What the heck is FreeDOS?

I went to the PIKOM PC Fair yesterday and I noticed several brands sold with “FreeDOS”.  These brands include Acer, Asus, HP, and (I’m told) Dell.  None of the sellers seem to know what FreeDOS is, and when asked about it most of them offer to install an unlicensed (illegal) copy of Windows 7 for free with the purchase of the computer.  Some even claim that FreeDOS is no operating system and that users need to install Windows.

In the article title, I’m being slightly disingenuous.  I know exactly what FreeDOS is.  I’ve used it and I like it.  It’s an excellent and active free software project, similar in it’s licensing and (lack of) restrictions to most Linux distributions, but that’s where the similarities stop.

FreeDOS has a narrower focus from other operating systems like Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s OSX, and (everyone’s) Linux.  It doesn’t handle audio, video, graphics, or internet connectivity the way we’re accustomed to.  It doesn’t even implement the “desktop” metaphor we all depend on.  In short, it’s not meant to be anyone’s primary desktop operating system.

So, why are these manufacturers selling computers with FreeDOS?!

I’m guessing that they want to provide a product to consumers who don’t want Microsoft software, but they don’t want to endanger their professional relationship with Microsoft.  On one hand, they have consumers who don’t want Microsoft, and on the other hand they are afraid of Microsoft, who doesn’t want Linux.  It might seem like a reasonable compromise some marketing executive, but not to me.

Regardless of how I look at it, it’s a bad decision…  There is a reasonable expectation that these computers will end up with an illegal copy of Windows, so they’re abusing their relationship with Microsoft.  By selling a computer that people can’t use right away, they are abusing their relationship with consumers.  And, by installing FreeDOS on these computers as a throw-away operating system, they are exposing it to the wrong audience, disrespecting the effort put into this excellent Open Source Software project, and effectively slandering FreeDOS.

Update 18 March 2011:
I’ve just learned that Ubuntu has an OEM installation option on their Alternate Installation CD and a brief overview provided in their Community Documentation site.  This is an especially nice option for owners of small computer shops.  I wasn’t able to find a similar option for Fedora or SuSE

12 thoughts on “What the heck is FreeDOS?”

  1. To be honest, when I first saw FreeDOS few years back, I though it was Linux. Back then, I would prefer to have licensed Windows, because my work use a lot of software running under that OS. Thanks for the insight.

    1. When I started working with computers, I used MS-DOS and I loved it. I hated and resisted Windows until I couldn’t any more. I didn’t discover Unix and Linux until years later. Then, when I learned about projects like FreeDOS and DOSBox, my reaction was something like “Hey! … cool!”. I was even more impressed when I learned that they continue to move forward with the projects and there are modern applications of the technology.
      To me, this is really awesome and I think it’s a direction only available to free software projects.

      1. I love FreeDOS…it follows the KISS principle. I just hope it continues to be developed. I resist Windows at every opportunity.

    1. Thanks Lankapo. Actually I’ve been trying to encourage my local and national open source groups to do something like that as well as providing discs and information directly to the sellers for free. I really believe that a little bit of proactive effort now has the potential to yield tremendous benefits for sellers, consumers, and the open source software community.

  2. I think these vendors don’t want to install a full linux desktop, because it’s a real work, and if it’s not *perfectly* configured, the buyers could complain.

    And why install a full Linux for buyers who will erase it and install a *legal* copy of windows (with the box) they have purchased for their previous and (now) dead PC ? I know, that’s uncommon, but that happens.

    By installing FreeDOS, they give the possibility for the buyer to check that the PC can boot, not more.

    I find this method entirely logical and relevant.

    1. Vendors demonstrate that they’re not concerned about doing extra work or configuration for their customers when they volunteer to install Windows.

      Consumers who shop for a new computer planning to replace its OS don’t count. Even so, it’s difficult to transfer a Windows license to a new computer… another sacrifice of reason to copyright law. Computers don’t even come with regular installation discs any more. They only have “recovery” discs.

      Linux is a fully-functional desktop operating system. It’s easy to install (as easy as FreeDOS), and comes bundled with software that fully demonstrates functionality of a new computer. Any manufacturer would want to demonstrate that the computer does more than boot. And any buyer would want to know what a computer can do before they buy it.

      — Ghodmode

  3. Interesting and original post. Thank you for it. When I wondered why folks would not have Linux installed, but would have FreeDOS I came to same conclusions.
    And, of course, disagreements worth noting:
    – FreeDOS benefits from being heard about by average person. Yeah, some are bound to misunderstand, but that’s not the OS fault, but seller’s. Still, I – learning that I can have a laptop with freeDOS learned about freeDOS at all. :-) And I too am impressed by what guys did.
    – you can and should resist, negate and neglect Microsoft. :-) 😉 feel encouraged to do so. 😉

    1. Thank you for your comment. Since I wrote that post, I’ve become part of a team that’s working on the problem. It’s organized by Consumers International and the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations and they’re trying to work with vendors to see if they can have Ubuntu replace FreeDOS on low-end computers. It’s only been a few months, but maybe it will make a difference.

      I’ve also added new services on my home page: Free Linux Installations and Free Linux Media. No one has taken me up on the offer yet.

  4. thanks for the information!! I’m very confusing with this kind of “FreeDoss OS” ? ..
    I also went to PIKOM PC FAIR – Malaysia , Sabah. they don’t know anything lol!

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