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How (and why) FreeDOS keeps DOS alive

Rohan Pearce | July 13, 2016
After surviving for 22 years, the open source replacement for MS-DOS shows no sign of going away, its creator says

Beyond 1.2, the team hasn't decided whether the next FreeDOS release will be numbered 1.3 or 2.0."I think if we continue to include the utilities that we include today, and in the same package sets (BASE, EDIT, etc.) the next version will be 1.3," Hall said. "If we decide to change how we organise things, or change what kinds of utilities we include, then maybe the next version will be 2.0."

Hall is convinced, however, the project will remain focused on "being DOS". "We aren't planning to add multitasking or 32-bit support or anything like that," he said. "FreeDOS is just DOS, and will remain that way."

Who uses DOS?

Hall said there are three key categories of people who use FreeDOS: People looking to run classic DOS games, businesses that need to support legacy applications and developers building embedded systems.

"I recall getting a lot of email from folks when John Romero released his new DOOM level and everyone wanted to play it," Hall said.

"Of course, many people downloaded FreeDOS and ran DOOM on it, and they emailed me later to say it was cool to have FreeDOS so they could play this game again. It's interesting, because ID Software released the source code to DOOM many years ago, and you can run it anywhere - on Linux, on Windows, wherever. But lots of people chose to run DOOM on FreeDOS instead. And that's great!" ("I thought it was a good level," Hall added.)

A number of organisations still rely on DOS-based applications, despite the system's age. McLaren Automotive, for example, uses DOS-based software to McLaren F1sand South Australia's health department still uses Global Health's CHIRON application.

"I don't know if they use FreeDOS or MS-DOS, but they are always welcome to run FreeDOS," Hall said, noting that FreeDOS is released under an open source licence so it's free to use commercially.

There is still a strong community around the operating system despite DOS's age, Hall said.

"Many of us older computer nerds probably used DOS very early, on our first home computer," Hall said. "You could tinker on DOS, use the built-in BASIC system (such as GWBASIC) to write simple programs: games or small utilities to help you do your work. DOS was easy to set up, easy to get working. Memory management was sometimes a pain, but eventually we figured that out so we could run our games or other big applications."

"The popularity of DOS games and DOS shareware applications probably contributes in a big way to FreeDOS's continued success," Hall said.

"Because DOS hasn't really changed, you can still run those old DOS programs on FreeDOS: Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, Commander Keen, Rise of the Triad, Epic Pinball, Jill of the Jungle, Duke Nukem. I also used a lot of shareware at the time: AsEasyAs and GalaxyWrite were invaluable during my university days as a physics undergraduate student.


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