and PC emulator.

              morgan_greywolf's followup makes clear that he confused DOSEmu with DOSBox (probably because the window title under DOSEmu says "DOS in a box".)

              However, the DOSBox wiki [dosbox.com] specifically mentions FreeDOS as an excellent source for utilities, many of which DOSBox does not provide internally. For example, the MORE program. Since DOSBox was originally intended to run games, DOSBox just doesn't include very much on the CLI than what you need to run games. If you want to be more of a DOS power-user (and prefer runnin

            • Actually, I do recall there's an option to boot a disk image in DOSBox...

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I can't speak for others, but personally my main use for freedos is hardware hacking. Running motor controllers, data collection, and interfacing with other random bits of homemade electronic gadgetry... this is one time that I just want to be able to say "put 5 volts on pin x of the parallel port, read back from pin y" without having fight my way past a heavy-weight OS, rely on a bunch of not-quite compatible APIs, and generally deal with a host of potential points of failure. And while Freedos might not

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 28, 2009 @11:30AM (#28504105)
    I'm genuinely puzzled by the people who can't figure out what a DOS-compatible OS is good for. Don't you people ever need to apply BIOS updates? Or run hard drive diagnostic software?

    In other discussions I've actually seen people comment that an inability to apply BIOS updates is a big drawback for Linux ('cause the update applications they refer to are Windows based) ... and I'm sitting there shaking my head, wondering how they overlooked the alternate, DOS-based updater provided by the motherboard manufacturer (or whatever), and how the hell they can't know about FreeDOS.

    If you know about Linux, how the hell can you NOT know about FreeDOS?

    Now, that said ... is anyone having a hard time getting FreeDOS to work with SATA optical drives? I never had a problem with parallel ATA, but I'm not sure I've ever managed to get FreeDOS to find and work with a SATA CD/DVD-ROM drive.
    • by dnaumov ( 453672 )

      I'm genuinely puzzled by the people who can't figure out what a DOS-compatible OS is good for. Don't you people ever need to apply BIOS updates? Or run hard drive diagnostic software?

      Yes and? Most motherboard vendors provide either executable files you can run from within Windows or floppy/cdrom images you just burn and then boot from. Same for hard drive diagnostic software. Making my own dos bootable disk hasn't come into equation for 5+ years.

    • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

      I'm genuinely puzzled by the people who can't figure out what a DOS-compatible OS is good for. Don't you people ever need to apply BIOS updates? Or run hard drive diagnostic software?

      *snip*

      Having been around before Microsoft and understanding what DOS is, i totally agree with you. However, with modern tools like Bart, you can get by with a dos box in 'winders' to even flash a bios, tho a bit overkill.

      There still a lot more embedded "DOS" machines out there then people realize. Not just POS type of machines, but in manufacturing as well.

    • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) * on Sunday June 28, 2009 @11:56AM (#28504313)

      I'm genuinely puzzled by the people who can't figure out what a DOS-compatible OS is good for. Don't you people ever need to apply BIOS updates? Or run hard drive diagnostic software?

      That's a trivial application for an operating system. Where you'll find DOS-level OSes still being used is primarily in embedded systems of various sorts. DOS has a lot of advantages there, if you're running on Intel-compatible hardware. Lots of development tools and utilities, support for Flash-based devices, etc.

      • That's true; but, I can tell you from experience that driver support for DOS, or the lack thereof, is increasingly becoming a problem. Most of these embedded applications don't really care about performance. So, I suspect that's one of the primary reasons companies are moving to linux. (ex.: I have one box that clearly boots to DOS, and another box by the same vendor, in the same family of product but made a decade later, that boots to linux...)
        • That's true; but, I can tell you from experience that driver support for DOS, or the lack thereof, is increasingly becoming a problem. Most of these embedded applications don't really care about performance. So, I suspect that's one of the primary reasons companies are moving to linux. (ex.: I have one box that clearly boots to DOS, and another box by the same vendor, in the same family of product but made a decade later, that boots to linux...)

          No argument there. Hell, just getting LAN support is problematic nowadays.

    • by KingJ ( 992358 )

      Don't you people ever need to apply BIOS updates?

      My motherboard (Asus P5Q) allows me to place the BIOS update file onto a USB drive (or floppy, if you wish) and then you just enter the flash tool from the BIOS. No messing around with DOS. Most modern motherboards appear to have this functionality now.

    • Don't you people ever need to apply BIOS updates? Or run hard drive diagnostic software?

      No, the average person doesn't need to do that.

    • by yuhong ( 1378501 )
      On the other hand, the move to EFI may reduce the need for DOS-compatible OSes in the future, as EFI can do much more than any DOS-compatible OS can do.
    • I'm genuinely puzzled by the people who can't figure out what a DOS-compatible OS is good for...

      No more puzzled than I am about why it is that the ability to grasp sarcasm is so elusive to so many slashdotters, not to mention why moderators would find such dimness (in an AC, no less) "insightful".
      (shakes head)

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > If you know about Linux, how the hell can you NOT know about FreeDOS?

      It's pretty simple, really: Not everyone has used Windows.

      Some are longtime Unix users; most are Mac users, interested in Linux, who simply never crossed over to the Dark Side.

      Is everyone in your world white?

    • If you know about Linux, how the hell can you NOT know about FreeDOS?

      For one thing, the old IBM commercials with the little blond boy [slate.com] talked about Linux, but not FreeDOS.

    • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

      Don't you people ever need to apply BIOS updates? Or run hard drive diagnostic software?

      Yes, and neither of those requires DOS. My motherboard (an Asus P6T Deluxe v2) has a BIOS-flashing utility built into the BIOS, which is capable of loading the ROM file right off existing media (like my NTFS hard disk, although Linux users may need to use a FAT32 USB stick or something).

      As for disk utilities, most are either Linux-based or use their own booting solution. Admittedly, some manufacturer utilities cling to t

  • Bios Upgrades (Score:2, Interesting)

    by joeflies ( 529536 )

    The one requirement I have for DOS is to do bios upgrades to older laptops which still requiring booting to dos. This seems to be one use case which I didn't have much luck with FreeDOS. Is that intentional part of the design (perhaps freedos protects the bios?) or was it just an incompatibility of the bios upgrade tool I have?

    • Re:Bios Upgrades (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jim Hall ( 2985 ) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @03:07PM (#28506105) Homepage

      The one requirement I have for DOS is to do bios upgrades to older laptops which still requiring booting to dos. This seems to be one use case which I didn't have much luck with FreeDOS. Is that intentional part of the design (perhaps freedos protects the bios?) or was it just an incompatibility of the bios upgrade tool I have?

      At a guess, I'd put this on the BIOS upgrade tool you have. Lots of BIOS updaters run fine on FreeDOS, and in fact several vendors such as ASUS [used to?] include a bootable copy of FreeDOS with their BIOS software if you got it on CDROM. The intention was to use this bootable CDROM to install the BIOS update from DOS.

      I know that ASUS did this - at least as late as 2004 - because we wrote a technote [freedos.org] on how the ASUS CDROM that came with your motherboard was borked. Specifically, it looks like they didn't bother to completely remove the "installer" parts, which made it easy to break your Windows system by [accidentally] installing FreeDOS on it.

      -jh

      • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

        These days, ASUS just builds the BIOS flashing utility right into the BIOS. You launch the app from your BIOS setup menu, and then it can read the ROM file right off your hard disk or a USB stick (or whatever other media).

  • by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @11:54AM (#28504289)

    Years ago I used FreeDOS to make dedicated hardware test stations. These were super cheap boxes with text only displays, an ISA extender card for the DUT, and a floppy. FreeDOS was a great way to use our existing DOS test code on the cheap. We had a floppy for each product type. Boot off the floppy, insert a card to test, hit one key and get an easy pass/fail indication. We had total control and the price was right.

    In the age of PCI/PCIe I now do the same thing using Linux and a CD-ROM. You have a wealth of development tools, support for modern bus types and larger address space, and still no expensive per box software license.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @11:55AM (#28504301) Homepage

    And frankly, I also love this:

    http://www.nu2.nu/bootdisk/modboot/ [nu2.nu]

    I would love to see someone take up development of this and to update the network drivers collection and the like. There are still times when a tech needs DOS if for no other reason than to flash a BIOS or to run Ghost over the network or with a local USB storage device.

  • Party on Garth!
  • by confused one ( 671304 ) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @01:13PM (#28505037)

    I like to tinker... For some of this, FreeDOS is a ideal solution: I recently bought a box of old thin clients. They're all VIA x86 based with flash drive on CF cards. They all have serial ports, legacy parallel ports, USB and ethernet. They are small, don't draw much power, and are only like $15 each when you're willing to buy more than 5 at a time. That's cheaper than any dev kit based on any embedded processor that I know of, and certainly cheaper than using a dedicated PC.

    Free-DOS is perfect for these... with an old DOS C compiler you can quickly whip up small programs that can do all kinds of things (Think parallel port = 8 bit DIO with dedicated control channels). If the job gets too big for FreeDOS to handle, I punt and install linux; but, for most simple things, DOS is really all you need.

    I could write code to run on a microcontroller like a PIC or ARM, or anything in between. I could also write the code in LabView or a Microsoft .NET language to run on a PC. Why go to all the trouble and expense?

  • FreeDos is a great way to root a windows machine almost instantly. Anyone can download it, install it into a user accessible directory and gain access to ALL local files simply because it mounts the existing file system.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Oh really? I didn't know FreeDOS had NTFS support. But it's good to know, knowledge is never too much!!!! Well, in that case I am not moving away from Linux. I was scared that all I needed to gain access to a machine was booting into single mode, mounting the root partition and changing the root password. I mean, just by powercycling the machine and passing a boot option!!!! Thanks for your well informed and knowledgeable post!!!
    • by Jim Hall ( 2985 ) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @03:21PM (#28506213) Homepage

      FreeDos is a great way to root a windows machine almost instantly. Anyone can download it, install it into a user accessible directory and gain access to ALL local files simply because it mounts the existing file system.

      Well, no. The FreeDOS kernel doesn't have NTFS support built-in, so it does nothing with Windows partitions formatted with NTFS. To read those, you need to use a TSR like NTFSDOS [wikipedia.org].

      If your Windows partition used some version of FAT, then FreeDOS would read that, no problem. But so would any other OS, including Linux, or another version of Windows.

      -jh

    • Since you have to reboot, this implies that you have physical access. Ok, great... but they could still have locked the boot sector and BIOS boot order, encrypted individual files (EFS) or the whole volume (BitLocker), or restricted access in other ways (standard users can't actually write anywhere on my C drive, although not for paranoid security reasons).

      That said, short of something like BitLocker, if you have physical access it's generally game over anyhow.

  • Why isn't anyone commemorating its anniversary? ;-)

Over the shoulder supervision is more a need of the manager than the programming task.

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