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Founder of FreeDOS recounts the story so far, and the future
What is dead may never die, and it's all thanks to Jim Hall
Retro Tech Week The last mainstream DOS-based OS was Windows ME, which went out of support 20 years ago. And yet, thanks to free software, DOS lives on. We spoke to FreeDOS founder Jim Hall about how the project started and how it's progressing.
Version 1.3 of FreeDOS came out in February, and an interim update is on its way. It has two active mailing lists, multiple developers, a wide choice of components and tools, and a lot more users than you might expect.
Hall started what he at first called "PD-DOS" when he was still a student, using Windows 3.1 and, like a lot of us, not loving the experience. Windows 95 made things better, but at the price of absorbing and incorporating MS-DOS, which ceased to be available as a separate product.
Although Linux was already available when the project got going in 1994, it was still quite new and immature, whereas there was a lot of high-quality DOS software available, especially as shareware. Hall dual-booted his machine between DOS and Linux, and as Microsoft said DOS was going away, he wanted to keep the option of using such things.
Some DOS apps from its heyday are still reappearing today as rights revert to their original owners who choose to upload the source code to Github. This has been happening for years, and it's still happening with tools such as 386 Max and PC/GEOS. These may yet find their way into FreeDOS.
We also talked about some of the directions the project might take in the future. Today, laptop manufacturers in some countries bundle FreeDOS with new machines in order to keep the price to customers as low as possible… so people are still seeing DOS for the first time, even today, and some of them keep using it, even if only to improve their skills. ®