December 5, 2003

DOS -- not dead yet

Author: Adam Terrell

DOS -- that's a word you may not have heard in a while. After all, Microsoft proudly claimed "DOS is dead" when it released Windows XP. DOS is a stable and well-known operating system, but the same can be said for Linux, and some might argue that even Windows XP has become stable. So why would you run DOS when you have these newer, better operating systems?

Take a franchise or small business that simply uses the computer to make, track and deliver orders. Many of these companies still use DOS programs today.

What about new businesses? Why would they use DOS? The simple answer is that it's simple. DOS programs run faster than programs for Windows, and faster than many for Linux. On pre-Pentium or Pentium machines, DOS may be the best option for any business that wants a minimum of overhead cost and development time. DOS runs on inexpensive low-end machines. Restaurants, local bookstores, card shops, and any sort of small start-up business might look to this solution, if only they knew it was available and easy.

Most people nowadays go home to computers loaded with Windows XP, Linux, or Mac OS, and don't consider DOS a viable alternative as an operating system. It is likely that whatever they use the computer for, DOS won't meet their needs -- or will it? While DOS is not a multi-tasking operating system like the other main operating systems popular today, it still has the ability to do many of the things that those other, "better" operating systems do. For example, there is a graphical Web browser for DOS called Arachne. As long as you can download and install DOS drivers for your network card or modem, you can use Arachne to surf the Internet. You may also be surprised to learn that you can burn CDs, use long file names, play videos and MP3 music, and program in Python in native no-Windows DOS. For more information on performing these activities in DOS, visit the Interesting DOS Programs page.

The final and most obvious thing a lot of people think about when they think about DOS is games. DOS has had many good games, and used to be the only OS worth writing games for. But now, with Windows XP, how can you hope to play these games again without setting up a new partition with an older Windows or DOS version? Look to DOSBox for your answer. Just a month and a half ago, DOSBox became the first emulator to release a version that allows you to run protected-mode DOS games. The DOSBox homepage also has a game compatibility list so you can see if your game will run before you try. Some popular games that work are Duke Nukem 3D, DOOM 1 and 2, Wolfenstein 3D, and Scorched Earth.

If you're interested, how can you get DOS nowadays? There are probably no retailers who would sell it to you. Look no further than FreeDOS, the GNU alternative to DOS. It runs on FAT16 or FAT32 partitions, and has many new and better features that DOS should have nowadays. You can go to the FreeDOS homepage for more details.

Adam Terrell is a student majoring in Computer Science and minoring in Math. He's had 12 years of experience using PCs and 4 years hobby programming exprience.

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