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Fun with vDOS (Emulation)

posted by Dennis(R), 16.10.2014, 21:01

One of the things I've done under Linux is to use DOSBOX to run DOS apps. DOSBOX is intended for running old DOS games, but my usage is character mode apps. (And there's a DOSBOX port to Android. It's a tickle to get some old DOS apps running on my 7" Android 4.2 Jellybean tablet.)

vDOS is a fork of DOSBOX intended to run DOS business applications. (The author explicitly says that if you want to run games, use DOSBOX.) It's not cross-platform, and specific to current 64 bit Windows platforms. It comes with a demo app based on WPCorp's old DataPerfect DB program for DOS. I found out about it on a WordStar mailing list as a way to get classic WordStar to run on a current machine.

Usage is simple enough. Install it where you like. (In my case, that's D:\MSDOS\vDOS.) Create a desktop shortcut. Right-click the icon and select Properties. In Properties, make Start In: the directory where the DOS app you want to run is located.

vDOS uses the files AUTOEXEC.TXT and CONFIG.TXT to control configuration. Copy them to the directory where the DOS app is, and edit appropriately. The same files contain possible options, REMmed out, with comments on what they do. UnREM the ones you want active.

The main new command in vDOS is USE. It's the equivalent of SUBST under DOS. You use it to associate drive letters in vDOS to directories on your hard drive. The default action is to map C: to the directory vDOS starts in. That means vDOS can only see that directory, so you may wish to change it.

The main limitation is that vDOS only understands and shows DOS 8+3 filenames. Long file names will not appear in a vDOS directory and operations on them aren't possible.

I use the following to run Eric Meyer's VDE WordStar clone (


rem Config.txt for VDE
rem vDOS can convert XMS to EMS. I don't, here.
rem EMS = ON
rem Default conventional memory is 575KB. This adds another 64KB.
rem Not strictly needed for VDE.
rem vDOS can use a TrueType font in the app directory as default font.
rem I use Lucida Console.
rem By default, vDOS runs in a borderless window. I want the borders.
rem By default, the vDOS window is 75% of the physical screen.
re On my 23" monitor in 1920x180 resolution, 20% is a better size
rem I want a 50 line and 80 column screen
LINS = 50
COLS = 80
rem config.txt ends


rem autoexec.txt for VDE
USE C: C:\
USE D: D:\
rem Various DOS utils live in D:MSDOS\bin
set PATH=d:\msdos\bin
rem EXIT
rem autoexec.txt ends

And these run 4DOS 8.0:

rem config.txt for 4DOS
LINS = 50
COLS = 80
rem config.txt ends


use c: c:\
use d: d:\
rem vDOS creates a virtual drive Z:, containing a 0 byte entry for COMMAND.COM
rem I have an actual drive Z: (a ramdisk) so I map it to X:
use x: z:\
PATH D:\msdos\4DOS;D:\msdos\bin
set COMSPEC=d:\4dos\
rem ctload is an old Creative Labs utility to load device drivers from the
rem command line. vDOS doesn't support DEVICE=<driver> so this is a possible
rem work-around. Still experimenting with what will work.
rem ctload
rem 704K maps 64K of DOS video RAM to conventional memory. It appears to work.
rem vDOS does support loadhigh, so I load an ANSI driver
cd \msdos\4dos
rem EXIT

So far, vDOS has run everything I've tried. The big issue is that it needs to be better documented, and a fair amount of "Does this work?" "Crap. No. Let's try this..." fiddling is required. I'd also love to see long file name support. (I haven't been able to get an LFN driver to load.)

A plus for vDOS is print support. It comes with a shareware app called DOSprint that runs in Windows and lets DOS apps print via Windows. But it also supports virtual COM ports 1-9 and LPT 1-4. You can specify them, and state what action is taken when the port is opened. For an old character mode DOS game that can print a game map, I use LPT1 = notepad2 #lpt1.asc to generate the map as the file #lpt1.asc, and view it in notepad2.

Fun, for suitable values of the term.


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