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How To Install Freedos Into the QEMU Virtual Machine


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Installing Freedos in qemu

If you'd like to install Freedos in Linux and not deal with the longer instruction set for installing in dosemu, consider installing in the freely available Virtual Machine (VM) qemu.

Qemu is an open-source emulation system that lets the user install guest operating systems within a host OS. The Host can be a number of different architectures, the best supported being Microsoft Windows and Linux. It's a totally new take on the old idea of having a multi-boot computer with different operating systems, made available by the speed and memory capacity of modern computers.

Operating systems installed within the qemu virtual machine see an artificial architecture of their expectation, and thus generally run nicely. Qemu isn't the fastest VM out there, but it is respectably fast, especially for DOS and older Windows versions as guest operating systems. In addition, qemu sports many nice features, including networking and usb support.

First, install the qemu Virtual Machine

In Debian, and possibly other Linux versions, qemu is a package included in the distribution. For Debian, install with the following instructions:

sudo apt-get install qemu qemu-launcher

You can also install the kqemu accelerator for your architecture, but it doesn't do anything for a Freedos install.

It might be even better to get the latest version of qemu. It's a snap to install on Linux, and fixes a number of issues you might find useful for windows installs, such as usb access. Get the latest version at

For Linux, what you'll get is a tar.gz file, which can simply be un-tarred in the root directory. From there it automatically installs in the appropriate /usr directories. The accelerator package can also be downloaded and installed using the standard Linux make command (look at the README that comes with the package). You'll probably need the Linux headers appropriate to your install if you try to build the kqemu accelerators

If you do a Debian package install, you can use the qemu-launcher utility to set up a Freedos VM partition, selecting cdrom as the install medium. While in the launcher, you can turn off the accelerator, as it will do nothing for you during the install.

From the launcher, when you select install, the qemu VM will boot from the Freedos cd and install with no difficulty.

When the launcher begins installation, note the qemu command line used by the launcher that is shown in the launch window. Make a script file to launch qemu with those arguments (except eliminate the -b boot option).

If you download the latest package from the qemu website, you'll have to go find the qemu-launcher as it isn't part of the qemu website package. You might try

Even without the launcher you can still do the install with the following commands:

qemu-img create qemu_freedos 1000M
qemu -m 128 -b d -cdrom /dev/cdrom -hda 'qemu_freedos' \
-net nic,vlan=0,mode=ne2k_isa -net user,vlan=0 -localtime -no-kqemu

The first creates the qemu disk image, and the second will boot (within qemu) the Freedos cdrom and let you install. On the first, adjust the file name and file size (shown as 1000 megabytes). On the second, adjust to use the same file name you created.

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Freedos Networking from within qemu

Yes, you can even get your Freedos qemu install to communicate over your network.

If you wish to do networking within your Freedos install, set the vlan mode to ne2k_isa. This tells the VM to emulate a ne2000 compatible network card, and fortunately Freedos also has a ne2000 packet driver.

Below is the command line I use to load my Freedos/qemu install:

qemu -m 128 -hda 'qemu_freedos' -net nic,vlan=0,mode=ne2k_isa \
-net user,vlan=0 -localtime -no-kqemu

By just typing in the name of my script file, a fully functional, network capable version of Freedos pops up in a qemu Virtual Machine window.

Pretty neat -- don't you think?

When you're in your Freedos install, adjust the autoexec.bat to load the ne2000 packet driver.

With this setup, the qemu VM also support DHCP, so when you set up arachne choose the DHCP setup option and you'll be on the web from Freedos in no time.