I still keep an old DOS computer around for running some of my favorite, old games. Indeed, you can still find plenty of those games from the heyday of DOS over at www.the-underdogs.org, and just run nuts. The thing about DOS, of course, is that some of the older games just plain won't work on a Windows system, so sticking with the original operating system is essential.
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Now, I can download files for my old DOS system all days long on my hated, evil Pentium. However, it's much easier just to grab files straight off the Internet on the DOS computer rather than dealing with file transfers from the Windows box (remember, kids -- that's Microsoft Windows -- powered by that human-hating Satan himself). Therefore, I decided I needed a DOS Web browser for my trusted old '486, and I didn't want to pay a dime for it because I'm a cheap bastard.
So, in comes the Arachne WWW Browser, ready to download from http://arachne.browser.org. The browser is free for home users (but, must be licensed for multiple copies to be used in organizations) and the download is in a "zip" file that's around one megabyte in length. That's right -- you can download it, transfer it easily to a high-definition 3.5" or 5.25" floppy and carry it right over to your DOS box. I love the fact the browser is small enough to put on a floppy because that makes it portable, and portability is crucial when you're dealing with older, DOS computers.
The system requirements are fairly minimal. Here's the blurb from the Arachne site about that:
Arachne for DOS will run on i8086 compatible CPU with as little as 475 KB of DOS memory (540 KB if you want PPP connection) and EGA or VGA video card. However, recommended configuration is PC with 80386 or better CPU with 4 (or more) MB of memory, more than 600 KB od DOS memory, 512 (or more) KB VESA compatible SVGA card, with mouse, soundcard and color monitor. If you want dial-up access to internet, you of course need standard serial modem; for local networks, you can use any device with packet driver available for it (eg. Ethernet card).
As for my personal system, I've got a Compaq Prolinea 4/33S, which is essentially a generic 486-based computer with eight megabytes of RAM (someone gave it to me for free, so I couldn't argue about the hardware specs at all). The computer also has a 28.8k modem in it. Now, bear in mind the *free* part of Arachne is very important. I didn't pay anything for my DOS computer and, upon getting it home, I stripped off Windows 95 and replaced it with a *free* distribution of Caldera's Dr. DOS (which works better than Microsoft's DOS, actually). So, why would I pay for a browser so I can grab *free* software off the Internet?
Here's what I've learned about Arachne after using it for around a year. The installation process is simple, but the modem identification tool didn't work all that well. It wasn't a problem to set up the modem manually, but I did have to do a little research to find the information to set up the PPP package so I could dial my ISP (specifically, I had to get my mitts on the IP address for Arkansas.Net so I could set up the dialing package). Anyone familiar with DOS won't have a problem setting up the package, and the documentation included with the browser gives enough details to help you along if you get stuck configuring the thing.
One fantastic feature about the package is that it's self-contained. The dialer, all the graphical libraries and everything you need to get it working is included in the download. That's a truly nice feature for a sophisticated DOS application as I expected to have to dig around and find some font packages, graphics libraries and other things to get this browser working.
Once the package was installed, my modem was configured and the PPP package was set up, I was up and running on the Internet with ease. Indeed, you get the features you'd expect with an Internet browser -- a hardware cache for storing files associated with sites you've visited, the ability to download files to your hard disk, an e-mail client and etc.
The only real problem I have with the program has to do with speed. On my tired, old 33-megahertz DOS system, the graphics render very slowly on Arachne. Still, that should come as no surprise -- it's a slow computer, and I'm fairly certain the performance would increase greatly if I lost my mind and converted my Pentium machine to a DOS operating system. On the whole, however, Arachne works as well as advertised. It gets my DOS box on the Internet so I can grab some DOS-native software I want.
For those wanting to know what this package specifically supports, here are the specs from the Arachne site:
Arachne was designed by Arachne Labs. It supports subset of HTML/4.0 specification, including tables, frames, imagemaps, forms, and includes built-in HTTP, FTP, POP3, SMTP and other internet protocols.
In other words, you get basic Internet access through Arachne, and that's exactly what I expected on a DOS machine. It's a graphical browser that's limited in what it can do (forget about streaming video and the like), but it works extremely well.
While I used this browser as a "toy" on an old computer, I can see how it would be very handy for someone still using DOS for economic reasons, a dislike for graphical user interfaces or whatever else. If you've got a DOS computer around, I'd suggest this is the browser you'll want to use.
As for ease of use, Arachne is very, very familiar to anyone who has been on the Internet through standard browsers on Windows or Mac. Arachne is touted as a "graphical browser," and that means the nifty little navigational icons and such we all know and love are available on it. Just because this is a DOS browser doesn't mean you can expect the typical, uh, labor-intensitve interface associated with DOS applications. It's all point, click, grab some sites out of the "favorites" file and type in some site names in the address file with this one. Once it's set up, navigating the Internet with Arachne is surprisingly easy. Anyone familiar with early DOS Internet browsers will know what a pain they were to get up and running and how "ugly" Internet sites were when they loaded. Arachne is lightyears ahead of those old, primitive browsers and offers all of the graphics and nifty page formatting we've come to expect over the years.
I'm aware that Arachne also makes a browser for Linux. I don't know anything about it as I'm not running Linux, but I thought I should mention this excellent company makes this browser available for that operating system, too.
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