Friday, May 1, 2020

Using FreeDOS - Freemacs

You probably know the history that before I started FreeDOS, I was a longtime DOS user. When I went to university in 1990, I quickly discovered the Unix systems in our campus computer labs. I wasn't a Computer Science student (I was in Physics) but since I had an interest in computer programming, I was often in the labs anyway.

Like many university computer labs at the time, our sysop had installed GNU Emacs. I thought Emacs was really neat, and I quickly made Emacs my default editor on the Sun network.

In 1993, I discovered Linux, and I installed SLS Linux as dual-boot with MS-DOS on my '386 PC. I typically booted into Linux to do any computer programming, and booted into DOS to use my word processor to write class papers, or my spreadsheet to analyze my physics lab data. I had a DOS compiler too, so I would also do programming on DOS. But I found I missed the features of GNU Emacs when I used the standard MS-DOS Edit program.

So I installed Freemacs. Written by Russ Nelson, Freemacs is a free emacs-like editor for DOS. There have been other emacs-like editors for DOS, and they all have their differences. Freemacs tries very hard to be as close to GNU Emacs as possible.

The difference is in the details. GNU Emacs uses a variant of LISP as its extension language. Actually, you can view GNU Emacs as a giant LISP machine that happens to have an editor in it. (And I say that out of love, and as a current GNU Emacs user.) Every function and feature in GNU Emacs is defined by elisp code.

But you cannot fit a LISP system like this in a DOS program. You don't have the memory. So instead, Freemacs uses a different extension language called MINT. MINT is a macro language that looks very similar to TRAC. That's how MINT got it's name; MINT = MINT Is Not TRAC.

And a bit of trivia:
When I started the FreeDOS Project in 1994, I gathered a bunch of existing open source programming tools and DOS utilities and fit them into FreeDOS. Since I was a longtime fan of GNU Emacs, and loved using Freemacs on DOS, I naturally included Freemacs. So Freemacs has been part of FreeDOS since the beginning.

I took over the role of maintaining Freemacs when Russ decided he didn't have time to work on it anymore. But as it turns out, I didn't need to make any changes so this version (1.6G) is unchanged from those early days.

Like other programs that we include in FreeDOS, you can also download Freemacs from our FreeDOS Files archive at ibiblio. You can find Freemacs under /freedos/files/edit/emacs.

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