Monday, May 2, 2011

The Future of FreeDOS

I've been thinking a lot over the last few years about leveraging our niche, and the future of FreeDOS as a modern DOS. Now that I'm back at project coordinator, I'd like to help drive this forward.

I start by thinking back to the early 1990s. Microsoft released MSDOS 5 in 1991, and MSDOS 6 in 1993. But they had clearly set their future direction towards Windows (3.0 in 1990, 3.1 in 1992 - and of course Windows 95 in 1995.)

FreeDOS aimed to create a free, compatible alternative to MSDOS. And I believe we met that goal in version 1.0 several years ago. We've even extended the feature set (read: utilities) from MSDOS 6. But FreeDOS is still - essentially - a clone of the old MSDOS.

But in an alternate reality, what would DOS had looked like if Microsoft hadn't moved to Windows? I think we get to define what that looks like.

And we shouldn't be afraid to change the classic definition of "DOS" to get there. Minimally, applications written for MSDOS 6 should still run under whatever "FreeDOS 2.0" becomes. Aside from that, we are free to make whatever changes to turn FreeDOS into a relevant, modern operating system.

I envision FreeDOS "2.0" as being a more modern version based on FreeDOS 1.0 (or 1.1, if I can convince someone to package up our current software set into a new release.) But FreeDOS "3.0" or some later version should switch to a multi-tasking FreeDOS model, with expanded driver support. Especially network driver support.

I think FreeDOS will remain a single-user command-line environment. I'd like to draw on other modern environments to define that. The GNUish utilities are an obvious area to draw on. I don't believe we need to create a "mini-Linux" environment, but having those GNUish utilities will bring a familiar feel to FreeDOS. By extension, that crossover with Linux may be enough - by itself - to attract new developers.

FreeDOS 1.0 (and the alpha/beta releases) divided our software into package sets, or "disk sets", with BASE being the area that replicated MSDOS functionality. As we transition into a more modern "DOS", I think we'll have to reconsider what's in those categories, including re-defining the population of BASE.

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