Ten to fifteen years ago machines with 286,386, and 486 processors lined the streets (Literally because they were old and slow so no one wanted them.) Now in 2016 it's getting harder and harder to find a computer of that vintage and ones that work well are sold for hundreds of dollars as collectors items.
What is DOS?
DOS, or Disk Operating System is an command line based operating system that came on x86 (Intel-based) computers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then Windows 95 came out and DOS was more or less forgotten about for home use.
What is a GUI?
Strictly speaking a GUI is a graphical user interface, which just means that instead of typing in commands to interact with the computer the user interacts with graphical objects like windows and buttons. Compared to a command line interface where the user has to memorize commands and type in the name of files and directories for even simple operations like opening or copying a file, a GUI is much easier to use, the user can just point and click.
What is a DOS GUI?
Xerox developed GUIs in the late 1970s, but it was Apple that really brought GUIs to the mass market with their 1984 release of the first Macintosh. Owners of "IBM Compatible" or x86 machines also wanted GUIs so a number of different companies released DOS GUIs which were really just applications that ran on top of DOS. Hobbyists also made their own custom GUIs to make their old DOS computers work more like newer machines into the early 2000s.
What is BASIC,QuickBASIC,QBASIC,FreeBASIC?
BASIC is a programming language that has a syntax that's very close to native English speech. Which means that it's really easy to read the code and very easy to learn how to write code in BASIC. QuickBASIC and QBASIC are Microsoft's BASIC compilers for DOS. They quite old so most people consider them public domain, so they can be found for download on many websites. FreeBASIC is a newer, free, and open-source BASIC compiler which supports DOS, Windows, and Linux. FreeBASIC makes it a lot easier to test and develop a GUI on a modern machine because you can use the Windows or Linux version while developing and then use the DOS version to build your final release. FreeBASIC does have quite a few nice features that aren't included in BASIC like built in mouse drivers, fonts, image loading routines, support for SVGA graphics modes, and easy access to additional RAM. This obviously all comes at a cost, FreeBASIC GUIs are 32bit which means that they will not run on anything older than a 386. This of course doesn't matter much in 2016.
Can I run a DOS GUI on my computer?
You really have 2 options here, use an emulator (see below) or actually install DOS. To actually install DOS you'll want to download and install FreeDOS which as the name implies is a free version of DOS and then you can run any GUI you want. This isn't the recommended option unless you just want to use the computer for DOS, although it is technically possible to dual boot.
How do I run a DOS GUI under WIndows 7, Windows 10, Mac OS X, or Linux?
DOSBox is a great DOS Emulator that runs on Windows, OS X, and you can find it in most Linux distributions repositories. Once installed you should be able to open any GUI batch file or exe with DOSBox and be on your way. On Linux DOSEMU is also an option that works much in the same way however it is noticeably faster.
Will a DOS GUI make my old computer useful?
Probably not. If your computer is really old, has less than 64MB RAM meaning it was definitely made before 2000, then a GUI might provide some games or entertainment to make the computer remotely useful. Anything newer than that could run a GUI but would be much better suited with a linux distro like Damn Small Linux (<256MB), Puppy(<512MB), Debian(<1GB), or Linux Mint(1GB+). Each disto is listed with the amount of RAM where you should be happy with the next choice up which will have more features.
Does anyone still write DOS GUIs? Why?
This question has been asked for at least ten years. Ten years ago the answer was easier because people still had old machines around that could run them. As of today (2016), there are a few different people who still work on GUIs in their free time, and there tends to be 1-2 new releases a year. In general people write GUIs to practice programing skills, or to have a reason to use an old computer, or more likely because they are crazy and have nothing better to do. (sarcasm)
Should I write a DOS GUI?
If you want to, then absolutely, yes. Please don't hesitate to ask for help in the forums and definitely try some of the GUIs available here and at Data Components.
Content & Design 2014-17 Brandon Cornell