back to article Running DOS on 64-bit Windows and Linux: Just because you can

There are still ways to run DOS apps under 64-bit Windows and Linux, and a lot of free apps to choose from. One of the differences between the Microsoft and Apple approaches to maintaining widely used OSes is that Apple is quite aggressive about removing backwards compatibility, while Microsoft tries hard to keep it. One of …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    You can remove support for whatever you want, they will get it back

    In the end, a program is nothing but a series of instructions to the CPU.

    If you remove a swath of available instructions from your OS, someone savvy will put them back in.

    And that is not a problem, because contrary to ads (looking at you, SatNad), only the people who want the thing will get it.

  2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    One less-obvious loss with 64-bit dosemu was the lack of interrupt-passing, which relied on the vm86 instruction. There was talk of "fixing" that via complicated emulation but I don't know if it has happened. We needed that for a DOS program that used interrupts from special hardware, so those machines are stuck on 32-bit OS host.

    Another less-obvious attribute of dosemu is you can set the "clock" to be either really DOS-like (counting interrupts, time can be set, not very accurate) or you can have it report the host OS time instead, giving ntp-levels of long term accuracy when the host has its clock disciplined from external time standards.

  3. Wally Dug
    Thumb Up

    Protext? Yay!

    An excellent source of DOS freeware is the FreeDOS Repo. For instance, it has... Protext...

    I had Protext for the Amiga - it was absolutely brilliant!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Protext? Yay!

      Another good place to look is archive.org

  4. AMBxx Silver badge

    WordPerfect 6.2?

    Come on, proper typists want 5.1 back.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      Re: WordPerfect 6.2?

      [Author here]

      You can certainly have that too if you want. It's out there.

      I remember a wonderful piece by the late great Guy Kewney, which isn't online now AFAICS, which said much the same about WordPerfect 4.2. IIRC, he said something like:

      The meeting must have been something like this: 'OK, so in WordPerfect 4.2, we have a great bicycle. Industry-leading, the best, everyone says it's the best. So what we're going to do is, we're going to put 11 more wheels on it.

      But one of the criticisms of WP6.x at the time was that it was slow. It isn't slow any more. Today, on 21st century PC kit, WordPerfect 6 goes like biological fertilizer off a hand-operated digging implement. It is *blazingly* fast, even on a decade+ old PC.

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    It's amazing how many of those programs in the repo are text editors, word processors or something in between, all with their fans. And people complain about the variety of Linux distros.

    1. HildyJ Silver badge
      Windows

      Not Amazing

      Being old enough to have used DOS in its early versions, this was the primary use for many office machines. They were brought in (by IBM) to replace one trick ponies such as the Wang Word Processor.

      P.S. I have no desire to revisit those days. Like VHS tapes, the memory is better than the actuality.

      1. General Purpose Silver badge

        Re: Not Amazing

        Ah, but I'm still pining for Quattro's linterp function.

        1. AMBxx Silver badge

          Re: Not Amazing

          I'd just like Excel to do 2+2= 4 instead of returning '2+2 as text. Quattro pro had no such problems

          1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

            Re: Not Amazing

            "I'd just like Excel to do 2+2= 4"

            =2+2

            1. logicalextreme
              Trollface

              Re: Not Amazing

              No matter which way you want to type it, if your operands are constants you're gonna save the most keystrokes by just typing 4.

  6. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

    Lenovo T60

    I have recently been running the new FreeDos release, 1.3, on live hardware: a Lenovo T60 laptop, vintage 2006. Under that FreeDos I have run Wordstar 3.3, MS Word 5.5, and WordPerfect 5.1. MS Word could run in a Windows emulation mode which made it much easier to use than Wordperfect. The menu system in Wordstar reminded me of the Locoscript software I used in the 1980s; it seems to me that Locoscript 'borrowed' the user interface from Wordstar.

    But I still prefer modern versions of Word: yes, with the ribbon.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      Re: Lenovo T60

      Whatever turns you on. I *detest* the ribbon myself.

      Word 5.5 for DOS has CUA menus, but a somewhat weird and inconsistent set of control keystrokes. However, it is free: completely legal freeware.

      Word 6 for DOS is the last ever version and its UI has been harmonised with Word 6 for Windows and Word 6 for MacOS. It is much more pleasant to use.

      However, it's not freeware.

      But TTBOMK Microsoft app licences let you run an older version of the software, if you choose, on the licence from a newer one. I own Word 97 for Windows (Word v8), so I believe that means I can legally run Word v6.

    2. William Towle
      Happy

      Re: Lenovo T60

      I've also been running FreeDOS on modern hardware, courtesy of its CSM and GrUB's i386-pc boot loader (successfully now, and recently blogged about), albeit less widely exercised. I see the next post mentions HHGTTG, so clearly I'm not the only one using it as a test case [...yes, I have also discovered frotz].

      I'm a little surprised not to have found a DOS-friendly x86 usermode for QEmu, although to be fair CP/M didn't get done for the Z80 fork either (it was on the upstream wishlist when I mentioned dabbling before however)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    HHGTTG

    'nuff said...

    1. Ian 55

      Re: HHGTTG

      .. runnable with any Z-machine interpreter on almost any hardware for years.

  8. heyrick Silver badge
    Happy

    Been fiddling around with Turbo C(++) for old time's sake and had it running perfectly adequately within DOSbox...

    ...on RISC OS. It's not particulary quick, but given that my machine back in the day was something like a 33MHz 486 jobbie, I think the Pi might be faster.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      Under the old Acorn !PCEm? Does that still work? If so I am honestly surprised...

      ... but tempted...

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        I have used it with PCem about a billion years ago. But these days, it's DOSbox.

        I don't think PCem was ever released as source code, so it'll never have been converted to 32 bit. Perhaps one could use it with Aemulor, but then that's just getting a bit mental really...

        https://www.riscosports.co.uk/vfp/

  9. Ian Entwistle

    I help and old chap ( 92 YO ) who has spent most of the last 50 years collating, correcting, updating ww1 war records for a particular battalion that was wiped out in a day or so. It was originally digitised in Word Perfect ( he even still uses the keyboard with the extra function keys including diagonal "cursor" keys) and he refuses to update it to anything more modern in software, I've been trying for 20+ years. So we keep him going by regular backups and begging old kit so when stuff dies as has happened a few times over the last few years we hack together a "new" old machine for him. We tried using a Virtualbox image on new kit, he couldn't get his head round it. so old machines, old software ( win 98 ) all running isolated from internet just for this purpose. We are also under firm instructions to destroy the records when he dies as there is a character who has previously stolen some of the work which they had published in a single book in our local library and published it commercially claiming credit. it kills me that all that work might just be electronically shredded into oblivion.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      We are also under firm instructions to destroy the records when he dies

      Then why the hell is everyone wasting their time with this?

      published it commercially claiming credit

      At least in the US, this is usually a slam-dunk, legally, since you have the already-published book. You know how pro-copyright Disney is, and Disney writes the laws.

      1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        slam dunk

        Smart money says the plagiarist borrowed the "single book" from the library and never returned it.

      2. gerryg

        Respect rather than arrogance

        It doesn't really matter to anyone else but those involved why they choose to help this 92 yr old. Simple arithmetic suggests he was born in 1930, 12 years after the end of WW1.

        Given than the average age of people dying in WW1 seemed to be about the same as the Vietnam war (anyone else remember "seventeen"?) this would suggest that the project is somehow about the 92 yr old's father and his friends and relatives. Remember villages and towns used to form regiments. This would seem to be a project about enabling the 92 yr old to continue on a personal mission.

        1. david 12 Silver badge

          Re: Respect rather than arrogance

          Dunnu about the UK, but from AUS nobody under 21 died in Vietnam. Age of draft was from 18, but draftees were 'from 18 up', then training, then not everbody who went to Vietnam died.

          One of the lessons of WWI was that teenagers couldn't be depended on to stay awake on watch -- even with the death penalty for sleeping on guard duty. WWI boys lied about their age and enlisted at 16. WWII, the army had decided that they didn't want those kids.

          One of the lessons of WWII was that people over 30 couldn't survive starvation or sickness, and by Vietnam, the army had decided that they didn't want those people. That reduced the average age at death, but by removing the top, not by dropping the bottom.

        2. johndrake7

          Re: Respect rather than arrogance

          The striking and memorable tune you're thinking of is actually +2 ... Paul Hardcastle's "19" (1985). The best version IMO is the single version, in best quality here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F46G5HTjT8A

          1. gerryg

            Re: Respect rather than arrogance

            Ah, yes. Thank you.

        3. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Ian Entwistle

        because sometimes the journey is the best bit and the destination a let down. it keeps him happy so that's enough for me that my skills and bits of time here and there make a difference to this one old man and gives him a reason to live that bit longer.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      I'm having trouble figuring out why that work needs to be destroyed? There are three alternatives I can see for getting around the plagiarism situation:

      1. Go on the offensive and accuse the person with evidence.

      2. Release it publicly before anyone could plagiarize so the person who did the work gets the credit. This could be a commercial publishing if you can convince a publisher, but it could be as simple as uploading it to a website. If you don't want to maintain a website, there are library/archive sites willing to do the hosting and presentation.

      3. Wait to release it until it doesn't matter anymore.

      None of those options requires hiding or destroying historical information, and I'm sure there are people who would like to know it and would greatly appreciate the effort he has put in.

      1. Tubz

        I agree, the amount of information he must have collected cannot be just dumped, it needs to be preserved online, handed over to the Imperial War Museum or to the battalion or it's successors historian.

      2. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        > 2. Release it publicly before anyone could plagiarize so the person who did the work gets the credit. This could be a commercial publishing if you can convince a publisher, but it could be as simple as uploading it to a website. If you don't want to maintain a website, there are library/archive sites willing to do the hosting and presentation

        SocArXiv is an ArXiv-like service but covering the Humanities that he could publish his research to.

        https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/discover?subject=SocArXiv%7CArts%20and%20HumanitiesORSocArXiv%7CArts%20and%20Humanities%7CHistory%7CMilitary%20History

        The work can still be stolen of course but proving plagiarism will be a lot simpler than referencing a book published in a single library.

    3. RobLang

      Well done you for helping out an old fella keep doing the thing that he loves. The shred is going to be tough; but he's happy doing his thing and you're helping. That's the good stuff.

      1. Ian Entwistle

        he reminds me a lot of my dad ( who would be 101 today and who fought in WW2. I also got a lot of history of my grandparents one of who was in WW1 and I have his war records. He had a club foot so wasn't allowed to fight but came back weighing just 6 stone and suffering from what we now call PTSD.

    4. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      "We are also under firm instructions to destroy the records when he dies"

      AAAARRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      breathes

      AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATRRRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      ...speaking as a historian/archivist.

      1. Ian Entwistle

        i know but its his work, his choice, in some ways I think its more to have something to keep his mind sharp although there is a very distinct smell of conspiracy theorist about him. I'm hoping when the time comes to persuade his daughters that it would be better legacy to publish it and I would be happy to make that happen.

    5. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      Franz Kafka, a local boy around here, made his friend Max Brod his literary executor, with instructions to destroy all his unpublished material on his death.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Brod

      Brod did not. He published it.

      As a result, Kafka is celebrated around the world as a literary genius today.

      Take this as a strong hint.

    6. Tron

      Don't destroy it.

      E-mail the Imperial War Museum. Curators take a long view of these things. They can make stuff unavailable for x years if there are copyright issues. Someone down the line will open up access when copyright has passed. Most of Voltaire's works were produced as illicit piracies. Nobody cares about that now, and institutional libraries collect them avidly. Neither books nor research should never be destroyed for such reasons.

  10. John Robson Silver badge

    Stars!

    Still one of the best, most balanced 4X games...

  11. VoiceOfTruth

    if you just want to run some DOS productivity app

    I understand and enjoy the nostalgia for old apps - I have several virtual machines in VirtualBox for precisely this purpose. As mentioned in the article, old apps on modern hardware fly.

    I'm wondering though why I might want to run an actual DOS productivity app as a productivity app. Although I used DOS I wouldn't particularly want to go back to it for production use. Does anyone use DOS for production use these days? It's not a rhetorical question.

    1. Geoffrey W

      Re: if you just want to run some DOS productivity app

      I believe George RR Martin still uses DOS Wordstar to write his magnum opii (opuses? Is that an 8 legged cat? What a terrifying thought.), though applying the word "Productivity" to his latest Ice and Fire book is a bit of a stretch.

      1. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch

        Re: if you just want to run some DOS productivity app

        Magna opera

      2. jmch Silver badge

        Re: if you just want to run some DOS productivity app

        " though applying the word "Productivity" to his latest Ice and Fire book is a bit of a stretch."

        You could say that again! "Dance with Dragons" was published in 2011, 11 years ago and counting. "Winds of Winter" been "due to be published next year" for the last 5 years or so. Bit longer and we're approaching flying car / fusion territory.

        1. Antony Shepherd

          Re: if you just want to run some DOS productivity app

          I still reckon after the response to the ending of the TV series he's just decided people are going to whinge about the book's ending no matter what it is, so rather than have the drama he's just shelved it.

        2. Geoffrey W
          Happy

          Re: if you just want to run some DOS productivity app

          "Winds of Winter" seems to be acquiring it's own mythology, rather like Harlan Ellison's third "Dangerous Visions" anthology which in similar fashion was due to be published every year for about 30 years, before Harlan eventually left us in peace leaving the book unpublished, and lots of expectant authors likewise passing from the world without their DV3 stories emerging. And to think there is yet another book after winds of winter...I do love reading his indignation at the harassment he suffers from indignant fans, and likewise his ever optimistic announcements from time to time. Perhaps he needs to upgrade to an older version of MS Word and let Clippy help him in his struggles. A clippy influenced Game of Thrones! I'd read it. :-)

          1. Geoffrey W

            Re: if you just want to run some DOS productivity app

            I see you're trying to chop off the head of 'The Mountain.' He's a bit bigger than you. Suggestion #1 Run Away! #2 Run Away Faster! #3 Scream!

          2. mtp
            Coat

            Re: if you just want to run some DOS productivity app

            Remember the anticipation for Duke Nukem Forever and it did appear eventually so there is hope .... oh .... hmm .... just collect my coat.

    2. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: if you just want to run some DOS productivity app

      We've got a DOS app that communicates with 8-bit ISA cards (digital IO and ADC) to control a high current/high voltage test box and device-under-test.

      The app can run on Win98, (which, unlike Win2K+, virtualizes the '86 IO port address space). But Win98 messes up the timing.

      So, DOS.

  12. Ozan

    How about wine and dos?

    1. Wally Dug

      How about wine and cheese?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        How about cheese and dos?

        1. logicalextreme

          How about just cheese?

          That's what I often ask myself when I'm looking at any given meal and trying to distil what I really, truly want from it.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Or a wine and cheese do...

    2. Geoffrey W

      What a terrifying idea, makes me want to turn to wine and quaaludes

  13. Jamesit

    A great source for abandoned games from 1978 to present is myabandonware.com, Does anyone know of a good site to get other abandoned programmes?

    1. Ozan

      I used to check out simtel but it is long gone. You might find some mirros going. Also try archive.org. You will be suprized what you can find there.

    2. logicalextreme

      The first rule of Usenet…

  14. Nate Amsden Silver badge

    support was removed by AMD

    I believe I recall(perhaps incorrectly) that the AMD64(?) instruction set disabled 16-bit support when operating in 64-bit mode(if that makes sense). So for example if you wanted to run 16-bit natively you could but your OS would have to be 32-bit. Perhaps it had something to do with making the system with less registers or something?

    Just doing a quick web search turns up one comment(#13) from 2004 which claims this, though I'm confident I recall seeing more official source(s) over the years:

    https://forums.anandtech.com/threads/amd64-and-16-bit-compatibility.1292075/

    Since Intel licensed the instructions from AMD (I think I recall that?) then the same would be true for 16-bit code running on 64-bit Intel x86-64 chips.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: support was removed by AMD

      Sort of. The 32-bit mode (i.e. 386 and stuff natively) has the vm86 instruction that provides a lot of the 16-bit mode emulation, but when AMD made the 64-bit chip they never thought this level of backward compatibility would be needed, hence no vm86 in 64-bit mode.

      Some VMs support the 16-bit mode through emulation but some of the dirty hardware/CPU bits are not so simple and some, like MS, just gave up as they also don't want to support DOS or 16-bit Windows apps, however useful some still are.

      1. Ozan

        Re: support was removed by AMD

        It was the day we learned how vmany of installers were actually 16 bit

  15. Jason Bloomberg

    Beyond DOS

    I've had great success running some legacy 16-bit Windows programs under Windows 10 using OTVDM/ WINEVDM-

    http://www.columbia.edu/~em36/otvdm.html

    It's transparent; install that, launch a 16-bit executable and it just works - YMMV.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      Re: Beyond DOS

      I did look at OTVDM and also at NTVDM.

      http://www.columbia.edu/~em36/ntvdmx64.html

      For me, OTVDM did not work in any clean or simple way. I could run a test 16-bit Windows binary, but not a DOS one.

      Prof Mendelson's download links for NTVDM look to be infected with malware.

      That is why I did not link to them or recommend them.

  16. PRR
    Thumb Up

    > the enhanced DOSBox-X

    Yowie! Frikkin amazing!

    I have a folder full of old DOS tools and toys. Some of them quit in Win32; basically none have run in Win64. (Some were not too solid in MS-DOS 3.0....)

    Yet it took me half an hour to find a fault in DOSBox-X. ATACTION, BEAM, BIORYTHM, PINBALL and EYEBALL from early 1980s with funky graphics and CPU timing ran just a little fast (there's a knob for that). Landmark Speed Test 1990 thinks I have a 80486 @ 3.1MHz which is like a 32MHz AT... ah, it always thinks it is a 32MHz AT no matter what CPU DOSBox-X is asked to be. Even the Landmark docs say CPU speed is tough. 1Dir+ goes resident then never pops-up again; Bourbaki used an undocumented DOS bug to get control away from COMMAND.COM.

    I got a GWBasic routine in a loop in full-screen(!) and it would not respond to Ctrl-Break (or Ctrl-C, ESC, enter...), so you may want to be careful (keep it windowed so Windows can break it).

    1. GrizzleeAdams

      And here we are at the bottom of the comments before we even find mention of the defacto modern replacement for dosemu. DOSBox has been the replacement for dosemu, long before x86-64 came around.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      I am not a gamer, so I confess I did not give any version of DOSBox more than a trivial test.

      The upstream DOSBox is regularly updated and may be worth a try.

  17. Mayday Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Unless it can…

    … play NIBBLES.BAS or GORILLA.BAS it can GTFO.

    Especially Gorilla. Honourable mention to Donkey.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      Re: Unless it can…

      They are not binaries. This is a non-question.

      They run under QBASIC. I am sure it can run QBASIC. Try it!

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: Unless it can…

        Or try this? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QB64

  18. PhilipN

    Edward Mendelson's very helpful WordPerfect for DOS page

    Thank you, Edward

  19. Ian 55

    Borland Sprint

    Vastly better than WP (spit) or Wordstar, while being able to emulate them both.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      Re: Borland Sprint

      Yes, it was, in its way.

      I have not tried it in years, but it used to work.

  20. RobLang

    Emulators and redistributions are really handy for people like me teaching my Zoomer offspring about what it was like. We're too far from NMOC and I can't figure out why the Speccy won't boot, so these emulators are the next best thing. My mum used Wordperfect 5 at work and dad used Wordstar at home, now I get to show the lad what that looks like. Hats off to those that got it all working!

  21. Workshy researcher

    DOS Wordprocessors

    Ah DOS Wordprocessors...

    I taught adults WordStar and then WordPerfect for many years.

    In Wordstar:

    "What do you mean you can't start a line with a full stop?" (it is treated as a comment)

    "Do youy want do do this Y/N?" "Do you really want to do this Y/N?" "Are you sure Y/N?"

    In WordPerfect

    "I told it I wanted the title in bold and it hasn't done it!" Scroll to the top of the document and reveal codes. You then see n (where n is a large integer) [Bold] codes.

    Particularly problematical when you are invilating an RSA Word Processing exam!

  22. BackToTheFuture

    InfoSelect

    I'd pay a King's ransom to be able to use InfoSelect for Dos in Win 10. Still miss it after all these years.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      Re: InfoSelect

      Have you seen this?

      https://www.reddit.com/r/DOS/comments/pgo82g/searching_for_infoselect/

      vDos does not directly support TSRs -- source, its author:

      https://vdos.proboards.com/thread/50/info-select

      Old Windows versions are here:

      https://www.miclog.com/download-old-version/

      1. BackToTheFuture
        Pint

        Re: InfoSelect

        Ooo - thanks _ I'll check it out. Virtual pint for you - enjoy!

  23. nautica Bronze badge
    Thumb Up

    All you need to know to know, if you want to run a (now much better) MS-DOS.

    https://www.freedos.org

    What's a good indicator of attention-to-detail? They've even improved edlin ! !

    [An old, OLD UNIX one-liner: "Not having sendmail is like not having AIDS". Not making any comments or references, mind you.]

  24. BPontius

    Why?!

    Used to enjoy going back to old technology, but anymore going back to old tech. is like remembering junior high and high school. No thank you! Stopped looking in the rearview mirror of technology. Ripped it off the windshield actually.

    1. nautica Bronze badge
      Happy

      Re: Why?!

      One needs to make a distinction between "old tech", and "useless old tech".

      (MS)DOS is an extremely powerful, very viable operating system used in far more places---and important places, at that---than you might imagine.

      Not making any judgements, mind you, but your sentiments sound perilously close to those of millennials (Gen-X/Y/Z-ers)whose mantra is, "if it's not the newest, it can't be any good." But, seeing as how you have the extremely good judgement to be a reader of this venue, I'm sure this doesn't apply to you.

      Oh, and by the way---I'm sure you've heard of that 60++ year-old system called COBOL, 50+ y.o. language called FORTRAN, and 40-something y.o. system called UNIX.

      There are really great applications and uses for (MS)DOS. You simply haven't found them yet...nor encountered them.

      Warmest...

      1. BPontius

        Re: Why?!

        I am fully aware of the uses of DOS, UNIX, the language (not a system) COBOL and FORTRAN. While I occasionally use the DOS prompt in Windows 11, I have no need/use for a full DOS environment, as I have no use/need for the year books or the memories of junior high and high school. Enjoyed working in a DOS environment before there was such a thing as Windows, worked with UNIX before there was DOS. Have no need for them, quite happy in Windows and no desire to go back even to visit. If it works for or is appealing to others great, too each their own.

        Never said they were useless.

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