Blasphemer! DOSBox and Word 5.5

As much as I tout console applications, people always seem to complain of very few full-featured word processors for the Linux command line. That might be an issue of perspective though.

I have mentioned WordGrinder in the past, which is a good substitute but most people dismiss because they want something with more features. And WordGrinder hasn’t seen any love in almost two years, so it may not be going anywhere.

For my own part, I use vim with word-wrapping enabled. That’s what I’m typing on right now.

But for all its power and eccentricities, that usually gets shouted down as “not a real word processor” either. Most other text editors suffer the same abuse — just not as complete as is required.

That’s the real issue here: Each person is going to want something different out of a word processor. So let’s face it: If this is what you want, this is what you want.


Yes, you can still download the good old Word 5.5 from Microsoft, free of charge, and run it under DOSBox. It’s got all the bells and whistles you probably wanted, can open early versions of its own proprietary file format (I really doubt docx will do the trick here), has mouse support, is ugly as sin and probably endears you to the evil empire as soon as you click on the download link.

But if it’s a word processor you want, and you want a text interface, and you want it to do all the little flashy blinky things that your imaginary word processor does … then yes, I suppose you could always drop back and punt (is that the expression?) and use this to console your console affections.

It doesn’t do the trick for me though: It requires X, all its trappings, plus a hefty measure of graphical support to draw what is essentially a terminal box on the screen.

Only one computer in the house has the power to handle all the underpinnings it would take to use Word 5.5, and then I would suffer a guilty conscience too. Just to read a .doc file.

No, for the time being I shall continue to use antiword and vim together to read or edit Word files, and I will leave the eternal search for the holy grail of Linux console word processors to other people. I am satisfied with what is available now. πŸ™‚

P.S.: If you want to use Word 5.5 in DOSBox, install DOSBox first, download the file above and trigger DOSBox from an emulator with dosbox Wd55_ben.exe.

Word will decompress itself (answer yes to any overwritten files), and then you can enter SETUP.EXE from the command line. Follow the installation wizard, enter WORD.EXE and voila! a whole new world of word processing glee will ensue! πŸ™„


12 thoughts on “Blasphemer! DOSBox and Word 5.5

  1. JP Senior

    How much functionality do you find you are missing when working in a limited graphical environment? I’m not sure what your typical workday looks like, but if you had to edit a formatted RFC for a client today on a console-only system, what application would you use?

    You mentioned antiword & vim, but are these usable replacements? Do you have another system that you do more intensive work from?

    I remember crippling some systems at primary school with an ancient version of Word. I was very young, and wanted to “Help” as all those who know a little too much do. The teachers agreed to allow me to clean up the system, and I ended up deleting a few ms dos system files. I don’t even remember what they were anymore, but I denied any involvement when they had to bring the tech in.

  2. imgx64

    Vim is not a not a real word processor, it’s not a word processor at all. It’s a text editor.

    These two are often confused, but they’re different, and programs that do both (such as Wordpad and TextEdit) only add to the confusion. Text editors are designed to edit plain text, no formatting at all. Word processors can format the text, change font size, change fonts, etc.

    1. gulrot

      You are right about that, wordprossessors do typesetting too, but technically you can use a text editor to do the same, you will just have to use tex or a lightweight markup language, in my experience that makes it be a better workflow than what I have ever had in a word prossessor.

      @JP Senior:
      I don’t know what kmandla has to say about it, but in my experience vim is better to handle more complex tasks than most of the word prossessors, If I want to edit lots of text it’s a lot faster and more convenient, and easier to focus on what I am supposed to do, and the keyboard shortcuts makes it faster than having to move my hands over to the mouse all of the time.

  3. walcar

    I have been dabbling in groff which is most probably already installed on most Linux distros as it it used to write the man pages.

    Groff is not a ‘What you see is what you get’ word processor but a markup language processor somewhat like the TeX package (but not as bloated). This means it takes a bit of effort to learn how to use it.

    By using various macro packages, freely available on line, it can produce tables, graphs, colour output and can handle the printing of some fearsome mathematical equations. There are other macros too. Groff uses any text editor to create documents that can be outputted in several different formats i.e pdf, plain text, dvi etc.

    A good introduction is Manas Laha’s “An Introduction to the GNU Text Processing System” at

    P.S.: Love your site and the “maximilism” philosophy. Keep up the good work.

  4. Cian

    Emacs with org-mode is better than any word processor I’ve ever used. A wonderfully flexible and powerful outliner/organiser, combined with the power of Emacs, which uses a very simple mark up language (a bit like MarkDown). And when you’re finished, you can export it to Latex fairly trivially (or DocBook, or HTML, or…).

    And that’s simply scratching the surface. I know a fair number of Emacs haters who converted for Org-Mode.

  5. Jared

    DOSemu does not require X if it’s run in the framebuffer. I’ve used DOSemu to run Word 5.5, Wordperfect 6.1 for DOS and the original DOOM all in the framebuffer. This set up runs fairly light on my PI 133 mhz, 80 Mb RAM Fujitsu laptop.

  6. Ben Hjelt

    Hehe, a year ago I set up a Siemens 486 laptop with FreeDOS + MS Edit from my dusty old win98 cd (needed the menus in swedish) and a b&w printer – works well.

  7. Mister Shiney

    I have a (tiny) dos-based wordpro called Dark Room which is great. A similar linux project is called pyRoom but I don’t know if it is being maintained. I was wondering if you have tried running DOS WordPerfect 5.2 under dosbox. I suspect that would be the most feature rich and best performing option. WP5.2 had the ability to do some pretty impressive things in placing graphical elements on the page, footnotes, endnotes, and so forth.


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