A Brief History of Shareware Software & How to Run It on PocketC.H.I.P. with DOSBox


Liz Lam is one of many people using PocketC.H.I.P. to play old shareware games through an emulator called DOSBox. Getting these relics of computer history to run on PocketC.H.I.P. is pretty easy, in large part because of BladeMaverick‘s helpful tips on setting up DOSBox shared below!

Before we get to the instructions, have you ever thought about the origins of shareware? Sure, it’s a term that’s been floating around for years, and you’ve probably heard it if you’re into retro gaming, but where did the idea come from? How did it all start?

A Brief History of Shareware

Shareware dates back to the distribution of business and accounting software in the early 1980s. As the lore goes, the idea of giving a software program away for free and only suggesting that the user pay for it (aka shareware) was developed independently by Jim Knopf and Andrew Fluegelman. Knopf, an IBM programmer based Bellevue, Washington, and Fluegelman, an attorney from Tiburon, CA, both needed a way to expose people to their software and hopefully convert them into users.

Since the internet didn’t really exist for most people back then, they couldn’t really run an e-commerce marketing campaign. Transferring data between computers was best done by sneakernet, and so too was marketing it.

Modern Sneakernet infrastructure: shoes and a USB thumb drive

Modern Sneakernet infrastructure: shoes and a USB thumb drive

A sneakernet is a pretty simple idea (and a great word)… You’ve probably even used one without even knowing it. It’s where you copy software from a computer to a storage medium and physically transport it (by walking… via your sneakers) to a different computer. Swapping a USB thumbdrive or sharing an SD card with a friend are both perfect examples of the sneakernet in action.

Interestingly, some even argue that sneakernets are still more cost effective today, but that’s another post entirely.

Both Knopf and Fluegelman realized that to get their software to the largest audience possible, they’d need to be OK with people copying and disseminating their software. But asking someone to pay for software they hadn’t tried wasn’t exactly a winning proposition. They took the idea a step further.

Not only would they let anyone share their programs, but they would do so without any upfront cost. If you used the software and liked it, they suggested you pay them for it. If you didn’t like it, they didn’t ask you for money. It’s actually quite a bold and novel idea, which forced them to create software that people not only liked, but liked so much they were willing to pay for it.

While Knopf and Fluegelman came up with the distribution and economic plan, it was Bob Wallace who proclaimed the entire process shareware. Gaming companies didn’t adopt the shareware model until the late 80s, and as Thunderboltgames.com points out, there were differences in the approach.

GetTING PocketC.H.I.P. Ready for Retro Shareware

PocketC.H.I.P. running DOSBox to play The Secret of Monkey Island

PocketC.H.I.P. running DOSBox to play The Secret of Monkey Island

Shareware comes in all sorts of flavors and is for all sorts of computer platforms. For this quick project you’ll set up the DOSBox emulator, which will let you run DOS software, including DOS shareware.

1. Install DOSBox

At the home screen tap on the Terminal icon and type the following command, then press enter.

sudo apt update && sudo apt install dosbox

2. Edit the Configuration File

BladeMaverick wrote a great post in the forums about DOSBox configuration, which you’ll find below. There’s also info about other emulators that work on PocketC.H.I.P. too, so check out the thread.

dosbox -editconf nano

Note: Not a fan of nano? Swap your favorite text editor in place of nano in the command above.

Change your config file so that the options in bold have the arguments below. The rest of the config file you can leave unchanged.

  • fullscreen=true
  • fullresolution=480×272
  • windowresolution=480×272
  • output=overlay
  • tandy=off

Save the changes to the file and quit the text editor.

3. Obtaining Games

Since many DOS games were distributed as shareware, it’s pretty easy to still find them stored away on retro gaming sites. I’ve found that DOSGames.com keeps a nice collection of games, but doing a quick search engine query will undoubtedly give you alternatives.

Use wget to download files directly to PocketC.H.I.P. (here’s how) or setup SSH (sudo apt install ssh)and use SCP.

4. Running DOS Games

The easiest way to run a game is to type the following command.
dosbox gamename

Note: replace gamename with the full path to your game. For example, if you have The Secret of Monkey Island in your home directory and it’s called monkey.exe, simply run dosbox monkey.exe.

DOSBox also emulates the DOS command line, but covering that is beyond the scope of this post. Consult the DOSBox wiki for more information.

5. Tips, Tricks, & Suggested Games

  • CTRL+Q quits a DOSBox game in a hurry. While it won’t quit the main DOSBox program, it will get you back to the DOS C:\ prompt. From there just type exit and press enter to quit.
  • Disabling the sound to improve performance. This can be done within most games under the Settings or Configuration menu. Every game differs a bit, but it’s worth experimenting with different configurations.
  • The Secret of Monkey Island
  • Wolfenstein 3D
  • Commander Keen

With PocketC.H.I.P. and DOSBox you can relive the heyday of shareware all over again. Make sure to share your favorite shareware DOSBox games in the comments below and in the forum. We love seeing photos too (hint, hint)!

Happy retro gaming!

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Nice! I’ve tried it with Jetpack, Second Reality and Monkey Island 1. Performance is not that good. Monkey Island runs better in SCUMMVM but mouse input is problematic there in fullscreen mode (and of course -g1x).

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