FOSS+CSS: Closed Source DOS Accounting Meets Linux and DOSEMU

About the middle of December 2012 I received a call from a long time SCO OpenServer Unix and IBM PC-DOS using client. This client has four Point of Sale business locations and runs a mix of DOS, Unix and Windows in the retail outlets. The main office, here in my town, runs a SCO OpenServer box I built them with Advantage Accounting Point of Sale that is accessed using PuTTY on two Microsoft desktop clients at the checkout counter. The Microsoft systems are basically “dumb” terminal replacements and are used for nothing else.

(One of the locations runs that Intuit PoS system. I had nothing to do with that one.) Two of the other locations run DOS based Advantage Accounting Point of Sale on stand-alone DOS boxes. One of these boxes I had built them about 10 years ago finally gave out. The hard drive would spin up, but the box did nothing else. So, they called me to get a new DOS PC. I explained that DOS was best served these days in a virtual machine or using a DOS emulation layer on something like Linux. We talked over the options and they decided to send me the old case to gut and rebuild with new parts, Mageia 2 Linux and a DOS Virtual Machine.

I ordered the new parts to go in the old case. While waiting for the parts I gutted and cleaned the old case. Everything came out except the old hard drive, which did still work. The new parts finally arrived. Then a new hard drive and all new “guts” went into the case with the old drive. The old drive, being an IDE, had to have an IDE <> SATA adapter. This was installed to access the old drive after Linux was installed on the new drive. I backed up the old drive to a file with ‘dd’ once booted to Mageia 2 on the rebuilt PC.

Then VirtualBox was installed and the ‘dd’ copy of the drive was cloned to a virtual disk image (VDI) using the VBoxManage command line tool. A virtual machine to run the IBM PC-DOS on the VDI was created and booted to test. All seemed well. However, this PC needed parallel port printing. The motherboard ordered has a parallel port and serial port on-board. But no matter how I tried to get parallel printing working with VirtualBox, it never did work. I either got errors (No, I do not recall the errors exactly. I remember permission errors, I think. Silly me lost my notes about that.) or making changes to the setup got no errors but no printing either. This was a show stopping problem, until I recalled that DOSEMU allows one to set up printing to Linux print queues in its configuration file. Whew!

So, out went VirtualBox and in came DOSEMU. I copied the files from the old drive to the appropriate DOSEMU directory under the user account. Edited the CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT for use of IBM PC-DOS in DOSEMU. Then I set up a RAW printer to use with the DOS accounting application and placed the command to access that in the appropriate section of the DOSEMU configuration file. A test print worked as expected and all was well. Well almost.

I still needed to address backups. The old floppy tape drive would not work because these new motherboards do not include a floppy controller. Besides, tape is just so passe. Instead, I took a CDRW disc and used K3B to create a backup job that could be run with a double-click from the Xfce desktop used with this build. Yes, I could have whipped out my bash foo and created a backup script from tabula rasa, but time was of the essence on this job. I usually want to spend a bit of time tweaking my scripts to make them extra awesome and fool proof. In this case, I just did not have the time to create an excellent, one off, debugged script. The shop needed its Point of Sale system back “yesterday”. Besides, K3B works fine and this PC has plenty of resources for adding in some KDE bloat to run K3B. Plus, these guys need to see some eye-candy as this is the first Linux box they have ever had.

Now they have their DOS Point of Sale back in place. They also have a new Linux based PC with a GUI, LibreOffice and other office goodies installed for creating flyers, making custom spreadsheets and all the other office PC tasks a DOS only system just cannot do easily or at all. Mission accomplished.

P.S. Old DOS Geeks – Yes, I know there are still those of you using WordPerfect for DOS, Lotus 123 for DOS, [insert name] for DOS and you can do whatever you want with those. But I live in the 21st century and so do my clients. We like the pretty GUI while we do our work. 😉