Archive for August, 2017

Oh FreeDOS You Damn Heartbreaker.

Posted in Uncategorized on August 9, 2017 by Q

Really, it’s not your fault. You can run on modern hardware, but there’s a big catch.

So, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for DOS, and DOS games. I didn’t even know up until rather recently that there was a modern version of DOS called FreeDOS. I discovered this once I started looking into some sick chiptunes that were produced under DOS with Adlib Tracker II. I wanted to give this a try myself, and start learning the software and using DOS as a music making tool. How sick would that be?

While the prospect of playing with DOS again was exciting enough, I discover a new version. Something that can support modern machines. I have been all Apple for an awful long time now. I was obsessed with Macintosh as a kid (it was my first computer) as well as the journey of growing up. I remember feeling so happy with the notion that I had my Mac formatted floppy disks, the schools had Macs, and nobody else could work as easily as I could on school things since I had all the same software available, and anyone else that had a computer had a Windows computer. Anyway, I nonetheless had plenty of DOS and PC exposure too because that’s what my dad had. I played a lot of DOS games. Tinkered around plenty too, and at one point when he had an upgrade, he gave it to me at so I had both my Mac and a PC. Good ol’ DOS, lots of memories.

So anyway, while I’m basically all Apple in the modern day, I have an older HP tower around with a Pentium 4 dual core chip, 4 gb of ram, and SATA hardware. It’s been a tinker toy for things like Plan9 and BSD, but I discover FreeDOS and am immediately happy to wipe that machine and make it a native, pure DOS machine. Look how awesome. FreeDOS supports large memory, supports long file names, has much better support for networking, and lots more. I’m ready to gung-ho and rock DOS a little religiously for a while. But damn it, do you know what my experience with FreeDOS has been? It’s like putting a bottle of iced water inside of an unbreakable safe and plopping it down on someone who has been frying in the christian idea of “hell” for a few decades. No really. My excitement was crushed when I realized that FreeDOS is really only useful on ancient machines, despite it’s abilities on modern hardware. Why? It’s missing one immediate component: SOUND. God damn it. If you aren’t using archaic sound hardware that has DOS drivers available, then it becomes a completely lost cause. It’s even advertised to be a fantastic system for retro gaming. Kind of kills the enjoyment when it’s in complete silence. So as I said at the beginning, no, it’s not really FreeDOS’ fault. In my case, the tower has an integrated Intel HDA chip. There is no DOS support or Blaster emulation for that. I really want to cry dammit.

I know I know, use DOSbox they all say. Maybe I don’t want too. That’s right, I’m old. Late 30’s, so yeah I’m old. I don’t want to emulate the operating system, I want to run the real thing, on the real hardware, native and pure just like I like my chiptune. Don’t get me wrong, I have DOSbox running on my MacBook. It hits the spot when I’m in the mood for a little DOS gaming. Still, I would love to have a proper, dedicated DOS machine, and I definitely don’t want to make chip music under an emulator. If I were OK with that, I might as well fake it right use some kind of DAW. Nah, that doesn’t float my boat. Anyway, unlike the people who’s digital religion is GNU/GPL, free for all non-proprietary license free etc etc., I don’t rightly care about that shit. If Microsoft’s implementation of say himem.sys or emm386 were better for my use, I’d drop ’em onto the system in a heartbeat. Same with audio drivers, I’m more than satisfied to use proprietary stuff if it will do the job. Since I was a kid who grew up a Macintosh worshipper, I was around when Apple and third party licensing were to things that didn’t go in the same sentence. Their refusal in the early days of Mac to get into that game almost killed the platform, barely any third party software and all. Now, as much I would like to see an open source driver for sound, I would happily go either way if it could just work. But it doesn’t. So no, as it appears, there is no way to get any sound on a modern or semi-modern machine under FreeDOS.

As far as Adlib Tracker II goes, I’m going to have to spend a little money if I want to do a DOS album and procure an old school machine with ISA slots. I could very well use FreeDOS there but then since I’m not a GNU fanatic, what would be the point? Might as well use the original king itself, MS-DOS 6.22. For the record, I have tried assorted Sound Blaster drivers and generic drivers under MS-DOS 6.22, the hack compilation that people affectionately refer to as MS-DOS 7.10, and FreeDOS with my little HP tower. No Blaster emulation means no go I suppose. I’m not a DOS expert, but I did my best and tinkered for too much time trying to get this to work. Guess I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the future. In the meantime, despite this major letdown (you know, the no sound thing), I still have to tip my hat to the folks who have made a modern DOS than can generally run on modern hardware, and that’s sort of a miracle since we’re talking about the idea of an operating system that was in regular use what, more than 20 years ago? The retro computing nerd in me still loves the general idea.

Till later!
–BitPusher