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ARTICLE IDEAS: The FreeDOS Project will turn 25 years old on June 29, 2019. This is a huge milestone for any open source software project, and especially for an open source DOS project.

Write an article about the 25th anniversary of FreeDOS. You could write this from many angles:

Hi, and welcome to the FreeDOS press kit!

I’m Jim Hall, founder and coordinator of the FreeDOS Project. With this press kit, I wanted to provide some additional information and resources about the FreeDOS Project. If you are writing an article about FreeDOS, feel free to use this information to help you.

If you prefer an interview, you can reach me at jhall@freedos.org. We can do an in-person interview if you are in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area, or a phone interview, or an email interview. I tend to write long answers to email interviews so you have plenty to pick quotes from. I can usually turn around email interviews in about a day. If you need an immediate response, let me know and we can do a phone interview.

What's in this press kit:

updated June 18, 2019 with completely rewritten answers

About FreeDOS

How did FreeDOS get started?

I had used MS-DOS while I was growing up. Our first computer at home was an Apple II, and I taught myself how to write programs in AppleSoft BASIC. But we later upgraded to an IBM Personal Computer and used MS-DOS after that.

I liked DOS. I thought DOS was more powerful than the Apple. DOS has a pretty powerful command line, once you learned how to use it. And DOS had a ton of applications. So it was a great environment for me.

Throughout high school, I considered myself a DOS “power user.” I even taught myself how to write programs and utilities that would extend the functionality of the MS-DOS command line. My first efforts were pretty simple—utilities that worked much like the original MS-DOS commands, but provided a few extra options and minor features. As I got better at writing my own utilities, my programs became more feature-rich.

By the time I entered university in the early 1990s, my DOS command line was very powerful—the original command line plus the extra utilities I wrote myself. I used DOS all the time.

I discovered Linux in 1993, and instantly recognized it as a Big Deal. Linux had a command line that was much more powerful than MS-DOS, and you could view the source code to study it, fix bugs, and add new features. I dual-booted Linux and MS-DOS on my computer at home. Since Linux didn’t have many of the applications I needed as a working college student (a word processor to write class papers, a spreadsheet program to do physics lab analysis) I booted into MS-DOS to do most of my work, and booted into Linux to do other things.

In 1994, I saw articles in technology magazines that Microsoft planned to do away with MS-DOS soon. The next version of Windows would not need DOS, so MS-DOS was on the way out. I’d used Windows 3 at this point, and wasn’t impressed. If you remember what Windows 3 looked like, you’ll know what I mean. Windows was not great. And running Windows would mean giving up all my DOS applications that I used every day. I wanted to keep using DOS.

So I decided that the only way to keep DOS was to write my own. I made an announcement on an early Internet discussion board called Usenet about my plans, and things took off from there!

Here’s the original announcement, posted on June 29 1994:

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!

--James Hall

PS -- of course, if this already exists, please point me to the group
leader so I can at least contribute!

I originally named the project “PD-DOS” for “Public Domain DOS” but we quickly renamed the project to “Free-DOS” when we realized we wanted to use the GNU General Public License, which was Free software, not Public Domain software. We later dropped the hyphen for “FreeDOS.”

Why FreeDOS in 2019? Who uses FreeDOS?

There are a still quite a lot of FreeDOS users out there! I’d guess that most people use FreeDOS for three things:

1. Playing old DOS games

I think most of FreeDOS users are using FreeDOS to play games. And that’s fine! Just because a game is old doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to play! I like to play DOOM (the classic DOS first person shooter from iD Software) from time to time. And I bought a copy of TIE Fighter (a DOS game where you pilot an Imperial TIE fighter from Star Wars) last year, and I like to play that too.

2. Running legacy software

This happens more often than you’d probably think. If you have a business system that you need to run, and it needs DOS, then you can run it on FreeDOS. When I was campus CIO (Chief Information Officer) in higher education, we had a faculty member who needed to copy research data from the 1990s, on some old floppy disks. We found a PC with a floppy drive, but Windows couldn’t read the data. So we installed FreeDOS on the spare PC, then installed the original DOS application, and exported the data to plain text files. It worked great!

3. Supporting embedded systems

These days, I think most embedded systems run on Linux or maybe Windows. But a few older systems may still run MS-DOS, and FreeDOS can fit in very well. I was contacted by a developer a few years ago who was supporting an older embedded system, and he was moving the system to FreeDOS.

You can probably include “Installing BIOS updates” in that list. A few motherboard suppliers provide BIOS updates as a DOS application. These people need to run DOS to do the motherboard update, so they boot their computer with a USB fob drive running FreeDOS, and run the BIOS update from there.

I often forget to mention “BIOS updates” because I don’t think many people actually install FreeDOS to do their BIOS updates. They just need somewhere to run FreeDOS, so they use our FreeDOS 1.2 USB “fob drive” installer, and exit to DOS rather than install. They aren’t actually installing FreeDOS to update their BIOS.

What's new in FreeDOS 1.2?

In planning what came next after FreeDOS 1.1, we discussed if the next version should be FreeDOS 1.2 or FreeDOS 2.0. It really came down to what a modern DOS should look like.

For a while, I argued that FreeDOS should become a modern DOS, that we should try to imagine what MS-DOS would have looked like if Microsoft hadn't killed off the MS-DOS product when they released Windows95. That is an interesting thought exercise:

A modern DOS would have to update its memory model. DOS uses a segmented memory model, which made sense when the PC was a simple computing device. With the Intel 80386 processor, you could have multitasking. That's why Linux was originally written for the ‘386. So a modern DOS would also support multitasking. At some point, though, this modern DOS will break backwards compatibility with legacy DOS applications. To preserve some method of compatibility, we reasoned, a modern DOS would likely include a “sandbox” to run these legacy applications.

But when you look at it, we already have that modern DOS. That's Linux. Because Linux supports multitasking, it has a flat memory model, it does all these other things. And if you want to run legacy DOS applications, you boot FreeDOS in a PC emulator like DOSEmu.

That's not DOS. FreeDOS is still DOS, and needs to remain DOS. So we agreed the next version after FreeDOS 1.1 would be an update to FreeDOS. That's why this version is FreeDOS 1.2.

FreeDOS 1.2 is still DOS, but it's more than a mere update of FreeDOS 1.1. We've made some significant improvements.

The first thing you'll notice in FreeDOS 1.2 is the brand-new installer. Jerome Shidel wrote a new installer for us, and it looks really good! The new installer is very simple—for both new and experienced FreeDOS users. If you've used FreeDOS before, the installer will feel very familiar. At the same time, if you're completely new to FreeDOS, you'll have an easy time.

We've also included new programs and utilities in FreeDOS 1.2. In this release, we finally include some games. Since so many people use FreeDOS to play classic DOS games, it seemed a good idea to include some open source DOS games for people to try.

And we include a bunch of new utilities that we hope people will find useful. More developer utilities, more user utilities. For example, we now include some programs to help you play sounds and update graphic files. We also provide other tools that help you connect to a network, including a DOS web browser.

The additional programs also make the new FreeDOS 1.2 distribution a lot bigger. The FreeDOS 1.1 distribution was about 40MB. The new FreeDOS 1.2 comes in several “flavors.” The “Lite” installer is about 30MB, and the “Full” installer is 415MB. Both are USB-based installers; you can write them to a USB fob drive and boot your computer with that to install FreeDOS. We also provide a CDROM installer that's 419MB, and an alternate CDROM installer that's the same size. (The difference between the two CDROM installers is that one is intended for certain older computers that need to boot from CDROM in a particular way.)

Do you use FreeDOS for your regular day-to-day work?

No, I don’t run FreeDOS every day. And I don’t run FreeDOS as my “desktop” operating system. I like using FreeDOS, but I need something modern. :-)

Instead, I run Linux. When I run FreeDOS (to play a DOS game, or run my favorite DOS spreadsheet program, As-Easy-As) I boot FreeDOS in a virtual machine. I use Fedora for my Linux distribution, using the GNOME 3 desktop. And I use QEMU for my PC emulator (virtual machine). It’s a great set up for me.

What do you do aside from FreeDOS?

I’ve done a lot of things outside FreeDOS.

I’m still very active in open source software, although I don’t have as much time to write code as I used to. I mostly write about open source software these days.

I’m also very active in usability testing for open source software. I’ve worked with the GNOME project, for example. I mentored several cycles of usability testing with GNOME, and our usability test results have led directly to improvements in the GNOME design. And I’ve taught usability testing as an adjunct professor.

At work, I used to work in public sector. I was with the University of Minnesota for seventeen years, including five and a half years as campus CIO for the Morris campus. And I was the Chief Information Officer in local government (Ramsey County, Minn.) for just over three years.

Recently, I decided to change gears. I really enjoy coaching, advising, and mentoring IT Leaders—especially the next generation of IT Leaders. So in April, I left the county and launched a consulting company. Hallmentum LLC empowers IT Leaders to drive meaningful change through hands-on training, workshops, and coaching.

More information

You can find more information on our website. Here are a few places:

In addition, there’s a history of the FreeDOS Alpha and Beta releases on the Talk page of our Road Map wiki. This also contains some trivia about the historical FreeDOS logos, and the “Free-DOS” and “FreeDOS” names.

Images

This press kit also includes a number of images and screenshots that you can use.