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About FreeDOS

From small beginnings

FreeDOS started as a small operating system idea in early 1994. At the time, Microsoft had announced that the next version of Windows would not use MS-DOS. It seemed that MS-DOS would go away.

After some discussion on the comp.os.msdos.apps Usenet news group, Jim Hall made the first announcement of the FreeDOS Project. At the time, Jim named it "PD-DOS" for "Public Domain DOS," because we wanted our version of DOS to be used by anyone (the "public domain").

The "two letters and a hyphen" was also a play on other DOS versions. You had MS-DOS, DR-DOS, PC-DOS, … and now you had PD-DOS.

But after a few weeks, we realized that "public domain" had a different meaning, and we really wanted our DOS to be "Free software," so anyone could:

  1. Run our DOS to do what they wanted
  2. Modify it to add new features or fix bugs
  3. Share it so others could use it
  4. Make new releases that everyone could use

We wanted people to be able to use our DOS, but we didn't want anyone to repackage our DOS and make it proprietary. This is really "Free software," so we changed the name from "PD-DOS" to "Free-DOS" a few weeks later, in early- or mid-July, 1994. We later dropped the hyphen sometime in late 1995. Pat Villani used the name "FreeDOS" in his book, The FreeDOS Kernel, published January 6, 1996.

FreeDOS is open source software

We believe that FreeDOS is open source software! It doesn’t cost anything to download and use FreeDOS. You can also share FreeDOS for others to enjoy! And you can view and edit our source code, because all FreeDOS programs are distributed under the GNU General Public License or a similar open source software license.

We try very hard to only include only programs that are:

The first point is important. There's no point in having a FreeDOS if it isn't free. That means FreeDOS needs to remain open source software. We should not include any programs that do not allow people to view and modify the source code.

In deciding what licenses are "okay," we look to:

However: DOS is a very old operating system. The first version of DOS came out in 1983 (PC-DOS on the IBM PC-XT). A lot of people wrote software for DOS since then. Most of it was proprietary software. The "open source" model hadn't been invented yet.

That means licenses for some programs ("packages") we include in FreeDOS pre-date the popularity of the GNU General Public License (v1 in 1989, v2 in 1991) or the Open Source Initiative (1998). Other programs use their own licenses or other licenses not evaluated by GNU or OSI. These licenses will need to be evaluated by FreeDOS. Goal will be to include programs with licenses that are suitably "free" and "open source."

See FreeDOS 1.3 Packages for decisions on packages.

See FreeDOS 1.3 Licenses for decisions on licenses.

But we support classic DOS programs too

FreeDOS is an open source DOS-compatible operating system that you can use to play classic DOS games, run legacy business software, or develop embedded systems. Any program that works on MS-DOS should also run on FreeDOS.

FreeDOS isn't much of a DOS if we can't run DOS applications. That means any classic proprietary DOS application will run on FreeDOS, too.

Sometimes, we talk about proprietary or "closed source" DOS programs on our Twitter feed, Facebook group, blog, and YouTube channel. For example, we sometimes highlight popular DOS games or applications. This is not meant to promote proprietary software instead of open source software; instead, we do this to show that any program that works on MS-DOS should also run on FreeDOS.

We also reach out to vendors who released popular DOS applications, to try to convince them to release those programs as open source. (Please feel free to contact them yourself!) Unfortunately, the answer is often "no," usually because they no longer have the source code for a 20+ year old product. Where they cannot release source code, we ask them to at least release these programs as free/gratis, so everyone can use them. However, we do not include these free/gratis "closed source" programs in FreeDOS; please do not ask us to.

Please join us!

We welcome everyone to contribute to FreeDOS! Most of our communication is via email lists (sometimes called "mailing lists").

Both lists are pretty low-volume.