Friday, June 23, 2017

Guest post: Joining FreeDOS

Erwin Waterlander shares this story about first starting with FreeDOS:

I have good memories of DOS. In the end of the Eighties and the first half of the Nineties, I used it mainly for playing games and text processing. Around 1996, I started my programming hobby on MS-DOS. Like many, I didn't like that MS-DOS was going to be deprecated. I used MS-DOS until about 1999 when I started using Windows 98SE.

Via Usenet, I learned about the FreeDOS Project, probably around 1997. For several years, I was on the FreeDOS mailing list. It was nice to see there was a large community of DOS enthusiasts. This kept me supporting the DOS platform.

I contributed my wcd program ("Wherever Change Directory") to the FreeDOS utilities since 1998. Later, after 2009, I added dos2unix to the FreeDOS Project. The community gave me lots of useful feedback.

I ran FreeDOS 1.0 in QEMU, and now I run FreeDOS 1.2 in VirtualBox. I have to admit that after 1999, I did most of my programming for DOS in a Command Prompt on 32-bit Windows, because that worked for me. And I have used DOSBox for gaming. I use FreeDOS nowadays only for porting my programs. I will keep on supporting FreeDOS as long as I can.

-Erwin Waterlander

Guest post: First contributions to FreeDOS

Gregory Pietsch shares his story about how he contributed first contributed to FreeDOS:

I stumbled across FreeDOS around 1998 or so. At the time, I was familiar with MS-DOS, having used it since 1985 or so, and thought, "Okay, this group wants to build a GPL'ed clone of MS-DOS, it shouldn't be too hard." I decided to contribute a couple of programs. One of them, named "Code", is an encoder/decoder for uuencode/uudecode/xxencode/xxdecode. I thought it was useful.

A few years later, I got more ambitious. I wanted to get something in the Base distro with my name on it. I noticed that base was missing a version of Edlin, the line editor from the early days of MS-DOS. I figured, who cares if nobody uses this program anymore, that's my ticket into Base. Of course, I had to write it along different lines than the original. The original was in tight Assembler, so I wrote mine in C. After several false starts and a week of programming, I finally had something that was usable, and sent it in as FreeDOS Edlin 1.0.

Since then, I have debugged FreeDOS Edlin when I've needed to and attempted to add internationalization to it with varying degrees of success. I also made it easy to take apart. A programmer could use the back end of Edlin as the back end of Edit or reuse the string and array handling bits if they wanted to.

Also, every time I upgraded Edlin, the new version came with a note written by me from the perspective of a TASS editorialist proclaiming that Edlin was the linchpin holding FreeDOS together. It was the least I could do.

By the way, the development environment I use for this and other programs nowadays is Cygwin. That's why FreeDOS Edlin is successfully autoconf'ed. I figure, is there an easier way to make a distribution than "make dist"?

-Gregory Pietsch

Guest post: Discovering FreeDOS

User "N2KMaster" contributed his story about discovering FreeDOS, and how FreeDOS inspired him to turn his programming hobby into a GUI project.

I grew up with DOS. Remember a good many days freezing my butt off waiting for the wood stove to heat up the room the old Tandy 1000 EX was in, in order to play the latest shareware diskettes Mom had gotten in the mail. It wasn't until I starting poking around with GW-BASIC that I really "got" what a computer is all about. And since all my friends had NES and I had Tandy, I had to improvise and started making my own games. That was like thirty years ago.

I knew of FreeDOS. I just never tore the hood off it and looked at it until a friend of mine gave me a pile of computer "garbage." In that pile was a retro ‘486 laptop:


It wasn't much, but that was the point. I wanted a dinosaur.

It was ancient, but then again so am I and thought, "Okay great, retro DOS machine!" However, with a busted diskette and CD-ROM drive, DOS wasn't going to be an option here. No USB, no network, "yup … this is gonna suck … hey … there's that FreeDOS thing."

I was able to install FreeDOS to the hard drive using a laptop ATA-USB converter. I booted the computer, saw the installer, and was like "Whoa! This is a little more advanced than what I was expecting."

And the giggle point with that is the hard drive is actually out of a PowerPC Apple laptop that refused to work for me.

I got it all installed and then said, "Well, I'm not much for gaming, so for a majority of the time it will be just sitting there. So how do I make it so I wanna use this thing all the time?" That's where something special started.

Two years picking at QBasic and FreeDOS just to find that "sweet spot" for developing. I finally had that "something special" and began using it to build a GUI based desktop. And unlike Windows and the other guys, I wanted it to look different.

Now that GUI desktop is over two years old and still being developed thanks to FreeDOS still being a thing. Proves DOS is still cool, still has value. And as a kid who grew up during the whole "PC versus Mac" era in its prime. There was a lot of code and software that just simply vanished because Windows became the standard and made everyone lazy. They no longer wanted to know how it worked, just make it work. And that's a shame because the developing from that era was some of the best in its day and it was an art form as well back then.

This blog post is shared under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY).

Thursday, June 22, 2017

How to write your FreeDOS story

We have one week to go before the 23rd anniversary of FreeDOS! It's not that "23" is a significant number, but this year we decided to ask people to tell their FreeDOS story as part of a month-long FreeDOS Blog Challenge. How do you use FreeDOS? How did you get started with FreeDOS? Why did you first run FreeDOS?

We've posted stories from several folks who shared how they used FreeDOS or contributed to FreeDOS. Please add your voice to the mix!

Maybe you want to submit something, but you're unsure if it would be interesting?
I guarantee that we will find it interesting! I love to see how people are using FreeDOS. People use FreeDOS in any number of ways. We find most people use FreeDOS to play classic DOS games, or to run legacy software, or to do embedded development. If you've used FreeDOS to do any of these things, that's a FreeDOS story we want to hear!

Or maybe you've used FreeDOS to do something else. For example, you might have needed to update the BIOS on your computer, and needed to boot from DOS, so you turned to FreeDOS. That's a FreeDOS story we want to hear!

The bottom line is people use FreeDOS for different things. It doesn't matter how you use FreeDOS, we want to hear your story! Everything is interesting to us. Other FreeDOS users will read your story and think "hey, I can try that too" and FreeDOS developers will appreciate knowing that you found FreeDOS useful.
Maybe you want to write something, but you're not a developer so you think you shouldn't?
We want to hear from everyone! It's not just about developers, or people who contribute to FreeDOS.

For example, did you install FreeDOS so you could load an old DOS program to retrieve some data? I used to work in higher education, and one of our faculty once asked if we could read some research data from an old data file he created long ago. The data file was from an old DOS program, so we installed FreeDOS on a spare PC, found a copy of the original DOS program, and used it to read the data and export it into a text file. That's an interesting story!

Or maybe you used FreeDOS to explore some classic DOS programs, and bask in the fond glow of nostalgia. I used to use a shareware spreadsheet program called AsEasyAs when I was an undergraduate student, and every few years I have an irresistible urge to install AsEasyAs and run some data. If you do something similar, tell us your story!

Or maybe you wanted to set up an old PC to run classic DOS games, and you needed to install a version of DOS, and discovered FreeDOS that way. That's a great story, and we want to hear it!
But how do you write a story?
If you don't often write for a blog, then writing your FreeDOS story might seem a little daunting. But really, it's easy!

I recommend you write your story as though you were emailing your story to a good friend. If it helps, write a draft in your email program, so you can convince yourself you're emailing someone about using FreeDOS. (And if you like, you can actually send that email message to me, at jhall@freedos… and I'll use it as a guest post.)

Start by describing what you wanted to do. "I wanted to set up a gaming computer to play DOS games." Or "I wanted to compare what it's like to write using a modern spreadsheet, compared to a classic DOS program like Lotus 1-2-3." Or "I found an old file that my dad had written in a DOS word processor, but I needed the original DOS program to read it."

Maybe that was your first introduction to FreeDOS. How did you discover FreeDOS? "I googled for 'free DOS' and found the FreeDOS website." Or "A friend recommended that I use FreeDOS to do it."

Did you install FreeDOS? What was that like?

Finally, talk about what it was like to use FreeDOS, especially if this was your first time. "I thought the installer was really easy to use." Or "It was a blast to use the DOS command line again." Or "I had a hard time remembering what the commands did, but the HELP program reminded me what everything did."

That's your FreeDOS story! It doesn't have to be very long. Don't worry about length. Maybe your story is short—that's okay. If you have a lot to say about FreeDOS, that's great too. If you're looking for a word-count target, maybe shoot for 600–800 words. That might seem like a lot, but when you tell your FreeDOS story as though you were describing it to a friend, you'll find 600 words goes by very quickly. So don't let the word-count get in the way of your story. Just tell us your story, and we'll be happy to use it.

If you have your own blog or website, post your story on your blog, and email me to let me know where to find your article. If you don't have your own blog, I would be happy to post it for you as a "guest post" here. I'll even do light editing for you and take care of formatting.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

One more week to write your FreeDOS story

In another week, on June 29, FreeDOS will turn 23 years old. That's pretty good for a 16-bit DOS operating system in 2017. And there's still more to do with FreeDOS.

For this year's anniversary, I thought it would be great to have people everywhere tell their story about FreeDOS. How did you discover FreeDOS? Why do you use FreeDOS? How do you run FreeDOS? What programs do you run on FreeDOS?

So earlier this month, I started a FreeDOS Blog Challenge. I'm asking you to write a blog post about your FreeDOS story. Post an article on your own blog by June 28. That's only a week away!

If you have your own blog or website, post your story on your blog, and email me to let me know where to find your article. I'll include it in a special blog post on June 29.

If you don't have your own blog, that's okay! I would be happy to post it for you as a "guest post" here.

One more thing: Please contribute your story under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (CC-BY). You can do this very simply, such as including a statement at the end along the lines of "This blog post is shared under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY)."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pat's FreeDOS story

Longtime FreeDOSers may recognize the name Pat Villani. For our newer members, Pasquale "Pat" Villani created the FreeDOS kernel, the core of the FreeDOS operating system. Sadly, Pat passed away in August 2011.

Pat and I were good friends. Although we never met in person, we chatted on the phone several times, and lots and lots of email conversations, half the time about FreeDOS and half about just anything. And since Pat isn't here to share his FreeDOS story, I thought I could attempt to retell his story as best I can.

To start, I'll quote Pat's own words from his Open Source Depot website, where he shared the history of his DOS kernel experiment, which later became the FreeDOS kernel.

DOS-C started in 1988 as an experiment in writing device drivers in C for Microsoft's MS-DOS. Both block and character device drivers were written, along with special C data structures to match the MS-DOS request packet. It was then recognized that using the same techniques, an operating system could be written that would take advantage of the C language features and would require much less time to develop than the traditional assembly language techniques. Although UNIX had proven this earlier, it was not tried with a traditional PC operating system.

At this time, a minimal operating system using the device drivers written earlier along with a new 8086 interrupt API was developed. It was called XDOS and proved to be a functional operating system. This new operating system was used to develop booting techniques and a C library SDK was developed for it.

XDOS enhancements were started in 1989 and MS-DOS was chosen as the new API. A more advanced architecture was also developed. This included the use of an IPL (intermediate program loader) to set up the operating environment prior to loading the operating system itself and reentrant system calls facilitating real-time applications. This version, know as NSS-DOS, was completed and demonstrated in 1991. As a result of these demonstrations, NSS was approached to supply source license for this operating system by a major defense contractor. The only new requirement - it had to run on 68K processors.

This presented a new challenge. Due to the MS-DOS model used for the API, NSS-DOS relied heavily on a segmented architecture. To meet this challenge, a major redesign of NSS-DOS was undertaken. New proprietary techniques were developed that allowed the same source to be compiled on a variety of hosts and with a wide range of compilers. This new version, DOS/NT, was the result of this new project. The kernel was redesigned as a micro kernel along with logical separation of the file system, memory and task managers. A new DOS API was designed along with a new DOS SDK to guarantee portability. Additionally, all processor unique code was separated from the core functions. The result is the highly portable operating system that DOS/NT represents.

After a number of successful commercial applications, DOS/NT became part of both dosemu and FreeDOS.

I'll pick it up from there, to fill in some details on how Pat's kernel became the FreeDOS kernel.

Pat wanted to contribute his kernel to an open source software project that would find it useful. I think it was late 1994 that Pat emailed the DOSEMU folks, asking if they were interested in his DOS-compatible kernel. I mentioned Pat's story briefly in a 1998 interview with Interface magazine. The DOSEMU team thought Pat's kernel was really interesting, but they also mentioned that a "Free-DOS Project" (at the time, our name still had the hyphen) had recently been started, and that project needed a kernel. The DOSEMU developers helped Pat get in touch with me.

Pat had created a DOS-like kernel that was feature-complete with earlier versions of MS-DOS, like MS-DOS 4 or 3.3. And Pat had licensed his kernel under the GNU General Public License, which meant we could include it in FreeDOS!

We immediately adopted Pat's kernel as the new FreeDOS kernel. Over time, other developers contributed to the FreeDOS kernel, including Aitor Santamaria, Arkady Belousov, Bernd Blaauwm Brian Reifsnyder, Charles Dye, Eduardo Casino, Eric Auer, Geraldo Netto, Jason Hood, Luchezar Georgiev, Ron Cemer, ror4, Steffen Kaiser, Tom Ehlert, and others. Some volunteered as kernel maintainers, including Jeremy Davis, Bart Oldeman, Jim Tabor, John Price. Among these many names, I'd like to give special kudos to Jim Tabor, who forklifted our kernel to support network redirection. Without this feature, FreeDOS would not have network and CD-ROM support.

In early 1996, Pat wrote a book about the FreeDOS kernel, describing its development and function, by way of teaching others how to create a DOS-compatible kernel. You can still find Pat's book on various booksellers, including Amazon: FreeDOS Kernel; An MS-DOS Emulator for Platform Independence and Embedded Systems Development.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Guest post: Hobby programming with FreeDOS

Dr Owain Kenway responded to the FreeDOS Blog Challenge by sharing his story about installing FreeDOS on a netbook, so he could do more hobby programming. You can read Owain's story here:

FreeDOS - Not just for updating your BIOS »

Owain uses his FreeDOS laptop to write interesting Fortran programs, and has a photo of Conway's Game of Life, and a snippet of code from a program to calculate Pi. And as someone who used to write a lot of programs in F77 (my first compiled language) it was great to see Owain's samples.

In reading Owain's story, I especially loved his description of how modern we've made the latest version of FreeDOS (I credit the many folks who helped assemble the FreeDOS 1.2 distribution):

Well it’s mostly a machine for doing some hobby programming in Fortran. It is ideal for the task as it’s extremely portable, but also because it’s stress and distraction free: I don’t have twitter in prodding me in the background. No e-mail or youtube videos to distract. I don’t really have to worry about security or updates as it’s not connected to any networks. Instead I can focus on writing code.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is how modern and easy to use the system is for software development. The workflow for coding on the machine is different from what I do on Linux only in that I don’t have git available. Even though I’m using compilers from the 90s, a user interface from the 80s and Vim. Both FreeDOS’s shell and 4DOS have tab completion (although it works differently from bash). If you really need them, Unix-style tools are available. Watcom’s wmake is a fairly adequate implementation of make. As a result I’ve tackled my first largish F77 project (I’ve always used F90 + whatever add-ons the compiler I’m using has) pretty successfully

Thanks, Owain!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Using FreeDOS to play classic DOS games

All this month, we're sharing stories from users who have discovered FreeDOS, and how they use it. While today's story wasn't intentionally posted as part of the FreeDOS Blog Challenge, I thought the video was really interesting and shows one reason many people use FreeDOS today: to play classic DOS games.

Nickalysis on YouTube posted a video in April about his goal to set up a DOS gaming machine on a used netbook. Of course, he used FreeDOS.

DOS on a Modern Laptop with FreeDOS »

I don't know Nickalysis, but it's really cool to watch him download and install FreeDOS, then run the classic King's Quest game. And it works!

Guest post: FreeDOS and MultiOS

Marti Van Lin answered the FreeDOS Blog Challenge earlier this month with his story about FreeDOS: DOS for the 21st Century.

Marti's story really begins when he started using PC emulators to run older, classic operating systems like MSX2 and Commodore-Amiga. From there, Marti found FreeDOS.

I love that Marti uses FreeDOS to run lots of great DOS software like dBASE and WordPerfect. But Marti adds, "That doesn't mean that FreeDOS is old school only, to the contrary. It's a modern OS with support for multimedia an networking, including DHCP. Such in contrast to MS-DOS."

Thanks, Marti!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Guest post: FreeDOS and OpenGEM

Shane Martin Coughlan shared his story about how he discovered FreeDOS, and found his first contribution to open source software through OpenGEM. You can read Shane's story "Where it all started" on Medium.

I loved reading the history of OpenGEM and how it grew up. For a while in FreeDOS history, I wasn't sure that FreeDOS should include a graphical user interface (GUI) because I was concerned that would distract from other work. But OpenGEM is pretty awesome, and as longtime FreeDOSers know, we included OpenGEM in our software list as part of the official FreeDOS 1.0 distribution.

From the article:

OpenGEM grew to become the most popular GEM distribution and had six major revisions, eventually becoming an official FreeDOS package for that project’s 1.0 release cycle. I was tremendously honoured to have become part of a community that had given me so much, and to play a small part in making computing more accessible to other people. The FreeDOS and FreeGEM communities were where I discovered and understood the potential of Open Source.

Thanks, Shane!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Guest post: Contributing to FreeDOS Help

Longtime FreeDOS contributor Fritz Mueller responded to this month's Blog Challenge and sent his FreeDOS story. Fritz doesn't have a blog of his own, so I have shared it below with his permission as a guest post. This is part two, following from his earlier guest post about how he got started with FreeDOS:

(In part one, Fritz described buying a FreeDOS CD at a computer flea market, and later developing a bootable FreeDOS CD with 135 free games on it.)
While working on the FreeDOS games CD, I noticed different bugs and reported them to Eric Auer, the maintainer of several FreeDOS tools. I do not remember how it happened exactly, but one day I had the idea to translate the "Help" documentation to German. I thought I could do this within a few months, but it turned out I needed about four years for this job (of course with some interruptions).

I started with translation. Then I noticed that some of the "Help" texts, which are a part of the different files from each package, by different programmers, were out of date, options were added or removed or in the meantime programs of other programmer were in use. The "Help" files looked different, the links did not work, etc. Simply spoken, it was almost impossible to rely on the last version of the "Help" files.

So first of all, I tried to find the latest version of each tool, ran program /? to get the correct syntax and options, then started to correct the English version of the "Help" documentation. But the English information was wrong too, so I had to read the English manuals and to add them in the English translations for the "Help" files. As English is not my mother tongue, some bugs may have come in; I beg your pardon for this. Next, I added relative hyperlinks to other "Help" documents and checked that they were correct (in later versions, I found some Windows tools which helped me a lot, such as multi-replace, a tool to test all links, a tool to test if the HTML source code is correct, etc). Additionally, I had to look for line breaks after 80 characters in the HTML code so that the DOS browser showed the text correctly.

After that, I was able to start with the German translation. FreeDOS Help 1.0.6 had more than 100 English HTML sites with a lot of expressions from the "Readme.txt" files that I had never heard before, as I am no programmer, only a trained user.

But eventually, the last translation was done and I could publish FreeDOS Help 1.0.6.

As version 1.0.6 was still a little buggy, I did an update to 1.0.7. This must have been in Spring 2008.

Also in 2008, I made a trip to the United States and met Jim Hall in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This meeting encouraged me to finish this job.

I added the article "networking in FreeDOS" in the Help documents. It was from a German journalist, written in English, and I got his permission to add it in the Help files. As time went by, I had other things going on, and one day I got email from somebody on the FreeDOS team, saying they planned to release version 0.9 or 1.0. Now I had to hurry up. With the help of another German speaker, we got it. Of course, like always, with some minor bugs inside. Additional I made an Internet version which has more internal links than the DOS version, as the built-in Help browser does not need them. Adding them was a hard job, as the German and the English DOS versions each have about 320 HTML files, so all together more than 640 HTML files. And all links had to be checked that they were correct, without the Windows tool I would still work on it.

And eventually FreeDOS Help 1.0.7a was out. Even today, I have no idea why some people still use older versions of Help. You should not find a broken link or malformed HTML code or an line breaking text in Help 1.0.7a.

I just checked the DOS file download site and noticed that version 1.0.7 with Spanish translations is out. I had a closer look at the Spanish HTML files and noticed that the translator seems to have given up after about 40% of the translation. I can understand why; it's a lot of work for one person. It would be fantastic if this job could be finished.

-Fritz Mueller

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Guest post: Becoming a FreeDOS developer

Imre Leber was part of the FreeDOS Project for a long time. Imre shared this great story about getting started in FreeDOS and the contributions made over the years. I have included it below (with permission) as a guest post for this month's FreeDOS Blog Challenge. Thanks, Imre!
I started programming when I was fourteen years old. At the time, my family had just bought an entry level computer, an 80386SX-25 with 2MB of memory and a 40MB hard disk drive. Money was tight, so I was unable to upgrade until I was nineteen years old, so I just kept myself busy with the computer as it was. At the time, it ran DR-DOS. Now you should know that at the time computers were more for the tech savvy people. You couldn't do much with it, so apart from playing a few simple games like Wolfenstein 3D, if you had a computer you had it to know the ins and outs of it.

I think it was simplicity of the MS-DOS system that allowed me to be so knowledgeable about it. You could really understand its shortcomings and think of ways to improve on the basic concept. At the time, there was also a lot of information available about ways in which people had tried to extend the life of the system, lots and lots of small tricks that seemed very clever at the time.

So I got interested in finding some of my own clever tricks. The most clever of which would be building multitasking into the system. I thought about how cool it would be to have the source code to the system so you could really play with it. Then one day, I was at university studying computer science at the time, I stumbled upon a little thing called FreeDOS which intrigued me obviously.

I looked at the source code and discovered it had something they called the kernel and some other programs. As I was just starting out programming in C, I had been programming in QuickBasic 4.5 mainly, I skipped the kernel, but did manage to make some important changes to the diskcopy program. I decided to send it to the person listed who asked me to continue development on it. That is how I became a maintainer on the FreeDOS Project.

I played a lot with the code for diskcopy. I hacked in a lot of features which made the program very powerful, on par with some of the shareware offerings that existed prior. As the code became bloated, I started to look into some of the programs that didn't exist yet in FreeDOS and decided that I was going to implement defrag. Now, I had no idea how one would even write a defragmentation program, so I started out implementing the functionality that I did know how to implement which was the user interface. Which is why for a long time the program was known as an empty shell that didn't much do anything.

As a student of computer science, I also tried to do everything very structured, so I built a library to manipulate the FAT file system, which I called the FAT Transformation Engine. With this, I did eventually complete defrag and implemented chkdsk, but it all had taken so much time that people had gotten tired of me always promising things.

Then there were also the odd projects that seemed to need work like move, that I also on occasion worked on.

After some years working on FreeDOS, life had put too much strain on me to continue working on it. See, work for FreeDOS programmers wasn't exactly blooming, not to say there wasn't any work at all. I don't really regret working on FreeDOS for this, because it's a testament to how careless my childhood had been. Prior to graduating from university, I had never even thought about what I would do after school. This forced me to go back to school after, and because of that I simply dropped of the mailing list until so much time had passed I forgot about FreeDOS altogether.

Then I implemented a program called emulare which was an emulator for the Arduino micro-controller, which is when I really moved away from FreeDOS to do other things.

I loved my time being part of the FreeDOS Project. It was an amazing time. The term "open source" had just been coined and being part of it, through FreeDOS, made me feel like I was part of something bigger then myself. For years, it felt like we were going to revolutionize the world, like we were building something that would enable people to get out of poverty, to enable people to work on things they were passionate about and not depend on day to day earnings to survive.

We were also the last generation to create open source out of thin air; before us there was nothing. We still had to create everything ourselves. We had no compiler, no libraries, nothing but a willingness to succeed. After us there came a new generation of open source projects with more commercial and less ideological ideas. Haiku started in 2001 and was a clear departure from our way of thinking about what open source should be.

-Imre Leber

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

All FreeDOS distributions

They say that for any open source software project to get traction at the beginning, it needs to release early and release often. And that's just what we did when we started the FreeDOS Project.

You probably know the backstory: throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, I considered myself a "power user" of MS-DOS. I liked the flexibility of the command line. I had a bunch of applications that helped me do my work. And I'd even written some of my own utilities to expand the MS-DOS command line. So I was upset to hear in early 1994 that Microsoft would soon end support for MS-DOS; the next release of Windows would do away with the venerable DOS. So I decided to write my own DOS.

I announced the project on June 29, 1994. Others soon joined the effort, and we formed the FreeDOS Project.

Our first goal was to identify the functionality of MS-DOS that we wanted to replicate. Once we had a list of commands and features, we began searching for free software and public domain tools to fill those needs. We found several, including a neat replacement for PRINT called SPOOL, which operated in the background to print to the line printer when the computer was less busy. For those commands where we couldn't find existing tools, we wrote our own. Tim Norman was one of our first contributors, and started work on a free replacement for the COMMAND shell, later dubbed FreeCOM.

Once we had a core set of utilities, we released our first FreeDOS Alpha Distribution on September 16, 1994.

We didn't have a kernel yet, so "FreeDOS" at this point was still incomplete; you needed a copy of MS-DOS to use as the kernel. But the Alpha release got the attention of other DOS developers, who soon contributed new features and new commands. I don't have an exact date for our next Alpha, but looking at our email list archives at MARC.info suggests we released our FreeDOS Alpha 2 Distribution in very late 1994. I'll assume December 1994.

From there, we attempted regular releases of the FreeDOS Alpha. We released the FreeDOS Alpha 3 Distribution shortly after, in January 1995. A few months later, we made the FreeDOS Alpha 4 Distribution. From a FAQ posted to Usenet, and an archived FreeDOS announcement, I can place the Alpha 4 to after May 20 1995 and before June 18 1995. I'll assume June 1995.

Our next two Alpha releases took a while to get out the door. We were starting to grow as a community, and things were stabilizing. A little over a year later, we released the FreeDOS Alpha 5 Distribution on August 10, 1996. And more than a year after that, we made the FreeDOS Alpha 6 Distribution in November 1996.

All through the Alpha releases, we were missing something: there was no "installer" for FreeDOS. To update an existing FreeDOS system, you had to manually transfer the new kernel to the system using SYS, then unzip the entire Alpha package to your computer. To install FreeDOS Alpha on an empty computer required a few more steps:
  1. Boot the computer using a floppy, with the new kernel.
  2. Create a FreeDOS partition using the FDISK program.
  3. Add a DOS filesystem using FORMAT.
  4. Make the system bootable with FreeDOS using SYS.
  5. Extract the entire Alpha bundle to your new C: drive using UNZIP.
That last step required several floppies, if you used floppies, as the FreeDOS distribution was now larger than a single 1.44MB floppy disk.

We needed to make FreeDOS easier to install, which meant we needed an automated install program. So I spent a few weekends writing one.

Our first installer wasn't very pretty. It simply automated the setup steps via a Batch file, then ran the install program to let you select what "packages" and "package sets" you wanted to install on your system. It didn't use console menus, just scrolled text from the bottom of the screen. But it worked. And with this, we had the start of a new FreeDOS distribution.

The new installer deserved a new version scheme. We were still far from "1.0," but with the new installer, we moved from "Alpha" to "Beta."

We created the "codenames" for the Beta releases because we thought it was an interesting "beta-ish" thing to do. I think a number of us were using Red Hat Linux, which also used codenames (like Red Hat Linux 4.96 "Mustang" or Red Hat Linux 5 "Hurricane") and we wanted to mimic what they were doing. Mostly it was just fun. Red Hat Linux connected the codename to the previous codename in some way ("Mustang" was a car and a WW2 fighter plane, "Hurricane" was a WW2 fighter plane and a mixed drink, and so on) but we just assigned a codename from whatever seemed relevant at the time.

I released the FreeDOS Beta 1 "Orlando" Distribution on April 24, 1998, just before I would fly to visit my brother in Orlando, Florida. I thought it would be cool to name the distribution based on that trip. I think I literally uploaded the new release then finished packing so we could fly down the next morning.

A few months later, we released the FreeDOS Beta 2 "Marvin" Distribution on October 28, 1998. The name comes from the old MicroVAX system that we used at the University of Wisconsin River Falls, when I was a physics student and created the FreeDOS Project. Sometime in October 1998, I returned to campus as part of an alumni event, and learned that the university had finally decommissioned the last of the old computing system. It had been a venerable system, so I named the Beta 2 release after the system I used so fondly as an undergraduate student.

We fell into a semi-regular update cycle, and released the FreeDOS Beta 3 "Ventura" Distribution a few months later, on April 22, 1999. I live in Minnesota, and we had elected former WWE wrestler Jesse Ventura as our governor the previous Fall, and he assumed office that January. By April, he'd probably done something really dumb, and I probably thought it was funny to use his name as the Beta 3 codename. Ah, for the days when an elected official would only do something really dumb every few months.

Around this time, someone started a discussion on the email list about the FreeDOS Project adopting a mascot. Linux had the penguin, BSD had the daemon, and GNU had the gnu. I thought a mascot would be cool, but I don't think I pushed the idea of adopting an official FreeDOS mascot because I didn't want to get distracted by the noise that would create. As a compromise for myself, I named the next Beta release the FreeDOS Beta 4 "Lemur" Distribution on December 29, 1999 as a way of "adopting" a mascot when we really didn't have one. I always thought lemurs looked cool, although I've never given them Twinkies or grape soda.

I also thought a seal would be a cool mascot. I imagined a seal paired with the Linux penguin. But there was already a desktop system for FreeDOS called SEAL, and that provided the obvious name challenge. FreeDOS eventually adopted a cartoony fish as our mascot. You can read more about Blinky the FreeDOS fish in the Brief history of the FreeDOS logo.

After a bit of a lag, we released the FreeDOS Beta 5 "Lara" Distribution on August 11, 2000. I played a lot of Tomb Raider on the Playstation in the late 1990s. I think the "Lara" codename came about because I was really looking forward to the upcoming Tomb Raider Chronicles game (later released in November 2000). They advertised this as the last Tomb Raider game in the series, so I probably memorialized it in the Beta 5 codename. The title character in Tomb Raider is Lara Croft.

The next Beta release also marks a sad time for me. Our beloved cat Midnight died in March 2001, during the run-up to the next release. I named the next Beta after him, as the FreeDOS Beta 6 "Midnite" Distribution on March 30, 2001. I changed the name slightly so I didn't get sad every time I looked at the codename.

Around this time, I got a big promotion at the office. I worked for the University of Minnesota, part of the Enterprise Operations and Infrastructure team in the Office of Information Technology. I didn't have as much free time to assemble the FreeDOS distributions, so I passed the distribution maintainer role to someone else. We released the FreeDOS Beta 7 "Spears" Distribution on September 8, 2001. I'm not completely sure about the origin of the name. I think this had something to do with Britney Spears. Her self-titled album Britney would be released in November 2001, and in September 2001 we would have heard a ton of her music on the radio to advertise the upcoming album. So we probably had that on our minds when we picked the codename.

Jeremy Davis posted the next version of FreeDOS, releasing the FreeDOS Beta 8 ("Nikita") Distribution on April 7, 2002, and the FreeDOS Beta 8 H1 ("hot release 1") Distribution a few months later on September 15, 2002. I'm not sure where the "Nikita" name came from.

We changed distribution maintainers again for the next version. Bernd Blaauw didn't think we were ready yet for a Beta 9 version, so the next release was instead a release candidate. Bernd released the FreeDOS Beta 9 "Methusalem" RC1 Distribution on July 19, 2003. I suspect the codename came about because the Bible says Methusalem lived the longest at 969 years old, and Bernd might have been making a joke at how long DOS had been around.

After the Beta 9 RC1, we decided the codenames thing had run its course, so we stopped giving cute names to releases. The FreeDOS Beta 9 RC2 Distribution on September 1, 2003 was the first since the FreeDOS Alpha releases not to have a codename.

We sort of crawled our way towards the inevitable "1.0" by increments. I think everyone pretty much realized that the "1.0" release would be a big deal, and we wanted that version to be as perfect as we could make it. We weren't satisfied with broken functionality, so each new distribution was a tiny step forward. We walked our way through the Beta 9 release candidates in several stages: the FreeDOS Beta 9 RC3 Distribution (September 28, 2003), the FreeDOS Beta 9 RC4 Distribution (February 5, 2004), and the FreeDOS Beta 9 RC5 Distribution (April 20, 2004)

With five release candidates, we felt ready to finally release the FreeDOS Beta 9 Distribution on September 28, 2005. Although we made some "service release" updates to the Beta 9 soon after: the FreeDOS Beta 9 SR1 Distribution on November 30, 2004 and the FreeDOS Beta 9 SR2 Distribution a year later on November 30, 2005.

Yes, we'd taken about three years to go through the Beta 9 cycle. That's a long release, but we wanted to take our time before the official "1.0" release. And the following year, we finally felt FreeDOS was ready! We released the FreeDOS 1.0 Distribution on September 3, 2006.

The "1.0" release was a big deal. Every software project considers the "1.0" release to be a major milestone. It's when you decide everything is stable, ready for prime-time. And certainly everyone noticed! If you check our FreeDOS History page, you'll notice a lot of news coverage around the "1.0" release.

But after we had "1.0," what to do next? We'd mostly achieved parity with MS-DOS. You could run pretty much any DOS program on FreeDOS, except some versions of Windows. And MS-DOS compatibility wasn't a moving target. So many of us didn't feel much need to create an update to the FreeDOS distribution for some years.

It would be almost six years before the next version of FreeDOS. We posted the FreeDOS 1.1 Distribution on January 2, 2012. Technically, the release was ready on December 31, 2011 but that's New Year's Day, and we didn't want to make a major release on a holiday. So we waited a day before I released it on the website. But because we had transitioned our FreeDOS News system to use GMT time, not local time, the news item was stamped with a January 2, 2012 date. Ah well.

A few years later, and we'd started to collect enough updates to the FreeDOS core system that we decided to make a new FreeDOS release. But I wanted "1.2" to be more than a simple package update. I decided that our install program was very outdated. We'd continued to make updates to it since the Beta 1 distribution in 1998. I thought we should re-write the installer to reduce the number of steps to install FreeDOS. Jerome Shidel volunteered to write the new installer, based on a set of Batch script power tools. Jerome's "V8" tools created a whole new install process, basically one smart Batch program.

Jerome made many "pre-release" FreeDOS distributions, ending with a series of two official release candidates before a final "1.2" version.

This time, we decided to follow a holiday release cycle. Jerome released the FreeDOS 1.2 RC1 Distribution on October 31, 2016 (Halloween) and the FreeDOS 1.2 RC2 Distribution on November 24, 2016 (US Thanksgiving).

After much testing, and to much press coverage, we finally released the FreeDOS 1.2 Distribution on December 25, 2016 (Christmas).

And that brings us to today! What's next? We haven't had an official discussion yet, but a few of us are starting to think about the next version. We aren't sure if the next release will be called "1.3" or "2.0."

But we do know the next version will remain 16-bit, with the focus on a single-user command-line environment, just like classic DOS. FreeDOS can't be "DOS" if we change that. The next version will continue to run on old PCs (XT, '286, '386, etc) but will support new hardware with expanded driver support, where possible. However, direct support for UEFI systems may be tricky (or impossible).

If you're interested in contributing to FreeDOS 1.3 or 2.0, whatever we end up calling it, please join the conversation on the FreeDOS email list.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Guest post: Luca's FreeDOS story

Luca Ferrari has responded to this month's FreeDOS Blog Challenge and posted his story about how he first discovered FreeDOS, and how he uses FreeDOS today.

FreeDOS blog challenge: my short story about FreeDOS »

What I find really interesting is Luca's mention of a fax system he set up using FreeDOS, which ran for six years without problems before they finally stopped using it. That's cool! Thanks Luca!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Guest post: How I started with FreeDOS

Longtime FreeDOS contributor Fritz Mueller responded to this month's Blog Challenge and sent his FreeDOS story. Fritz doesn't have a blog of his own, so I have shared it below with his permission as a guest post:
In the year 1999, computer parts were rather expensive, so we had computer flea markets in my and in other neighboring cities. So it was on a Sunday that I drove to a city about 50 miles away. One of the traders was selling CDs with the "FreeDOS OS" on it. As the price was only a few German Deutsche Marks, I bought a copy. Later, I learned that FreeDOS was free software.

At home, I tested FreeDOS and noticed that there was only a bootdisk on it, but most other necessary programs were on it.

I googled for FreeDOS and found the website and downloaded extra tools. Well, it was not as stable as MS-DOS, but it worked fine on many systems and as it was much smaller than MS-DOS. I could run the OS and the backup tool I used at that time from one disk. This made work much easier!

At work, I developed a Windows98 DOS Boot CD with a lot of programs on it which could be started by a simple batch menu. I used this to run different backup tools, virus checkers, hard drive wipeout tools etc.

As parts of this software were not open source or freeware, I developed a bootable FreeDOS CD with 135 free games on it. This worked well, but you had to save game results on a diskette so that you could continue the game later. The CD is still available on my website, but since the introduction of SATA and more modern BIOSes, it is out of date. But with the correct settings, it should still work.

Later, I tried to run the same games in virtual machines, but this was never finished. Maybe some day in the future. A first beta is also available on my website, but a lot of batch files are waiting for changes.

-Fritz Mueller

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Write your FreeDOS story!

This year, FreeDOS will turn 23 years old on June 29. There's nothing special about "23," but I thought it would great to celebrate this year's anniversary by having a bunch of us share stories about why we use FreeDOS. So last week, I started a FreeDOS Blog Challenge, asking you to write your FreeDOS story.

Basically, I'm asking you to write a blog post about FreeDOS. You can write your story from different perspectives, such as: How did you discover FreeDOS? What do you use FreeDOS for? How do you contribute to FreeDOS? In short, answer the question: "Why FreeDOS?" You can make your blog post as long or short as you like.

If you have a blog or a website, post your story by June 28, and let me know where to find it. I'll link to everyone's stories on June 29 for our anniversary.

If you don't have a blog, you can email me your story (jhall@freedos…) and I'll put it up as a "guest post" on the FreeDOS blog.

I'll certainly plan to make an archive copy of everything on the FreeDOS website. And if we get enough contributions, I would like to collect them into a free ebook.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Little FreeDOS buttons

I recently shared a brief history of the FreeDOS logo, and a look back at some FreeDOS banner ads. I'd like to continue that with a few of our FreeDOS web buttons. I don't have the original dates for all of these, but I will do the best I can to put them in order.

On many free and open source software project websites, you might see a "hosted by" web button, linking back to the hosting service that provided the free or discounted website hosting. The FreeDOS Project website is independently hosted, but we have some components hosted on SourceForge, so we have a small "SourceForge" button in our website's footer.

But once upon a time, it was also a popular idea to put a project "button" on a website, to show support for your favorite open source software project. And we used to have quite a few of these for FreeDOS.

As you might guess, our first "FreeDOS buttons" were fairly simple. Contributed by different members of the FreeDOS community, you could put these web buttons on your website so people could more easily discover FreeDOS. They differed in design and size. There really wasn't a standard size for web buttons, so people used whatever seemed reasonable:





I liked the "Powered by FreeDOS" button, even though the website wasn't really run on a DOS web server. (Although, did you know there really is a web server that runs on FreeDOS? There's SIOUX, but before that was FISH - the FreeDOS Internet Services Host.) At the time, it was common to see "Powered by" buttons on websites, such as "Powered by Linux" or "Powered by RedHat." Devoted fans of the Emacs and Vi editors also used "Powered by Emacs" and "Powered by Vi" web buttons.

So I liked "Powered by FreeDOS" because it showed equal fandom for FreeDOS. I've since lost the name of the person who contributed that web button—so if you're reading this, know that your "Powered by FreeDOS" button was probably my favorite!

Inspired by the above, I created a new FreeDOS web button that people could use to link to the latest FreeDOS release. We also used these on the FreeDOS website to link to the current FreeDOS distribution. I released this in two sizes:



The idea of web buttons sort of caught on, although slowly. People sent in a few other web buttons, including one inspired by MacOSX. My best estimate is these images were contributed around 2001:




In August or September 2001, Ben Rouner created a new "blue stamped logo" for the FreeDOS Project. At the same time, Ben contributed two FreeDOS web button images:



In late 2003 and early 2004, we discussed the idea of adopting a mascot for the FreeDOS Project. The fish mascot became popular, probably because it would pair well with Linux's penguin mascot. In February or March 2004, we adopted the new FreeDOS fish mascot, later dubbed "Blinky" because of his googly eye. People responded with new web buttons that used the new mascot:




Around this time, I decided to update the FreeDOS website to use the new mascot, complete with a new logo. I also updated our button images that linked to our online store, where you could buy t-shirts, mugs, and other cool stuff with the FreeDOS logo. (We've since moved the FreeDOS Store to Zazzle.) The updated buttons used the new mascot:



But that was kind of the end of our web buttons. We eventually updated the website design, and did away with these web buttons. Our new website uses icons to link to social media, our online store, and our blog. Most of these new icons are vector graphics, which are smaller and faster to load. And our links to download FreeDOS have been replaced by an easy-to-find text link on the website, pointing you to Download FreeDOS 1.2.

As a result, the FreeDOS web buttons have fallen into disuse. They remain an interesting part of our FreeDOS history.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

FreeDOS blog challenge

You may have noticed that I've started to write about interesting moments in FreeDOS history, starting with a brief history of the FreeDOS logo and then a history of FreeDOS as banner ads. Check back over the next few weeks for more. I'm also planning a similar article about a visual history of FreeDOS button icons, and various contributed images.

I'm writing about FreeDOS history because later this month, FreeDOS will turn twenty three years old.

You probably know the history already: like many others, I was a big fan of DOS in the 1980s and early 1990s. So I was a little upset when Microsoft announced in 1994 that Windows would replace DOS. If you remember Windows 3.1, this was a not a great prospect. So I took to the comp.os.msdos.apps group on USENET to discuss creating our own version of DOS. Others liked the idea, so on June 29, 1994, I announced what would become the FreeDOS Project.

I wrote about the origins of FreeDOS in December, when we released FreeDOS 1.2.

And since June will mark twenty three years of FreeDOS, I would like to do something special: I'd like to see everyone write about how they first started using FreeDOS.

So I'm announcing the FreeDOS blog challenge! If you use FreeDOS, for anything, please write about it! Maybe you use FreeDOS to play classic DOS games. Or maybe you boot FreeDOS for the classic DOS experience. Or you might be one of the many people who have contributed to FreeDOS programs in some way. Or you could have used FreeDOS to rescue an old system.

However you use FreeDOS, I'm asking you to write a blog post about it. Post an article on your own blog by June 28. Email me or drop a comment here to let me know where to find your blog article, and I'll include it in a special blog post on June 29.

If you don't have your own blog, that's okay! I would be happy to post it for you as a "guest post." You can email me your article as either plain text or OpenDocument Text (such as LibreOffice or OpenOffice format).

Don't worry about length. Maybe your story is short—that's okay! If you have a lot to say about FreeDOS, that's great too! If you're looking for a word-count target, maybe shoot for 600–800 words. But longer is okay too. (For reference, my story about the origins of FreeDOS is 645 words.)

I ask that you contribute your story under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (CC-BY). This can be a simple statement (at the end) that says "This blog post is shared under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0)."

FreeDOS as banner ads

When the Web was young, it was common for projects like ours to create and share images that you could use on your own personal websites, to help advertise and raise awareness. For the FreeDOS Project, the idea of a "banner ad" started when a user sent us his web banner image, and we shared it on the website for anyone who wanted to use it:


To support the concept of shareable FreeDOS banner ads, I created several more banner images, in different styles, that people could download and use for themselves. I originally created in GIMP, in GIF format, then later converted to JPG. But JPG is lossy, so eventually I recreated these banner ad images in PNG format:





The idea of FreeDOS "banner ads" caught on, and others created their own to share. We collected them on our website. The first contributions used the FreeDOS "oval logo" created by our first webmaster, M. "Hannibal" Toal:





Not every FreeDOS banner image used the FreeDOS logo. Some created their own variation on the logo, or just used simple text with a neat font, like these:












Others were less direct with the "FreeDOS" name. It wasn't always very clear that these were FreeDOS banner ads, but they worked well:








We tried to stick with a standard banner ad size, about 486×60, to make it easier to incorporate these images on your own websites. But a few contributors used different sizes, with a slightly taller, more rectangular banner ad:






In August or September 2001, Ben Rouner created a new "blue stamped logo" for the FreeDOS Project. At the same time, Ben contributed two banner ad images:



Not all banner ads were graphics files, like the above. One creative designer created a Flash animation that looped through two images, with a green "wavefront" emanating from the FreeDOS logo to reveal the FreeDOS website address and the tagline "Microsoft DOS Killer." We captured this Flash animation as two images, suitable for FreeDOS banner ads:



Around this time, we started to wonder if FreeDOS should adopt a mascot. If Linux had Tux the Penguin, and BSD Unix had Beastie the Daemon, should FreeDOS have a mascot? And if so, what should it be? I wanted a seal, which I thought would look cute next to Tux (a seal and a penguin, get it?) Then Mike Green submitted a FreeDOS logo in the shape of a fish. He stated the fish was a symbol of freedom. He contributed three banner ads that used his proposed fish logo:




The fish idea was neat, and it sort of caught on. But it wasn't until digital artist Bas Snabilie created his own cartoony version of a FreeDOS fish. His fish was adorable, and we soon adopted this new FreeDOS mascot, and the new logo, in February or March 2004. We named him "Blinky" because of his one googly eye. You can see Blinky as part of our FreeDOS wordmark, on our website and at the top of this blog.

Unfortunately, we don't seem to have any FreeDOS banner ad images that use Blinky. By 2003 or 2004, the whole "banner ad" thing had pretty much run its course. No one wanted to have banner ads on web pages anymore. So we archived the FreeDOS banner ad images, never to be used again.