Saturday, June 1, 2019

June is FreeDOS celebration month

On June 29, the FreeDOS Project will officially turn 25 years old! That's a major milestone by any reckoning, and to celebrate we're making June our FreeDOS celebration month.
FreeDOS started out as an extension of my personal programming projects. When my family got our first PC and I tried MS-DOS, I thought it was outstanding. I thought MS-DOS was a great little operating system. It provided a powerful platform where I could run applications and do other work. I think we got our first PC when I was in grade school, and over the next several years I thought of myself as a power user. Over that time, I found several of the standard utilities to be lacking. Eventually, I learned C and started writing little utilities for myself.

I wrote my own extensions. If I needed extra features on the command line, I wrote a replacement DOS command to do it. I think my first enhanced utility program was a new version of TYPE that could do different things, similar to Unix cat. My TYPE could convert to uppercase and lowercase, and could pause after printing a screenful of text so I didn't need to pipe the output through MORE. Later, I kept adding new features to it so it could do even more for me.

Not every new program was a replacement to a MS-DOS command. Some were just new programs that I felt made the command line easier to use. A lot of DOS programmers did the same, and it was common to find public domain utilities (often with source code) on FTP sites that extended and enhanced the DOS command line.

I remember when Windows came out. I didn't get to try Windows 1, but I did use Windows 2 and Windows 3/3.1/3.11 when that became the standard. I wasn't that impressed. Windows was slow and buggy. In comparison, MS-DOS was way more mature and powerful.

It was around this time that I also discovered Linux. I was at university, and I had an account on the Unix systems in our campus computer lab. As an avid MS-DOS user, I thought Unix was great. But it was too expensive for me. When others pointed me to a free version of Unix called "Linux" I had to check it out. I dual-booted my '386 PC with MS-DOS and an early release of SLS Linux. It was great! That Linux didn't have a ton of applications didn't bother me; I used Linux for a lot of my work, and booted into MS-DOS to run spreadsheets and word processors.

In 1994, things changed. Microsoft had started doing interviews with technology magazines that the next version of Windows would do away with MS-DOS. Effectively, Microsoft was killing MS-DOS. I didn't want that; I still ran all my applications and games on MS-DOS. A lot of other folks thought the same.

I decided that if we were going to keep DOS, we would need to write our own. As a novice programmer, I didn't know that writing an operating system would be such work. I thought "start with my DOS utilities, add a command shell, and write a kernel." And on June 29, 1994, I announced a free DOS project that would soon become "FreeDOS":
ANNOUNCEMENT OF PD-DOS PROJECT:
A few months ago, I posted articles relating to starting a public
domain version of DOS.  The general support for this at the time was
strong, and many people agreed with the statement, "start writing!"
So, I have...

Announcing the first effort to produce a PD-DOS.  I have written up a
"manifest" describing the goals of such a project and an outline of
the work, as well as a "task list" that shows exactly what needs to be
written.  I'll post those here, and let discussion follow.

If you are thinking about developing, or have ideas or suggestions for
PD-DOS, I would appreciate direct email to me.  If you just want to
discuss the merits or morals of writing a PD-DOS, I'll leave that to
the net.  I'll check in from time to time to see how the discussion is
going, and maybe contribute a little to what promises to be a very
polarized debate!  :->

I am excited about PD-DOS, and I am hoping I can get a group started!
There's lots more history to share, and over the next month I hope to write about FreeDOS history and various milestones. Please join me in making June our FreeDOS celebration month!

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