DOSBox and greek

I recently migrated a network of Windows XP stations and servers to Fedora Linux. Most of the migration project was the classical service migration stuff, but there were some challenges like running old DOS programs (for which there are no sources to rebuild).

The overwhelming majority of (DOS) software projects from the 90ies in Greece were based on Clipper. For projects where you do have the source you can use Harbour, a Clipper-compatible compiler that builds for Linux and several other platforms as well. The others need an emulation layer like Wine, DOSEMU or DOSBox. The first two gave up on the old Clipper program. Wine directly referred to DOSBox, and DOSEMU had a Blinker fatal error 1202.

So I went with DOSbox, which is probably the safest bet with old DOS programs anyway. The next issue to overcome was to use proper codepages for keyboard and screen to represent the Greek language. There were different codepages available for placing the Greek characters in the upper half of the 256 block available. The dominant one was codepage 747, a variant of codepage 437. The main traits of the latter were limited support for several Western European languages and box drawing characters. Codepage 737 swapped out the support for the Western European languages to add the Greek alphabet in lower, upper and accented versions.

Since then the Greek support in various operating systems has roughly seen two transitions, one to ISO/IEC 8859 (ISO-8859-7) and then to Unicode. Support for legacy codepages has been constantly vanishing from the sources, terminal emulators, pagers like less and others are not anymore capable to support codepage 737.

Fortunately DOSBox still has support for codepage 737 and in fact is quite easy to invoke – just add -c “KEYB el459 737″ to the command line, for example

dosbox OLDDOS.EXE -c "KEYB el459 737" -securemode -exit

The command above will use a dual keyboard layout, which needs to be switched with the left Alt key and one of the two Shift keys (no toggling, the left Shift key switches to English and the right one to Greek).

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