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Thursday, 27 March 2014

DOS programs, a cheap way to get the best of the past.

These days, there are many open source computer programs that perform reasonably well. For what we want, we can find an open source program for it. In my day-to-day life, I use open source software. For example, I use Linux as the platform for my computers at home and at office - especially those which have been struck by viruses, as Linux is "impervious" to normal virus attacks. Rather than use Microsoft Office, I rely on LibreOffice and related software such as AbiWord (word processor) and Gnumeric (spreadsheet). But generally, open source software is developed by volunteers, and it will not be as good as commercial software.

Then this week, while looking for a free / open source software for something that I need to do, I remembered that I used to use an 80386 computer running DOS. Actually, I've had an 80286, an 80386, and an 80486, and a number of Pentiums, all throughout my school days. The computers would be our playthings, and when we grew out of them, they were brought to my father's office as "spare" computers. Those early days, DOS was the main platform, until Windows 3.1 came along. Before Microsoft Windows took off in a big way, DOS was the key, and it was quite common for us to do everything from the command prompt -- a blinking cursor, with a C:\> (prompt $p$g) on a black background.

I still miss those days of using DOS. Then I decided to check out whether DOS can be run under Linux. I'm using OpenSUSE at home, on my laptop. I am happy to note that there is DOSBOX and DOSEMU. With DosBox we still face the limitation of short file names, 8.3 format. With DosEmu there is recognition of long file names, but capital letters and small letters are, as under DOS, not differentiated.

I was pleased to note that software like WordStar 7 and Wordperfect 5.1, and even XyWrite and Pedit, are all available online. I remember using them for work, printing out documents on my father's office KXP1124 Panasonic printer -- a trusty old dot matrix printer. Those were the days.

Many of the DOS software of olden days are available as "abandonware", and have been released to the public as "public domain". Perhaps there are copyright issues if the publisher has been wound up -- with nobody to enforce copyright, everyone can install them for free.

I'm sure that DosBox also works with old DOS games, and it can reduce computer cycles (slow down) to emulate a slower computer. I remember when we first used the monochrome computers of long ago, it was 5.25" floppy disks, then 3.5" floppy disks. Somewhere at my parents' house, there are still several boxes of Verbatim 3.5" floppy disks, some of them with 1.44 mb of storage, and some of them with 2.0 mb of storage. In those days, we did what we could to get more space from the diskettes, including formatting them with special programs.

I'm glad that I can use DOS programs again. But XyWrite is still difficult to use. I'm happy to use Pedit.