Last week I set a goal for myself: To live entirely in DOS for one week, in order to demonstrate how “old” technology is just as viable and usable as modern tech. Also it sounded like fun.
And fun it was. Challenging? Yes. At times, rather frustrating? You betcha. But it was definitely fun, and with a number of surprising up-sides. Enough up-sides, in fact, that I think I’ll keep on using at least some parts of my fancy DOS setup for the foreseeable future.
PART ONE: A Linux user switches to DOS
Let’s talk for a moment about my initial setup. I first started with VirtualBox running MS-DOS. Then, I began pulling together my needed DOS software collection (in part from floppies pulled out of a box in my closet), the key parts of which I am going to list below in order to help those interested in trying something similar:
1. Text Editor – EditV
2. Word Processor – Microsoft Word 5.5
3. Spreadsheet – Lotus 1-2-3
4. Graphics – Deluxe Paint II
5. Email – PC-Pine
6. Web Browser – Arachne
The only two non-free applications in the above list are Deluxe Paint (which is truly stellar, as many Amiga users will tell you) and Lotus.
With a bit of help from the internet, I managed to get networking up and rocking. Email via Pine was actually rather pleasant, and highly nostalgic. Web browsing with Arachne was… challenging. Some websites loaded well enough, and if I utilized the mobile versions of some sites it worked much better. In this regard browsing the web via DOS is an awful lot like browsing the web on a BlackBerry.
(For those interested in taking this for a spin, I recommend starting with this pre-built VirtualBox image of FreeDOS with networking already set up.)
Satisfied that I technically could live in DOS, if I really had to, I set out to see if I could make it a truly enjoyable experience. So I changed things up a bit and scrapped VirtualBox and MS-DOS and jumped over to using DOSBox.
DOSBox emulates DOS with an eye towards games. But it has two key advantages: You can mount local file systems as your “C Drive” and it has been ported to every platform on the planet.
I put DOSBox on my laptop. And my desktop. And my tablet. And my phone. Then I put my “C Drive,” with all of the DOS software I needed (plus a few games), into a folder in my DropBox. This means that I can use my Android tablet or phone to work on my files – which are then synced via DropBox – and available on all of my other DOSBox installations.
And it is glorious. I have the same data, same working environment, same tools with me on every device, wherever I go. And it Zis fast as greased lightning.
In the end, did I replace my fancy Linux desktop with good old DOS? Nope. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. But the power of combining the two is just too awesome (and nerdy) to ignore.