I never knew Protext was ported to the PC. I remember having Protext on ROM for my Amstrad CPC. (Yes kids, a fully-functional word processor in a 16KB ROM.)
Nearly six years after its last release, FreeDOS 1.3 came out at the weekend… in case you're feeling nostalgic for a 1980s enterprise-grade OS. DOS ain't dead. Although the long history of MS-DOS officially ended with version 6.22 in 1994, there have long been multiple other DOS-compatible OSes out there. And unlike all the …
I had Protext on my Amstrad CPC, the Amiga and PC.
It is still one of the quickest, easiest to use word processors I've ever used.
No distractions, just a simple UI to allow you to write and then put inline margins etc. in for formatting.
I believe Computer Shopper or PC Format once included it on a PC CD-ROM cover disc.
Wordsworth on the Amiga was probably one of the best WYSIWYG word processor, without going 100% DTP, at the end of the 80s, but it was painfully slow at times. Arnor ProText was just text mode, but it was fast and you could still do all the formatting you needed.
My mum, a shorthand typist for 25 years had just given up work but she needed a proper wordprocessor to do work from home and we found Protext.
So we took a trip to the offices where two guys who wrote Protext were working. It was a typical 1980s office, paper files and mess everywhere, bits of computers and code printouts, so damned cool! My parents chatted with them for a while and they burned the prog onto the EPROM while we waited, plugged into the rom board and boxed it up. My Mum used that app rom for about 3-4 years to do all sorts of work for a local solictor. My Dad even bought a proper daisywheel printer to ensure legal prints were proper quality as dot matrix was absolute shite quality.
I think it cost something like £70 at the time which must have been roughly £200 quid by today's money but my Mum made it pay for itself until we got our first PC and she moved to WordPerfect, for DOS of course, she absolutely hated the Windows version said it wasn't anywhere near as good as DOS version.
"[...] a proper daisywheel printer to ensure legal prints were proper quality [...]"
Daisywheel printers often used a ribbon that was "once only". It produced crisp letters of plastic rather than ink. They were apparently not allowed for legal documents because a fraudster could literally lift individual letters off the paper and add new ones in their place.
It does run Quarterdeck DESQview very well. This allows for running multiple arbitrary programs (rather than sidekick was an assortment of smaller utilities).
Over the years I had migrated from:
Watcom wcl, Watcom vi, DESQview
Clang, (n)vi, tmux
Barely any change haha.
I very well remember the "Framework" office suite from 1984, one of the publishers of which used to be Ashton-Tate of "dBase" fame. Its concept, which I've been missing since I moved to GUI operating systems, is still lightyears ahead of any office product that came after it.
Um, idle question : what HDD still has little enough space to be completely formatted in FAT32 ?
I don't think there are any. So, if using an HDD, you're partitioning it into the ridiculously small FAT32-sized partition, then partitioning the rest in NTFS (or whatever floats your boat).
According to https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/format-large-hard-drive-fat-fat32/ the limit is 16TB so quite a lot of drives are little enough. :-)
> the limit is 16TB
Snag is, that needs a GPT disk partition, which DOS can't read. :-)
The limit is 2TB if you stick to 512-byte sectors. To get to 16TB you have to use 4k sectors. The issue is that there can be at most 2^32 sectors, so the maximum partition size is than number of sectors times the sector size.
You don't need GPT to address a 16TB disk if you're using 4k sectors. It's exactly the same issue: a BIOS partition table can handle up to 2^32 sectors, so with 4k sectors the maximum disk a partition table can describe is also 16TB.
ISTRT at least parts of FreeDOS can handle sector sizes other than 512 bytes, but a lot of DOS programs and disk utilities have 512 hard-coded into them, so it'd be a bit of a risky proposition.
So: stick to 2TB. Disks of 1TB and 2TB are certainly still available.
CF-card to IDE adapters are amazing things if you need to keep real metal around to run DOS, 3.1 & Win9x stuff.
I have the odd program that I need in a professional context from the era, that can't easily be ported onto current platforms because closed-source. Some of them need 25-pin RS232 ports to work, which understandably are rarities on current hardware (especially laptops, which is where I could really use one).
And of course, I have stackfuls of old games that DOSBOX largely handles correctly, with a few minor exceptions.
Retro computing hardware for various reasons have gone berserk on prices. It wasn't that long ago I built a 486DX4-100 for the cost of postage. Not so easy to do now.
I'd still like to get a copy of OS/2 though prices there are somewhat silly, and I can't justify price tag of ArcaOS on what is nothing more than idle curiosity on my part.
Ah, I knew there was a reason why I kept my OS/2 Warp CD's I bought with my first ever modem!
Also have a OS/2 2.1 CD that came as a cover disk on a PC magazine. I have kept all my old OS disks
Plus my 720K and 1.44MB DOS 6 floppies (and manual)
The DOS disks came as high density which I couldn't use in my Amiga at the time and Microsoft kindly sent me the 720K disks free of charge on request! The Windows 3 disks came in 720K format and they could all be used with the KCS and GVP PC board's fitted and even PCTask. Until Power computing started selling the HD floppy drive.
OS/2 Warp was a pain to install on my 486 DX2 66 and I had to create floppy images off the CD to install as the Install CD wouldn't recognise either drive connected to the souncard or the IDE bus. They would work fine after the install had completed. Windows 95 installed instantly, the problems only started afterwards! For 'kicks' I once installed Warp on a 386 Dx16 4MB of ram laptop. It was still stable but to say it 'ran' was an overstatement, somewhere between baby rolling and crawling. Doom could be played on it too if you shrank the screen area being used to display small enough.
I had far too much time on my hands to test such things out when I was younger and more foolish!.
The Slackware on Walnut Creek CD's is the only other OS of that era that I ever had to create a large pile of floppies to install on a Toshiba 486 DX4 75 laptop. It was the first PC I ever set to multiboot. Win 95, Win NT4, Slackware and Corel Linux all in 1.1GB hard drive with space left to be usable!
I'm fairly certain that all the Walnut Creek Slackware CDs allowed installing direct from the CD ... assuming, of course, that your CD drive was compatible with the bootable kernel on the CD. Many were not back then.
Disclaimer: I didn't work there, I was just a beta tester for them ...
@Binraider "I'd still like to get a copy of OS/2 ..."
Strangely enough I re-discovered my copy OS/2 Warp skulking in the back of a rarely used cupboard just two days ago. Still in it's original box and everything pristine. I had a quick rush of nostalgia, decided I couldn't bear the thought of throwing it away, so back it went!
IIRC - trying to format a FAT32 partition under Windows 2000(?), there was a limit (32GB?), but Windows could read larger FAT32 partitions. Think you could use fdisk to manage it though?
Too many years ago to remember the full details...
Suppose it's all relative though - if you are dealing with software that runs in 640K, then I doubt you are going to need TB of space!
The first HDD I came across (MS-DOS 3 or 4 ish) was *only 80MB*, was split into c: d: and e:, so yeah, still the same then!
Microsoft has come out and said that support for FAT32 partitions larger than 32GB is unofficial. They'll read them, but no official utilities will create more than 32GB at a time. At that point, they'll direct you to exFAT or NTFS instead. Still, 32GB is a far sight from the 2GB partition limit of FAT16.
support for FAT32 partitions larger than 32GB is unofficial. They'll read them, but no official utilities will create more than 32GB at a time
Windows 95B, Windows 98, Windows ME (and DOS boot disks for same) will all format much larger FAT32 partitions. That's rather "official" if you ask me.
I think it actually takes longer to write-out a full hard disk now.
Measured in RPM, hard drives are no faster now than they were in the 1990s or probably earlier. If anything it is actually slower on average as the 10000 and 15000 RPM drives have mostly been replaced with SSDs, leaving mostly the 5400 and 7200 RPM models.
You get a lot more bytes on a single track, which increases the speed in MB/s, but you also get more tracks per platter, which doesn't. RPM/60 = tracks per second, tracks per second is the same as it has always been, more tracks per platter means longer to read the platter.
You also get more platters per disk, which increases speed, but the time to read/write the disk is going to be the same as the time to read/write one platter.
[Article author here]
I think you're wrong on several counts.
№ 1: DOS (any DOS) needs MBR partitioning. That means a maximum disk size of 2TB. You can have a single 2TB FAT32 partition if you want, no problem. Or you could have several smaller ones, so long as they don't total to more than 2TB.
2TB is still quite a lot. I own just a single hard disk bigger than that, and it's the Time Machine drive for my iMac.
So, yes, it's perfectly feasible. I have *dozens* of hard disks and SSDs smaller than 2TB in, or attached to, current, working, 64-bit, multicore, computers.
№ 2: It's DOS. Come on. You are not seriously going to be running this as your single sole OS on any remotely modern hardware.
You can have one 2TB disk nice and a big FAT32 partition big enough to hold every DOS app ever released and *still* have tons of room to dual-boot with something that can usefully drive the hardware of a modern computer. FreeDOS should dual-boot quite nicely with Linux.
№ 3: Again, *it's DOS.* If you want to run it on a modern computer, install it to a USB key and boot off that. Most USB keys are still far under 2TB.
I think you can't remember the difference between FAT16 and FAT32. FAT16, which was superseded in 1996 with the release of Windows 95 OSR 2, over a quarter of a century ago, maxes out at 2GB, but if you want, you could have a (very inefficient) 2GB FreeDOS bootable partition *and* still have enough room for 2 more primary partitions for Windows 10 and then a bunch of logical drives containing half a dozen Linux distros.
There was a product called DoubleDOS that could run 2 copies of DOS on a PC.
Worked with a touchscreen hospitality POS system that used this. Had multiple CGA (from memory) cards with the video memory mapped to different addresses so could run multiple touchscreen monitors off one PC for a multi-user system.
so no DesqView, but I could run a Shareware task-switching program called "back and forth" (not true multitasking, as nothing runs in the background, but you can still switch between tasks, swapping them to and from the disk every time).
It was also quite popular for applications to have a "Shell to DOS" option if you wanted to run a quick command or two without quitting the application.
[Article author here]
An often-overlooked feature of the DOSShell graphical launcher thing in MS-DOS 5 and later is that it can suspend apps. You can run an app, switch back to the shell with Alt-Tab, and then launch *another* app and even repeat this a few times.
They all have to fit into base memory at once, though. It couldn't swap to disk, or even to EMS or XMS.
That didn't work for us. We were using Windows (himem.sys) and Lotus 1-2-3 (qemm386.sys), (I think, anyway, we had to constantly swap back and forth between himem and qemm386), so swapping from 1-2-3 to Windows and back needed the config.sys replaced and the PC rebooted.
We had an automated batch file to swap back and forth, but it was still a pain.
I had a similar dilemma back in the days of MS-DOS
...and I used both Quarterdeck Desqview (and later on QEMM386) as well as the shareware 4DOS "command.com" replacement, which had it's own way of being able to use selective config.sys/autoexec.bat files to boot into any configuration you wanted very easily.
it was also possible to colourise specific filenames with given extensions...so you could run dir/w and all "exe" file names could be coloured (say) red, or batch filenames might be coloured blue"...etc.
Happy to hear that FREEDOS is still out there. I'm wondering if it includes USB support? IIRC, two decades ago the lack of a DOS USB driver that could be shoehorned into the the 1.1MB of directly addressable (with a memory manager) X86 real mode memory was a significant problem. Apparently USB is sufficiently complex that even with hand crafted assembly code, it's difficult to address all the logic possibilities without more address space. There was some doubt back then that there would ever be FREEDOS USB support.
Somewhere amongst my legacy bits and pieces I have a USB stick with an old version of FreeDOS that I kept around for playing BlockOut and InfoCom's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [and possibly run BIOS updates].
Way back when, I typically set up virtual machines with a first partition containing FreeDOS so that loadlin with a minimal slackware install alongside (courtesy of umsdos) could be introduced as a fallback should the main linux install need repair. IIRC loadlin broke under later FreeDOS kernels, and ultimately umsdos got dropped from linux kernels as well of course.
Sadly my recent acquisition of a UEFI laptop means I need a newer GrUB on the USB stick at minimum but while I've got rEFInd -> linux working, going CSM -> GrUB -> FreeDOS without something hanging hasn't been as straightforward as I expected (...I suspect a bug related to the laptop's graphics card at some point in the process; neither of my netbooks got upset at the change...) :/
"Multitasking MS-DOS 4.0 was a little known and separate development of DOS..."
"Despite these limitations Microsoft wanted to make DOS 4.0 a retail product but IBM at the time was not interested in such a version of DOS, instead they formed a joint development agreement with Microsoft which resulted in the development of OS/2 1.0"
If this were to become common, I'd agree with you. As it is, however, I rather think that this is one case where security by obscurity might be a help.
With that said, of all the freedos machines I'm aware of, not a one of them is hooked up to any network other than sneaker-net.
 Probably in the high hundreds, possibly over a thousand.
As FreeDOS is to MSDOS, ReactOS is to Windows NT 4 32bit and further 32bit Windows.
Though FreeDOS seems to be much further along with its maturity, let's hope ReactOS continues similarly. I say hope, because the last of official support for 32bit Windows ends with Windows 10 going EOL in 2025. There is only a 64bit version of Windows 11.
Beyond 2025, one can still run Windows 10 of course, it won't receive updates. Though there may be some special cases as was with previous Windows EOL. Just that from the general public standpoint, I would not expect it to be.
What better then, to have a drop in replacement in the form of ReactOS, which aims to be a 32bit Windows, which will run all that vintage hardware. Great to avoid landfill for perfectly good hardware. Although some say ReactOS is an equivalent for Windows NT 4.0 32bit, I'd say it's reasonable to assume this includes Windows XP 32bit, some of the demos of software running on it imply as much.
And as this article's author says "Retro computing is a valid hobby in its own right, of course". Totally agree - it's a passage back to the nostalgia of perhaps simpler times, along with the satisfying intellectual challenge of keeping old hardware going or resurrecting it, along with the camraderie of community, getting more value for money out of hardware because it lasts longer and addressing that e-waste landfill issue. Good all round!
For me I have an old sound card, a classic Yamaha SW1000XG that runs perfectly under Windows 10 32bit Pro, with XP drivers. I have it in a very good looking Node 2 Box from Fractal systems, attached to a fanless Gigabyte J3455N-D3H with built in Celeron. I call it a vintage MIDI sound module that just so happens to run Windows, rather than the other way around! So, by 2025, if ReactOS has come along further, I'm hoping to run that instead of Windows 10 32bit. If not, I'll just carry on running W10 but detached from the internet.
People running vintage hardware generally will have no issue running vintage OS as well, obviously they will have vintage software to run on the hardware.
ReactOS sounded neat when I first heard about it in the late 90s I think. I don't think it really went anywhere over the past 20+ years so don't hold your breath too much. They just don't have the resources to do it (it's certainly no small task). ReactOS is probably worse off than even Hurd, which is so obscure I even forgot what Hurd was called I had to go browse Debian's site to refresh my memory.
I know they(ReactOS team) does it "because they can", but it just seems like too huge of a task to seriously take on.
Unfortunately those machines are now about two decades old, so the bios and hard disks are probably busted. Bios usually gets fixed with a new battery if you are lucky but getting compatible hard disks is slightly harder. Also for sound you definitely need a Sound Blaster or at least a decent clone. So really for games is less trouble to just use Dosbox.
I got a ton of work done using that program. If I could still see (so a screen reader wasn't a requirement), I'd run FreeDos just for that one program alone.
At which point all my archived copies of old DOS games would get dusted off, copied to the FreeDos drive, & run until I could no longer manipulate a keyboard.
Damn I miss the Good Old Days.
I still occasionally use Midnight Commander, a GPLv3 clone of the Norton offering, on my *nix systems. It's a useful tool, and a lot more powerful that it looks on first glance. Recommended.
N.B. Be VERY careful if you choose to run it as root ... it will do exactly what you tell it to do. Don't say I didn't warn you.
That's a blast from the past - I remember RHIDE, and it was definitely inspired by Borland's "Turbo" series of developer tools.
I'm actually using Turbo C 1.5 on an original IBM 5150 at the moment. I missed out on the early PC period as I only had an Atari ST at the time. Quite an eye opener - the x86 memory model is appalling compared to the Motorola 68k.
I was lucky enough to work somewhere new toys appeared from time to time. Most of my programming work was done on Vax VMS. The PC early on has a DOS IDE (C?) which I used for a while which I remember as being very similar to RHIDE and may had helped inspire it. The PC memory models were a nightmare and the only advantage was the IDE which I used for initial development and then flipped the code over to the VAX when I needed to analyse data larger than a couple of sheets of A4 which would run fine on the VAX but frequently come up with gibberish due to 64k boundaries not being bound. I still think the 80s were a largely null point in programming development due to the 8088 choice by IBM and is the reason why IT is the niche thing it still really is when it should be embedded in almost every career and would be if the BSOD had not been the result of most people introduction to programming.
I have a Paradox database that was started in the mid-90's that I'm still using now. It contains a huge number of audio visual products from Trilite fittings through to projector lenses, along with equipment configurator scripts that are still relevant today.
There was an attempt to move it to Fox Pro in 2000 which proved unsuccessful quite early on. I began rewriting it with Python and Sqlite3 before the pandemic and with the drop in events it's now hobbling along in it's original format on FreeDOS perfectly well for the few occasions I need it.
I remember using HP DOS 4.0 on a HP Vectra 286/12 a long time ago, it even came with a proprietary ANSI program launcher(I don't remember the name). I do remember another HP DOS utility for writing documents(just remembered it now hadn't thought of it since the 90s) called Executive Memo Maker.
I tried to look recently but I could find no evidence on the internet that HP ever had DOS(which surprised me quite a bit given HP is a big company and sold a lot of PCs - no screenshots no mention on Wikipedia, nothing that I could find). I even remember the box it came in. It was my first computer.
I remember the only way I knew how to edit autoexec.bat and config.sys was to do a fresh install of windows (had 3.0 with multimedia extensions, with a MSCDEX.EXE CDROM driver that would corrupt itself on a regular basis). Also I remember deleting vast amounts of the system files to get drivers to fail to load on boot to free up memory to play games, then I would reinstall everything again.
HP DOS 4.0 worked fine for pretty much everything except games, used too much low memory(after that program launcher launched it would probably get down to around 450kB or less of free low memory). DOS 5 with highmem+EMM (later with QEMM 3rd party tool?) and of course DOS 6 was of course much better for those games.
But HP had DOS too! Just wanted to say that. I don't know if they had other versions than 4.0.
HP's OEM version of MS-DOS was customized to handle HP's non-standard Vectra hardware, begining with the first release of the Vectra line in 1989. Eventually HP saw sense (people wanted stuff like Flight SImulator and Lotus to run) and standardized their version of the hardware to run a generic DOS instead of their custom version. The proprietary HP hardware largely disappeared from the Vectra line by the time the 486 was ubiquitous.
If you have one of these ancient machines and want to play with it, but you've discovered DOS and early versions of Windows do not work properly, you'll need the correct software for the hardware. As is often the case for this old stuff, someone, in this case The HP Computer Museum, has archived the stuff. You can download most of the required software here.
> HP had DOS too!
Of course. All the way each way.
H-P even had a few CP/M machines. I had a cute little thing similar to the later Macintosh.
Even before that I multi-usered on a mini-mainframe H-P running something very like Berkeley Unix, possibly 4.3BSD-Reno? HPBSD? Memory fades like yesterday's snow. (Not!)
Here - https://web.archive.org/web/20181011172623/https://bitbucket.org/ecm/rxdos-7.2x/downloads/ if you so wish. First saw the light of day in 1994 aboard the book
Another DOS clone, written in assembler this time, instead of (largely) C as is FreeDOS.
A lot of people don't know about it. It's not bad as far as DOS-clones go, and it does (apparently) natively multitask.
I've never - literally never - bought a computer with preinstalled Windows. For many years this meant that the computers came with FreeDOS. I admit I never played with it - just installed Linux over it. Still appreciated the fact that at least it was a solution for the vendor who could list a product "without OS".
It's only relatively recently that major vendors started providing machines with Linux preinstalled. I have a Dell desktop that came with Ubuntu. It was still listed as "without OS" just to make me chuckle. Ubuntu was therefore unexpected, and I treated it as I would treat FreeDOS - wiped it and installed another brand of the same OS, purely as a matter of personal preference and per original plan.
The ThinkPad I am typing this on came with FreeDOS though.
My first word processor was Locoscript running on Amstrad PCW in 1985. Then they produced a version for PC.
I have never moved on. My job is writing (medicolegal reports), and my whole business is totally reliant on Locoscript.
Sometimes solicitors ask me to email them my report. I have to explain that my Locoscript computer is not connected to internet, and anyway, if I sent them a file, they would not be able to open it.
I do have Word on my second, modern, computer, and I am 100% certain that Locoscript is the better word processor. Far better copy, cut and paste options, and being keyboard based, it is quicker than using a mouse.
Bit of a struggle to find printers that Locoscript can drive directly, but I have a spare one just in. case, and also an old comptuter in the attic just in case.
Surprisingly Locoscript seems to be able to access USB port where I keep backup documents.
I also store documents on a floppy drive.
If l lose Locoscript, that would be the end!
Using Freedos in a VM you can easily set up a shared drive to exchange data between Freedos and Linux, and I would imagine Windows too, You may be able to print to file from Locoscript and then print that from the shared directory. I have seen software that will take old dotprinter and daisy wheel data and make new documents - including HTML so you dont have to kill trees - from it.
I use DOSBox to run my flying logbook using software I was given to review, about 35+ years ago. When I eventually moved from Dos to Windows 3, I didn't want to start again with new software, and kept using the logbook software. When I could no longer open a DOS window in Windows, I tried DOSBox and have continued using it to update my logbook. I have no intention of trying to copy 40 years of flying to a windows program!
DOSBox says it exists so you can play old DOS games, but it should run many other DOS programs too.
Given that the early software like that tended to store data in fixed length records you may find a dig around the files and counting a few characters make allow you to cut and paste the data pretty much straight into a more dependable/open app. I used to make a few beers writing little programs that fseek'ed around DB files to make reports at speeds users complained couldnt have done the jobs they wanted - the reports were correct but generating things in a second or two that took the DB system a couple of hours to run confused them. Having said that running an 8086 at several GHz can alleviate problems like that but having a good copy of old data in a modern app often has many advantages - long term access to the data being one of them.