In this article, you’ll find ALL (and I certainly mean this!) information you’ll ever need to successfully select and use an MS-DOS emulator.
(Note that, in this article, I refer to all DOS operating systems of the IBM PC as “MS-DOS”. Naturally, the discussion also applies to DR-DOS and PC-DOS and, in this roundup & tutorial, instead of elaborating on the basic operating system itself, I mostly concentrate on the most important aspect of these operating systems: running third-party applications and games.)
1.1 Why an article on MS-DOS emulators?
- there are no similar all-in-one articles, let alone in-depth ones. The very few articles ever written on the subject only discuss one of the (several) available emulators, PocketDOS.
- the majority of current emulators, particularly the most recommended DOSBox port by n0p, HEAVILY lack any kind of a decent tutorial. In here, you will find all the information you'll ever need configuring and running these titles.
- there are many different emulator versions from a lot of developers; this may make the life of a newbie to MS-DOS emulation VERY hard.
- Windows Mobile forums are FULL of contradicting and plain bad, unreliable information on these emulators. Someone had to, finally, get the facts straight.
- the BEST MS-DOS emulator (that of n0p), being of Russian origin, is mostly discussed in Russian language forums. As one of the several languages I speak is Russian, I understand what is discussed there. That is, in this article, I also build on the information found in Russian forums, making it unnecessary for my readers to suffer from the Babelfish “translation”. To a lesser degree, I've also found some useful user reports & tips in German (which I also speak) forums; I’ve also incorporated the info found there in this tutorial & roundup.
- my old, related article (Another reason to get a VGA device – running Legend Entertainment's old adventures reviewed) is heavily outdated because of the brand new DOSBox ports
- as the Nominations Manager at Smartphone and Pocket PC Magazine, I have to know everything about Windows Mobile apps. This article also shows I do
1.2 Why should you bother?
As has already been pointed out in the introduction, MS-DOS has several quality titles either not available on other (with a usable WM emulator) platforms or the quality of these titles on all other platforms (again, with emulators) are clearly inferior to that of the MS-DOS version. For example, the evergreen games by Legend Entertainment is a very good example of these (they haven’t ever been released for other platforms). If you don’t know what these games are but you like text-based, high-quality adventures, make sure you give them a try – they’re certainly worth it. And the list of excellent, MS-DOS only titles continues; for example, Betrayal at Krondor was also a PC-only release. This means MS-DOS was a VERY strong gaming platform in the early 1990’s with tons of high-quality or unique titles worth playing even today.
However, in other cases, MS-DOS emulation is NOT something you should always prefer to emulating other platforms or looking for native WM (re)implementations / ports of the same game. For example, as far as games are concerned, with games that only had an MS-DOS version, there may be better emulators (most importantly, "partial" interpreters "only" running a specific type of games; most importantly, from a given game publisher) to run the game than a fully-fledged, full MS-DOS emulator. In addition, some (not many) classic titles have their own WM implementations / ports; examples of these include UFO (the reimplementation is Pocket UFO; see my quick review HERE and the PocketGamer thread HERE), Civilization (Pocket Humanity; unfortunately, FreeCiv has no direct port; PocketCiv only runs on Linux-based handhelds), Pipe Dream (having several WM reimplementation; see for example the Roundup of All Pocket PC Games Part I for some of them), Doom (DoomPPC / DoomGL ES are excellent), Wolfeinstein 3D (see pocketinsanity’s port) etc.
Note that the (vast?) majority of MS-DOS emulator users use emulators for gaming (it’s mostly games that haven’t been released on other platforms or are unplayable / far more awkward to play in emulators); therefore, in this article, I also concentrate on gaming issues. This, however, doesn’t mean you will be unable to make use of it if you, for example, plan to run your old MS-DOS-based apps.