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dosbox

DOSBox beginners, newbie and first timers guide

Reading time for 1158 words - 6 minutes

DOSBox is a brilliant yet compact and 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.

This tutorial will be designed for Windows users, though DOSBox does work on other operating systems such as Mac OS/X, Linux and FreeBSD.

Download DOSBox from their website (http://www.dosbox.com).

DOSBox windows program icon

Run and install the newly downloaded DOSBox program. Follow all the defaults if you don’t understand any of the questions or prompts.

DOSBox dir tree
DOSBox-0.72 Installer Setup
DOSBox dir tree
DOSBox-0.74 directory tree

Once installed, you should have a new DOSBox entry in your Windows Start Menu.

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

DOSBox 0.74 is a shortcut to start the application. By default, it loads up a partner debugging console which is useful for troubleshooting your emulated DOS games and applications.

DOSBox 0.74 (noconsole) runs the application without the partner debugging console.

Screenshots & Recordings loads up Windows File Explorer to browse your DOSBox screen, audio and video captures.

Uninstall will remove DOSBox from your computer.

Video folder contains instructions on how to use the video capture feature within DOSBox. There is also link to the ZMBV codec that might be required to view your view your video captures within Windows Media Player.

DOSBox 0.74 Options loads up the default settings file used by DOSBox. It is a text INI settings file which is human readable and editable.

Reset KeyMapper will return DOSBox’s control and function keys back to their default.

Reset Options will return DOSBox’s settings file to its default.

To edit DOSBox’s settings, you need to click on the DOSBox Options shortcut. It should open up a configuration INI file within Windows Notepad. If you are using Windows Vista, you may need to right-click the shortcut and Run as administrator otherwise you might not be able to save any changes you make.

Within the file, you will see rows of text and settings most of which contain short descriptions. All the rows that start with a hash # are commented out which means DOSBox ignores them. Scroll down to the very bottom of the file, and you should see [autoexec]. This is where you will type and save commands that DOSBox will automatically instigate every time it starts up.

Somewhere on your computer, you will need to create a directory that DOSBox will use for its virtual hard drive. You will be able to copy files and folders into this directory and DOSBox will be able to access it. If you don’t know what this all means, then we will do a simple exercise to show you.

Go to Computer in your Windows Start Menu.

Double-click your Local Disk (C:).

Right-click on the whitespace within the window but make sure no folders or files are selected.

Select New and then Folder.

Rename the newly created folder to DOS Hard Disk.

Return to the Notepad that is open with dosbox-0.74.conf.

Under [autoexec] on a new line add the following text …

$ mount C "C:\DOS Hard Disk\"
$ C:

The first line tells DOSBox to mount your directory C:\DOS Hard Disk\ as a virtual hard disk and assign it a drive letter of C:

The C: tells DOSBox to go to your newly created C: drive automatically.

dosbox.conf example
DOSBox config, dosbox.conf in Notepad

Save your file in Notepad (File > Save).

Now run DOSBox.

DOSBox prompt
DOSBox-0.74 console

Thanks to our changes to the dosbox-0.74.conf file, DOSBox has automatically mounted the directory and used it as a pseudo hard drive. Now you are running a simulated DOS prompt.

In DOS to list the content of your hard drive, you use the command DIR which is probably short for directory list.

dir command
dir command output

Currently, this shows the C: drive is empty.

Open Computer from your Windows start menu and go to your DOS Hard Disk folder located on your C: drive. Create a new directory and name it anything you want.

New dir example
Create a new directory

Now if you return to DOSBox and type dir, your C: drive will still list your DOS hard disk as empty. DOSBox caches the drive on startup. So every time you make a file or directory change outside of DOSBox you need to refresh the cache using the rescan command or by using the Ctrl+F4 key combination.

Now download the file vgaseasn.zip (http://www.bengarrett.info/blog/vgaseasn.zip).

Download the file vgaseasn.exe (http://thelarkins.com/fun/SierraChristmas/1992/). It’s an old DOS VGA Christmas card demo created by Sierra Online back in the early 1990’s. Once downloaded, copy the file into your C:\DOS Hard Disk\ directory.

Using the DOSBox prompt rescan and then dir. You should see the copied vgaseasn.exe file.

Create a new directory named vgaseasn by running mkdir vgaseasn.

Move the file vgaseasn.exe to the directory vgaseasn by running move vgaseasn.exe vgaseasn.

To enter the directory use cd vgaseasn, once in use dir to list the files within.

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

dir command
dir command in vgaseasn
zip file comment
Sierra BBS zip file comment

Use the dir *.bat will list only the files with the BAT file extension. In DOS most games either used a file with a BAT (batch file), COM (command file) or more commonly an EXE (execute program) extension to start the program. Using dir *.exe, you will see two files listed install.exe and sierra.exe.

dir commands
dir commands to find executable programs and scripts

Run the install.exe by typing install. It should run and a Sierra On-Line Game Install/Setup Program dialog should appear. Press Enter to skip the dialog and you’ll go to a menu titled Installation Choices. There you will have a list of hardware selections, using your keyboard arrow keys move up to Graphics : VGA and press Enter.

sierra on-line game install/setup
Sierra On-Line Select a graphics adapter dialog

You can see here that the Sierra On-Line installation program under DOSBox has detected both VGA and EGA graphic cards. Make sure VGA 256 colors is selected and then press Enter. Return to the previous menu and scroll down to and select Music: .

sierra on-line game install/setup
Sierra On-Line Select a music card dialog

Here you can see the Sierra install program detects some music cards that is emulated by DOSBox. Esc to return to the previous menu and then select Speech:. Again you will see many audio options available under DOSBox.

sierra on-line game install/setup
Sierra On-Line Select a speech/sound effects card dialog

Now quit the install program by pressing Esc until you receive a red prompt asking you to exit. Back at the DOSBox prompt, type sierra. If everything goes well, an animated Christmas card will greet you. You can quit the program anytime by pressing Esc. Go back to the install program and play around with the graphic, music and sound options to see the effects.

Enjoy, I will have more tutorials in the future covering the functions and operations of DOSBox.

Written by Ben Garrett