DOSBox install and first timers guide

Learn about DOSBox, a brilliant yet compact, easy-to-use virtualization program designed to run old DOS applications under modern operating systems.

Reading time of 1097 words
5 minutes
Reading time of 1097 words ~ 5 minutes

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DOSBox is a brilliant yet compact, easy to use virtualisation program designed to run old DOS applications under modern operating systems. This tutorial assumes you have a little understanding of the underlying DOS commands and the use of a command line. It is for Windows users, though DOSBox works on systems such as macOS and Linux.


Download DOSBox from their website.
DOSBox Windows program icon
DOSBox installer

Run and install the newly downloaded DOSBox installer program. Windows users must select Yes at the User Account Control prompt.

Windows User Account Control prompt
Answer Yes at the UAC prompt

Follow the defaults if you don’t understand the installation questions or prompts.

DOSBox license
DOSBox License
DOSBox select components
DOSBox components install
DOSBox destination folder
Select a destination folder and install
DOSBox completed
DOSBox Completed

Start menu

Once installed, you should have a new DOSBox entry in the Start menu of Windows.

DOSBox start menu in Windows 11
DOSBox start menu entry in Windows

DOSBox 0.74-3 is a shortcut to run DOSBox. It defaults to load a partner debugging console, which helps troubleshoot the emulated DOS games and applications.

DOSBox 0.74-3 (noconsole) runs DOSBox without the debugging console.

DOSBox 0.74-3 Manual is the extensive DOSBox instruction manual in plain text.

DOSBox 0.74-3 Options loads up the configuration file used by DOSBox. It is a text-only, INI settings file that is human-readable and editable.

Install movie codec Installs the Zip Motion Block Video codec onto your computer. It allows DOSBox to record any DOS sessions as video captures. The menu item needs to be Run as administrator; otherwise, the installation can fail.

Reset KeyMapper will return the DOSBox control and function keys to their defaults.

Reset Options will return the DOSBox configuration file to the defaults.

Screenshots & Recordings launches Windows File Explorer to browse the DOSBox screen, audio and video captures.

Uninstall will remove DOSBox from your computer.

Video instructions loads up a small plain text file with instructions for creating movies from the DOSBox screen output.

Virtual hard drive

The first requirement for DOSBox will be to create a directory location to store and access DOS applications or games for emulation. The directory will function as the virtual hard drive within DOS.

You need to run the DOSBox Options start menu item to edit the DOSBox settings, and it should open up a configuration INI file within Windows Notepad.

You will see rows of text and settings within the file, most of which contain short descriptions. All the rows that start with hashes # are comments that DOSBox ignores. Scroll down to the bottom of the file, and you should see [autoexec]. This section is where to type DOS commands that DOSBox will automatically instigate every time it starts.

247# Lines in this section will be run at startup.
248# You can put your MOUNT lines here.

Launch the Windows File Explorer by tapping the Windows key type file explorer and hit Enter.

In the File Explorer address bar enter %HOMEPATH% to navigate to the home directory.

File Explorer
File Explorer address bar

Create a new directory named dosbox.

File Explorer create a new directory
Create the dosbox folder

Right-click the dosbox directory and select Copy as path.

Windows 11 context menu
Context menu for the dosbox folder

Paste the copied path to the [autoexec] section of the dosbox-0.7.4.conf configuration file.

247# Lines in this section will be run at startup.
248# You can put your MOUNT lines here.

Finally, update the [autoexec] section to mount the dosbox subdirectory as a DOS, C drive.

247# Lines in this section will be run at startup.
248# You can put your MOUNT lines here.
249MOUNT C "C:\Users\Ben\dosbox"

The first line tells DOSBox to mount the directory C:\Users\Ben\dosbox as a virtual hard disk and assign it the drive letter C.

The following line tells DOSBox to change to the C: drive on startup.

DOSBox configuration file
autoexec configuration section

Don’t forget to save the changes.

Now run DOSBox using the Start menu entry.

DOSBox running
DOSBox and the background status window

Virtual DOS

To list the content of your hard drive in DOS, use the command DIR, which presumably is short for directory list.

DOSBox dir command
DOSBox dir command

Currently, this reveals that the C: drive is empty.

Back in Windows, download the DOS application vgaseasn.exe from and save it to the dosbox directory we created earlier.

It’s an old, DOS VGA Christmas card demo created by Sierra Online in the early 1990s.

vgaseasn.exe in File Explorer
vgaseasn.exe program

Now, if you return to DOSBox and type dir, the C: drive will still list as empty. DOSBox caches the drive on startup; to refresh the cache, use the rescan command or the Ctrl+F4 key combination to reflect external file and directory changes.

DOSBox dir commands
DOSBox dir and rescan commands

Run the program vgaseasn, and you should be prompted with the question Continue with Self Extraction. Answer Y.

Sierra BBS ad
The Sierra BBS was a proto-website that existed without the Internet, using computers and the phone network

In DOS, most programs either used a file with a .BAT batch file, .COM command file, or commonly, an .EXE execute program extension to run.

Use the dir *.exe command to list only the files with the execute program file extension. You will see at least two files listed, install.exe and sierra.exe.

DOSBox dir commands
List the program files available

Run the install.exe by typing install. It should load, and the Sierra On-Line Game Install/Setup Program dialog will appear. Press Enter to skip the text.

Sierra On-Line Game Install/Setup Program 3.568
Sierra Install/Setup welcome text

In the menu titled Installation Choices will have a list of hardware selections. Use the keyboard arrow keys ⬆️+⬇️ to highlight the menu items and press Enter to select.

Sierra On-Line game Installation Choices
Installation Choices

The installation program is clever enough to mark the hardware options available to the host.

Sierra On-Line game music card choices
Select a music card, ordered by preference

Setup the program to use the following hardware devices.

  • Graphics: VGA or IBM PS2 - 256 Colors
  • Music: General MIDI Sound Driver
  • Speech: Sound Blaster
  • Joystick: Don’t use a joystick
  • Mouse: Use Microsoft compatible mouse
  • Memory: Use your machine’s extra memory

Then navigate to the Accept these choices and save configuration item and press Enter.

Sierra On-Line game Installation Choices
Select Accept these choices
Sierra On-Line game Installation complete prompt
Installation complete!

Back at the DOSBox prompt, run sierra. A nostalgic visual and audio Christmas card will greet you if everything goes well.

You can quit the program anytime by pressing Esc. And return to the install program to play with the different graphics, music, and sound options to see their effects with the card.

Enjoy. I have more updated tutorials covering the functions and operations of DOSBox.

Sierra Christmas logo in 256 colors
VGA or IBM PS2 - 256 colors
DOSBox start menu in Windows 11
EGA/VGA - 16 colors
DOSBox start menu in Windows 11
VGA or IBM PS2 - Grey Scale. This mode was intended for early laptops that exclusively used monochrome LCD displays.

Written by Ben Garrett

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