It’s been decades since Microsoft stopped developing MS-DOS, but there are thousands of old DOS applications that aren’t designed to run on newer operating systems like Windows 10. Enter FreeDOS, a free and open source operating system designed to be compatible with DOS applications.

The FreeDOS project was officially announced on June 29th, 1994, which means that the project celebrated its 25th birthday over the weekend.

FreeDOS has been under active development for all that time, and while it’s considered “feature complete,” the team behind the project continues to refine things. FreeDOS 1.2, for example, featured an improved installer and an updated set of packages including some games. And version 1.3, which is currently under development, will keep its focus on DOS app compatibility, but lead developer Jim Hall says he’s encouraging developers to port existing GNU or UNIX tools or create new ones for FreeDOS.

While FreeDOS isn’t the only way to run DOS software on a modern PC, it’s noteworthy partly because it’s been around so long, partly because it’s a complete operating system in its own right rather than an emulator like DOSBox, and some PC makers will even ship computers with freeDOS as an option… although it seems that this is mostly for folks who don’t want to pay for a Windows license with a new PC rather than for customers who actually want to run freeDOS.

I interviewed Hall a few years ago for the LPX podcast and we had a great conversation about the project… and why someone would spend decades keeping old software alive.

Hall also held an Ask Me Anything session at Reddit this weekend.



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10 replies on “FreeDOS turns 25 (open source, DOS-compatible operating system)”

  1. I think that is neat. I have read that they have kept developing it; beyond that where Microsoft had stopped.

  2. Which PC makers sell devices preloaded with FreeDOS and do any of them sell laptops with it preloaded? I’ve tried resurrecting vintage hardware for the purposes of having a DOS system to run DOS apps and games and environments like Geoworks and early versions of Windows.

    But I found myself spending more time tracking down that older hardware at reasonable prices and replacing components. New hardware, especially preloaded with FreeDOS would eliminate all of that work on the hardware.

    1. I haven’t checked in a while, but you used to be able to buy HP and Dell machines with FreeDOS pre-loaded on them. I don’t know if that’s true in 2019, but in Spring 2018 (about a year ago) I found some new machines on dell.com and hp.com that had FreeDOS as an OS option. (You had to select FreeDOS as the OS, if I recall correctly.)

      You can also find a bunch of machines being sold elsewhere by lesser known brands. I see them a lot on Twitter when I search for “FreeDOS”

      These days, you need to be careful that the new PC supports BIOS. If it’s a UEFI-only system (no “legacy BIOS” or “BIOS emulation” support) you won’t be able to run FreeDOS on it. FreeDOS is like any DOS, and requires a BIOS to do a lot of the work.

      1. Thanks Jim! I did a quick check of the HP and Dell websites and didn’t find anything current, but I do still see it from time to time in the spec sheets for upcoming computers they send me.

      2. My HP Zbook(it’s the Haswell variety) laptop came with FreeDOS. So…I’d imagine HP Zbook’s might make a good candidate…

    1. People use FreeDOS for three main things:

      1. Playing classic DOS games. There are a lot of great DOS games, and even in 2019 these are loads of fun to play.
      2. Running legacy software. You find this more frequently than you’d think. Sometimes you just need to run an old DOS program to access some old data, or sometimes you need to actually run a DOS application in production.
      3. Supporting embedded systems. Not a lot of embedded systems running DOS these days (most of them have gone to Linux) but you still have some DOS embedded systems around.

      And there’s also a fourth case: Installing BIOS updates. Some motherboard manufacturers release BIOS updates as a DOS application, and you can run them under FreeDOS.

      1. For #1, how do you get around games that require specific hardware? I’m thinking of games that needed SoundBlaster-compatible audio, or other similar requirements.

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