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FreeDOS install How-to

  1. What to Get
  2. Known bugs
  3. To Install
    1. Installing on a PC
    2. Installing on Linux DOSEmu
    3. Installing on OS/2
    4. Installing on MacBochs
  4. After You Install

What to Get

The FreeDOS distributions are available in several variants on:


  • fdbasecd lets you install FreeDOS on harddisk. The functionality is

similar to what you know from MS DOS.

  • fdbasews contains everything from fdbasecd, plus all source code, plus

a pre-installed FreeDOS which you can run directly from CDROM. The whole cdrom is still smaller than 50 MB.

  • fdfullcd adds many extra programs like compilers and more utilities.

If you only want some of the extra programs, you can start with the base distro and download packages separately from the download area.

  • fdfullws also includes the source codes of all the extra programs.

It is better to download only the sources which you are interested in, to avoid the big download of fdfullws. Even heavy DOS users should be happy with the normal fdfullcd which is about 150 MB.

If your computer cannot boot from cdrom, or if the boot loader on the FreeDOS cdrom does not support your BIOS, then you will have to boot from an existing DOS or from diskette. We provide a special boot diskette which will automatically detect the FreeDOS cdrom and then change to that drive and start the installer. You can download the diskette from the same place as the ISO images. To create a diskette from the image, use FreeDOS DISKCOPY (which you can also download separately, for example from http://www.ibiblio.org/pub/micro/pc-stuff/freedos/files/distributions/1.0/pkgs/dskcopyx.zip …) or the RAWRITE tool or a suitable tool for any operating system you already have. For example in Linux, you can use dd if=theimagefile of=/dev/fd0 to copy a diskette image to a formatted diskette in fd0 (DOS would call that the a: drive).

You can also boot the install cdrom on a computer which does support booting from that cdrom, and select the “create boot diskette” menu item in the install cdrom menu.

With the special boot diskette, you can even install on a PC which does not have a cdrom drive: Just copy the ISO image file (cdrom image) to a file called c:fdbootcd.iso and the installer boot diskette will “mount” that file. In other words, it will create a virtual cdrom in a virtual cdrom drive from it.

Known Bugs

FreeDOS 1.0 has a few known bugs which are too small to upload updated ISO images yet. However, those bugs can be quite annoying if you do not know how to fix them yourself, so here is a list of bugs and bug fixes.

Note that FreeDOS can use c:\fdconfig.sys and c:\yourfreedosdirectory\fdauto.bat instead of c:\config.sys and c:\autoexec.bat - this is meant to make it easier to install FreeDOS and other DOS versions on the same C:, letting each of the two have a separate configuration. FreeDOS will look for fdconfig.sys first and will only use config.sys if fdconfig.sys is not present! The SHELL line in your config file is where alternative batch files instead of autoexec.bat can be linked.

  • (fd)config.sys contains a "SET lang=DE " line if you

install German FreeDOS. Note that there is a space after the DE and before the end of the line. This space confuses the translation library of many tools, so they will use the English default messages instead. Use EDIT to edit your config.sys and remove the space. Note that many tools simply do not support translated messages yet. Let us know which tools we should translate next.

  • the HELP command only supports English language yet. If

you want to use HELP but also want to use translated tools, write a MYHELP.BAT as follows and type MYHELP instead of HELP to get English help while keeping the rest of the system in your other language.

set MAINLANG=%LANG% set LANG=EN HELP %1 %2 %3 %4 %5 set LANG=%MAINLANG% set MAINLANG=

  • the \”load without drivers\” option 4 is not available because

no config.sys line uses it. However, autoexec.bat uses it. To solve this, add the following line to config.sys: 4?ECHO No drivers loaded

  • it is hard to load the DISPLAY driver into upper memory at

the moment. If you comment out the DISPLAY line (put “REM” in front of the line) in autoexec.bat, you will no longer be able to display country specific symbols like the EURO sign on the screen, but FreeDOS will continue to work as usual in all other aspects. MODE CON CODEPAGE commands will show error messages because they only have an effect when DISPLAY is loaded. You can make DISPLAY the first driver to be loaded but if you do not have at least 64 kB of UMB space during init of DISPLAY, it will load low and consume some of your 640 kB low RAM.

  • if you do not need long file names, comment out the DOSLFN

line. This will also save DOS memory.

  • you (more or less) only need SHARE when you run Windows 3,

so you can save again some DOS memory by omitting SHARE. It should be possible to get 620 kB DOS memory free now :-).

  • Windows 3.0 and 3.1 must be run in STANDARD mode (type

WIN /S, and SHARE must be loaded. Otherwise Windows will crash as soon as you open a DOS box or DOS program in it.

  • If you have more than 256 MB RAM, you have to add a line

PageOverCommit=1 to your [386Enh] section in the system.ini of your Windows. If you have even more than 1 GB RAM, you will have to use the HIMEM “MAX” option to limit the amount of RAM visible to DOS to something which Windows can handle.

  • For the 386 Enhanced Mode of Windows 3.x, including the

special Windows for Workgroups 3.11 version, you will have to use the special experimental “2037 unstable” kernel and you must not load EMM386.

  • If you are experiencing frequent crashes, try to boot

without EMM386. It can easily happen that EMM386 tries to give you UMB space at a location which is already in use by something like SCSI, SATA, USB, PCMCIA or a network card. Those are often not detectable with the standard “X=TEST” option to exclude invalid UMB space. In this case, you have to disable EMM386, find out which areas can be used for UMB, and add suitable X=from-to or I=from-to range options to the EMM386 lines in your config.sys; Note that the NOEMS option gives you 64 kB extra UMB space but disables EMS 3.2 support, so only EMS 4.0 compatible programs will be able to use EMS. See the “EMM386 /?” output for more information.

To Install

Installing on a PC

Boot from an existing DOS, from one of the cdroms, or from the special boot diskette. In the latter two cases, simply follow the menus to install DOS. In the former case, you will first have to make sure that the cdrom can be accessed. You can also use the ISO images directly instead of using a real cdrom. See above for details.

If your computer has no partitions with FAT filesystem yet, you will have to create one before you can install DOS. For example GPARTED which is included with many Linux distros and many Linux versions which can be run directly from CD or DVD (no installation of Linux on harddisk needed) can resize your existing NTFS Windows partitions to make space for DOS without having to reinstall Windows. FreeDOS will need one FAT type partition: This can be FAT12, FAT16 or FAT32, but FAT16 is clearly the recommended choice: FAT12 is too small and FAT32 is hard to boot from. You can use Windows or Linux to create and/or format the partition, if needed. Of course you can also use the FreeDOS install cdrom for that, but as this cdrom does not allow you to resize existing partitions, you should better use other tools. If you already do have a FAT partition, you can skip all the partition / format steps.

Most of the install process is guided by a menu system and should be self explanatory. The default source and target directories should be used. Note that DOS calls the first DOS compatible partition C: - this may not be the same as the first Windows partition, in particular with Windows XP or NT or 2000. When you booted from the install cdrom, the DOS A: drive will be a virtual boot diskette, and your actual diskette drive will be called B:. As soon as you boot from harddisk or diskette again, the virtual boot diskette will not be there any more, and your real diskette drive will be called A: again. If you install to a C: drive which already has another DOS or Windows 95/98 on it, the installer will often be able to automatically install a boot menu and keep FreeDOS configuration separate from the config and autoexec of the other DOS or Windows.

To be able to boot the installed FreeDOS from harddisk later, your DOS partition must either be the active / bootable one among your primary partitions or you will have to add a DOS menu item to your boot menu. For example Windows NT/2000/XP already includes a boot menu, as does Linux. In Windows, you have to edit boot.ini to create menu items. In Linux, you edit /etc/lilo.conf if you use LiLo or the menu.lst if you use GRUB. In the latter case, you will add something like:

title DOS # 0,3 is the GRUB way of saying /dev/hda4 rootnoverify (hd0,3) # optionally do: makeactive (flag partition as bootable) # select the boot sector of that partition chainloader +1 # this is implicit in non-interactive mode: boot

Installing on Linux DOSEmu

This section needs your input… The general idea:

DOSEmu can boot from any real or virtual (diskimage) diskette drive when you do “xdosemu -A”. It can boot from a virtual harddisk with “xdosemu -C”. The latter can be either a special diskimage or simply a Linux directory. Put the ISO file into the Linux directory which simulates C: in your DOSEmu configuration, and boot DOSEmu with our special boot diskette, possibly just the diskimage of it. Then you can follow the normal install process to install FreeDOS on the simulated C: drive of DOSEmu. No partitioning nor formatting will be required, but you will have to convince the installer that the non-FAT C: drive is actually a working install target in some way. You can alternatively create a DOSEmu diskimage drive D: and install to that drive. Then you can swap the drive letters in the DOSEmu configuration at the appropriate time.

Installing on OS/2

This section might be outdated, but the general outline is still the same: You can install to anywhere by simply unzipping all zip files of the distro into a directory and using ZIP. Some parts are already up to date for FreeDOS 1.0, while others might not be.

Marty Peritsky (k3pbu @ arrl.net) writes:

OS/2 has the ability to run FreeDOS in a “Virtual DOS Machine” (VDM), which can be started from either a diskette or a diskette-image file. Before beginning the FreeDOS installation, you may want to review the OS/2 VDM documentation by doing the following: Double-click on the Information icon on your desktop; double-click on the Application Considerations icon; click on the “+” to expand the Application Compatibility topic; click on the “+” to expand the DOS Application Compatibility topic; read the sections entitled “Running a Specific Version of DOS” and “Creating a DOS Image from a Startup Diskette.”

To begin the installation process, start an OS/2 Command Prompt session. Create a directory called FDXFER, and move your .ZIP, files to it. Use your UNZIP program on those files. You can use the DISKCOPY program which is in one of the ZIP files to copy the special boot diskette image to a real diskette: DISKCOPY filename A: will do that, even in OS/2.

When the DISKCOPY operation is complete, enter the following commands:


Next, start the OS/2 System Editor, and add the following line to the top of the A:CONFIG.SYS file:


Save the file, and exit the editor. On your desktop, double-click on the OS/2 System icon; double-click on the Command Prompts icon; double-click on the DOS from Drive A icon. A full-screen DOS session will start, booting from the A: FreeDOS diskette.

The following steps are optional, and will allow you to start FreeDOS from a diskette image.

To make the diskette image, open an OS/2 Command Prompt session, insert the FreeDOS boot diskette in drive A: and enter:


The VMDISK program will display a message, warning that the diskette may not be bootable. Ignore the message and proceed. Next, copy the DOS Full Screen object in your OS/2 Command Prompts folder to the desktop. In the desktop object you just created, open the DOS_Settings on the Session page, and type the full name and path of your boot image file (C:FREEDOS.IMG) under the Startup_Drive option. When you click on this icon, it will boot a FreeDOS session from the image file, which emulates the floppy drive.

If you need to access your physical A: drive after the image session has been started, run the FSACCESS.EXE program which exists on your image file and in the C:/OS2/MDOS directory. The command syntax is:


Congratulations again! The optional part of the installation procedure is now complete.

Installing on MacBochs

This section might be outdated. Please let us know if it has to be updated.

David Batterham (drbatter @ socs.uts.edu.au) wrote the “MacBochs Easy Install” document, formerly at members.xoom.com/macbochs/easy-install.html)

This simple install procedure will give you the MacBochs x86 PC emulator plus a pre-installed copy of FreeDOS, a completely free DOS-like operating system.

GNU Free Documentation License

Copyright (c) 2001–2006 Jim Hall, Eric Auer

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

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