The normal thing when we buy a new computer, desktop or laptop, is that it comes with Windows installed, and with an OEM key for the operating system. This, generally, tends to increase the price, and, if we already have an operating system license, it usually represents an unnecessary expense that we can save. For this reason, more and more manufacturers are launching new computers without an operating system. Or rather, with an alternative operating system known as FreeDOS .
What is FreeDOS: a bit of history
FreeDOS is a completely free and open source operating system that offers users a complete MS-DOS-inspired environment. What’s more, this system offers the same commands as MS-DOS, and is compatible with all its programs. It is, broadly speaking, a free version of DOS capable of even running the original versions of Windows, from 1.0 to 3.11.
This operating system began its journey in 1994, after Microsoft decided to stop selling MS-DOS and focus only on Windows. Back then it could be used as a fully functional operating system, although nowadays any system such as MS-DOS, which offers us a black terminal on which to execute commands, falls short, and does not serve much more than to run software and retro games . Also, it is a single-task system, so we can only execute one command at a time.
Although it is not an operating system that we are going to use in our day to day, why is it installed by default in some laptops? What can we do with it?
Why is FreeDOS installed on the laptop?
Laptop manufacturers have an agreement with Microsoft that prevents them from distributing laptops without an operating system . That would make life too difficult for many users. For this reason, those manufacturers that want to offer cheaper laptops in exchange for not carrying a Windows license, usually include free systems, such as Linux or, more commonly, FreeDOS.
The main objective of including this operating system is that when the user turns on the laptop, they can perform some basic tasks instead of having to enter the BIOS or see the operating system not found error . As today’s laptops do not have a floppy drive, and most do not even have a DVD player, this system is prepared to allow us to load any content from a USB. But, as we say, it is very limited.
Is it really worth the savings?
As we are not going to use FreeDOS with our new laptop, what we are going to do, almost certainly, is install another operating system, either Windows or Linux. If we are going to legacy a Linux distro, like Ubuntu, then we won’t have to worry about operating system licenses. With the laptop with this system being one euro cheaper than the one with the Windows license, we will already be saving. In addition, it must be taken into account that, by not bringing Windows, the laptop does not come with pre-installed programs, so we gain privacy.
If we want to install Windows on the new laptop, then we must assess. A Retail license of the operating system costs between 150 and 250 euros . Too expensive. However, an OEM license can be found online for between 5 and 10 euros. And this license will be as valid as the one that comes when we buy a PC with a pre-installed Windows. The difference is that we will have to install the OS ourselves instead of having it already installed. Of course, by installing Windows 10 by hand we will avoid all the adware that comes in laptops.
Of course, we must compare the prices of the laptops very well. There are models in which a computer with FreeDOS costs the same, or more, than a model with Windows 10. And it can also happen that models without an operating system have different hardware than Windows models (for example, more RAM or different CPU). This is because, although we save the Windows license, the laptop does not have amortized costs for the software that is installed by default in the Microsoft operating system. Therefore, there is not much room for maneuver to save, and you have to find a way to adjust the price.
In the best of theoretical cases, the difference between a laptop with Windows 10 and one without an operating system should be around 150 euros. But in practice, as we will see, there is not that much difference.
How to switch operating systems
The good thing about FreeDOS is that it occupies only a few megabytes on the hard drive. And it is not intrusive at all, so we will have absolutely no problem doing what we want with our computer. The only thing we are going to need is to have a USB memory with the operating system that we want to install in order to install the system we want on our computer.
Most of these computers are configured to automatically boot from the USB port, if one is connected. But if not, we can go into BIOS or UEFI and change the boot order so that it loads this drive first. Moreover, if we have enough knowledge, we can even run the installer from FreeDOS itself, although doing so is not recommended.
When we go to install the operating system we can choose. Either we delete all the partitions of the PC, to dedicate 100% of the space to our new system, or we can isolate the FreeDOS partition, and keep it as a souvenir, dedicating the rest of the space to our Windows 10 or the Linux distro that we prefer.
With Windows or without Windows, which is better?
Ultimately, a laptop is a laptop, and we are free to install whatever operating system we want. However, we must take into account some factors. The first of them is that, although turning our backs on the operating system can help us save, this is not always the case. We must compare the processor, memory, SSD and graphics very well to ensure that the price difference corresponds to the same laptop and not to another that, in addition to not having an OS, is lower-end.
If we have enough knowledge to install an operating system from scratch ourselves, we can save the difference in buying the model with FreeDOS. We can even opt for a model with superior hardware at the same price. However, if we do not have enough knowledge to install Windows or Linux from scratch, and what we want is to open the box, turn it on and start using it, then the option with FreeDOS is not for us; better to choose a laptop that comes with Windows installed and its corresponding license.
How do I leave a computer with FreeDOS from the factory?
When the PC comes with Windows installed, it usually has a recovery partition that allows us to restore the equipment to factory settings, as just bought. However, by replacing this operating system with another, such as Windows, we lose this possibility.
We can always use the Windows 10 recovery options to leave the PC with a clean, freshly installed Windows. But if the computer came with FreeDOS, it would no longer be its original state.
As this operating system inspired by MS-DOS is completely free, we can download it for free from its website, copy the image to a USB memory and install it on the computer. If we erase all the partitions of the PC, and leave only this system installed, we will be leaving the PC as it came from the factory.
And, if we regret it again, at any time we can reinstall the OS we want on top.