FreeDOS, the clone of MS-DOS that is preinstalled on PCs “without an operating system”, launches its new version 1.3 (with live-CD included)

When we buy a PC (desktop or laptop), it most often comes pre-installed with some version of Microsoft Windows. But that, of course, means an extra cost to the manufacturer, who must pay the relevant licenses to the Redmond company. But, due to an agreement that Microsoft has with the manufacturers, they cannot launch their equipment on the market without any OS.

So sometimes manufacturers choose to save costs with some models, and pre-install another operating system, so that the user can purchase and install a copy of Windows later… if that is their wish. In these cases, the OS chosen to be pre-installed at the factory is not usually Linux, but a much less well-known one: FreeDOS.

More than a clone, a free update

FreeDOS is an open source operating system, a clone of Microsoft’s MS-DOS, the command line system from which Windows was born in the 1980s. FreeDOS itself was born in 1994 at the hands of by one person, Jim Hall, inspired by the newborn Linux and motivated by the announcement of the impending ‘death’ of MS-DOS at the hands of Windows 95.

Hall, who was eventually joined by a large group of developers, stated a year ago that “a long time ago, we decided that FreeDOS shouldn’t just be an MS-DOS clone, but that it should try to be a Modern DOS“.

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“And I think the current FreeDOS 1.2 (and the upcoming FreeDOS 1.3) represent that, within the limitations of being a single-tasking 16-bit command line operating system. FreeDOS can do more than MS-DOS could do at its peak, and includes tons of extra utilities.”

We can install FreeDOS on an old computer that we keep, forgotten, in some box, to run legacy software; or we can install it on our brand new Windows 11, either as part of the DOSemu emulator to play abandonware video games, or in a virtual machine. There are also those who use it as a base for system recovery or backup creation discs.

And FreeDOS 1.3 arrives…

And that FreeDOS 1.3 that Hall was referring to just got released today, six years after the release of FreeDOS 1.2. And it has done so with several new features: FreeCOM (its command interpreter) has reached version 0.85a, while the kernel included in this new version is 2043. Most of the included packages have received some improvement or update, while new ones have also been included, and the installation system has been improved.

To all this is added for the first time the availability of a 375 MB Live-CD edition that allows us to both install the system on our hard drive and test it (along with its total catalog of software ) without the need for installation. In addition to CDs, there are other editions of FreeDOS for different storage media, such as USBs or floppy disks, starting at 20 MB in weight.

From FreeDOS they tried to demonstrate a couple of months ago, with the release of a video (above) of the Release Candidate 5 of FreeDOS 1.3, what their operating system had to contribute to the user. There we can see the OS installation process, the direct use of several text and code editors, of video games such as Pacman and Solitaire, the operation of its file manager, of its package manager and its HTML-based help system.