Double Retro Friday: Using The Internet In DOS
After I wrote my Retro Friday article on conventional memory, I decided to give configuring internet connectivity in FreeDOS another go; I finally got it to work with FreeDOS 1.1, so I am no longer a sad panda concerning that. It’s been literally years where I’ve tried off and on again to get internet working in DOS, and now I have.
As I said in my other article, getting the TCP/IP stack loaded in MS-DOS is next to impossible because you’re pretty much guaranteed to run out of conventional memory. FreeDOS has a newer stack called mTCP that does allow the stack to load because it smaller, faster, and as the home page for that software states, it will even run on a 1983 IBM PCjr.
I’ve even read a few threads where some were able to load the stack even with just 640k conventional memory and nothing else, and yes that takes a lot of tweaking, but it’s possible and do-able.
Why is this so cool?
Many vintage PCs only run DOS and no other operating system. It’s easy for someone to say, "Use Linux!", but the problem is that some PC boxes are so old that they can’t; this is especially true since the latest Linux kernel won’t even fit on a floppy diskette anymore. Yes, it’s true there are tiny Linux distros that will fit on a floppy, but it’s just altogether easier if you use actual DOS because that’s what the system was designed for.
I was happy enough just to get the TCP/IP stack loaded and working in a VMWare session of FreeDOS; it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time so I could at least show in a video what internet is like in the DOS environment.
The ultimate reason why getting the stack working under DOS is just plain frickin’ awesome is because it makes vintage PC boxes actually useful again, even if just in a very basic sense. You can browse the web with them and you can use email. Maybe it’s not what anyone would call the best computing experience in the word, but the point is it can be done on original vintage PC hardware. And mTCP is programmed in such a way where the speed is actually quite respectable on a LAN-connected DOS machine. It’s still a bit on the slow side, no question, but hey, it works.
See video below, where I show connectivity to the internet and using the Arachne browser for DOS.