Friday, February 22, 2008

Deja Vu: DOSBox, Boxer, and Windows 3.11

I have a soft spot in my heart for all things old. It's in my nature, and perhaps explains why my first degree was in History. So, while I like to check out new software, new hardware, and new computing concepts, I get nostalgic for the old days, and running my DOS apps in a nice, slow environment.

One of the drawbacks I had from going to Mac from Windows was the loss of my windows games. It's not a huge loss, as I don't have a lot of time to play them, but I do miss it from time to time. But what I miss even more are the old DOS games that I grew up with. I miss my Ultima series, Space Quest, and particularly Martian Dreams. With UNIX being a big part of the Mac OS, I lost all the old DOS apps that I loved. What to do?

Well, I started browsing around for applications in general, and came across DOSBox. It's a great program that emulates DOS well enough to run most if not all DOS apps out there. I played with it, but it required a lot of steps to mount the drive that took some getting used to. Also, the key bindings were a little foreign for a Mac user, so some things didn't quite make sense to me.

Well, I kept using it, and in fact managed to install quite a few applications. Then, I started to wonder, what would happen if I installed a DOS-based windowing system, like Windows 3.11? I have at least one program (Sit Meier's Colonization) that has a Windows install, and works best that way. Well, I started checking it out, and found out that someone installed it on Ubuntu, and so I figured it should be just as easy to do so on the Mac.

So why not use VMWare, or Parallels? Because I'm on a PowerPC, and don't have the option of using either of those applications. So this actually is an interesting alternative for me, should I want to use a Windows application. Of course, that's if I can get it to work. ^_^

Well, I started by grabbing an old image of Windows 3.11. I had an old 486 that had 3.11 on it, and as such was able to get a legal copy. ^_^ Once the image was gathered, I moved it into the dosdrive folder I created (this is used as the root directory for DOSBox). Once in there, I was able to boot into DOSBox, mount the drive, and then install Windows 3.11 without a hitch.

Once it was installed, I was able to install my windows 3.11 application without any trouble. It works great, and even identifies a basic sound card. What it doesn't do (at least that I can see), is recognize a network device. As such, I'm not able to access the network from Windows 3.11. This would be handy to have, should I ever be forced to use Internet Explorer to access a website.

Now, once I got through all this, I started to get a little annoyed at the need to mount the drive all the time. Someone mentioned that all you have to do is find the dosbox.conf file and edit it to automount the drive, but I haven't been able to find it. Luckily, while reading the forum postings, I found a wonderful project: Boxer. It's just an Applescript wrapped around DOSBox, but it's great for what I want. It let me set an automatic folder as my root DOS directory, and as such saves me a little bit of time.

So, the long and the short of this program is: I like DOSBox! It's a great environment that works for all the old DOS games, and even a DOS version of Word (Word 6.0). The only thing I would want more out of it is a networking component that WIndows can see/install without any trouble, and allow for internet/email usage. Why? Because then the only reasons I would need VMWare or Parallels would be taken care of by DOSBox, and some pretty slick WIndows 3.11/95 applications. ^_^


Alun said...

Hi Jeremy, I'm the Boxer developer - glad to hear it was some use to you! :) While it was designed for running programs directly from Finder, it's interesting to hear that you're using it to run a regular DOS session directly.

Jeremy Robb said...

Hi Alun! Yes, I love it, particularly because I can run DOS. Thanks for your hard work!