Friday, August 29, 2008

What to add/fix in FreeDOS 1.1?

Now that summer is finally over, and with it many of the large (work-related) projects that were distracting me, I'd like to bring the focus back to FreeDOS 1.1. First, what features to add or fix in FreeDOS 1.1?

The FreeDOS 1.0 (2006) release was very successful. It was a solid distro that was a good, working replacement for MS-DOS for many users. I'd like to see us continue that with a FreeDOS 1.1. I don't think we need to look at sweeping changes - but there are a few nice additions that should be there:

FDUPDATE (FreeDOS Updater.)
Mateusz's excellent update utility can help to keep your system current with the latest releases of FreeDOS packages. Of course, the user has the option of disabling it (or would it be better for the user to have the option of enabling it .. what should be the default, on or off?) but having an auto-updater should help to reduce reports of software not working, yet 2 or 3 new releases of that software package have been released since the distro. A while back, I promised to make changes to the online FreeDOS Software List and the FreeDOS Files Repository (see Technotes 232 & 233.) I'm still ready and willing to make those changes on the web site, if we can commit to a FreeDOS 1.1 distro by end of 2008.
An updated Install program.
While more of a nice-to-have rather than a need-to-have, an updated Install program would present a better first impression to new FreeDOS users. The current Install program is basically UI improvements to the originally text-mode, scroll-from-bottom Install program I wrote back in March 1998. Our Install program definitely needs a facelift. It should still run in text-mode, since FreeDOS is really a command-line OS anyway. Aitor has been updating the DFLAT+ library used in FreeDOS EDIT, and I think this library would make a good base for a new Install program. Not looking for new functionality, just a refresh on the Install program. Can anyone help here?
An optional floppy-only "Base" install.
This could be a 1.44MB emergency boot floppy image (like BALDER, or ODIN before it) with just the essentials from the "Base" set. Or maybe it's a multi-floppy (3 disks?) install of everything from "Base". What would be most useful here?
For FreeDOS 1.1, I think that's it. No major changes. Let's worry about other, larger changes in later releases - like an eventual FreeDOS 2.0.

I still believe those are the core issues - an updater, the installer, and a floppy-only option.

Regarding the installer, I've received some suggestions from users about what would make it even better in FreeDOS 1.1. One email from Thomas Mueller pointed out that he'd like "to select and see clearly which packages were to be installed". I think usability will be key for the installer; this is often the first time users will have seen DOS, so we should make it as user-friendly as possible. At the same time, we need to keep it a DOS application - not a GUI - so that we don't set a false expectation for what user-mode will be like after FreeDOS is installed.

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