Yesterday developer Chaoji Li unleashed iDOS to the world. For 99¢, you were able to download a surprisingly fully functional version of Dosbox, a cross-platform program that emulates an IBM compatible PC running MS-DOS, tweaked to ridiculous lengths to work with the touch interface of iOS devices. We posted about it late yesterday morning, and within a few hours the story was picked up by TUAW, Gizmodo, MacRumors, Engadget, and many other media outlets before Apple ultimately pulled it from the App Store entirely a few hours later.

Originally we suspected that this might be the first of many full featured emulators appearing on the App Store following Apple easing up on approval guidelines, but after spending some time with iDOS, it became clear that someone obviously was asleep at the wheel in Apple's approval department. First off, iDOS allowed root access to the file system of the iOS device it was run on via use of simple DOS commands to navigate outside of iDOS's app directory. Secondly, it allowed for execution of absolutely any external DOS-compatible code from games to compilers to entire operating systems. (Some have even installed Windows 95 within iDOS.) As if things couldn't get worse from there, iDOS also came bundled with Dig Dug and Ms. PacMan, two games that Namco not only owns, but is currently selling on the App Store for $2.99 and $4.99 respectively.

Even with the new approval guidelines those three things are in serious violation of the developer agreement, and as such it wasn't much of a surprise to see iDOS quickly removed from the App Store. However, chances are, this won't be the last time you hear of the project. Chaoji Li has already submitted an update to Apple removing Dig Dig and Ms. PacMan, and intends to restrict file system access if Apple also feels that's a problem. Of course that leaves the glaring hole of complete code execution of any random executable you download and drop in to iTunes. One could be quick to jump to the conclusion that this means that iDOS is doomed to forever live in jailbreak purgatory as the freely downloadable DOSPAD, but I'm not so sure. Simply put, iDOS doesn't follow the rules Apple set for apps that are listed in the App store; but this aspect isn't important to understanding why iDOS is important.

Nostalgia gaming currently is bigger than it's ever been before as more and more people who grew up with video games as a main part of their childhood come into adulthood, and don't seem to have any problem spending money to relive those memories in remakes, sequels, and re-imaginations of their favorite games of the past. The Monkey Island remakes are an excellent example of a game studio taking completely classic intellectual property, refreshing it, and releasing it to both a crowd of new gamers and old gamers anxious to once again accompany Guybrush Threepwood on his quest(s). Similarly, iDOS allowed both new and old gamers to play a nearly limitless supply of classic DOS games on their iOS devices.

Much like using Dosbox on your Mac or PC, quite a few games require a bit of tweaking to run optimally, but this is hardly any different from the original releases of these games. (Or as someone put it on Twitter, often times coaxing the game to run on your ancient PC via jumper settings and other wizardry was half the fun of playing it.) Regardless, quite a few games run phenomenally on iDOS right out of the box. The thread on our forums is full of people posting positive results when attempting to run all kinds of retro games and programs. I spent an embarrassing amount of time playing The 7th Guest on my iPad yesterday, with a stupid grin across my face the entire time.

Adding all these things together when leveraged with the power of the App Store, results in the ingredients for a true renaissance of iOS retro gaming. The rate at which our story yesterday expanded to other massive blogs and media outlets proves that there is an immense interest out there for a plethora of classic PC games that iDOS is capable of running on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. Chaoji Li proved that playing these games is entirely possible via his iOS-customized spinoff of Dosbox, and, with a little tweaking, many of them run quite well. The current pool of retro remakes and other inspired titles on the App Store (as well as other platforms) and their associated success proves people are willing to pay for them.

This brings us back to the issues that Apple will have with iDOS. Frankly, it does too much, is way too open, and there's likely no way for Apple to look the other way in the entire purpose of the emulator: To execute whatever remote code you drag into iTunes. When emailing back and forth with Chaoji yesterday, I asked him what he thought about another possible alternative for the direction of iDOS.

What if developers leveraged the power of iDOS, or, more accurately, the open source nature of both Dospad and Dosbox to release individually tailored versions of iDOS with a specific game embedded and the emulator extensively tweaked to run that game well? id Software is already using Dosbox in this exact way to re-release both Commander Keen and Wolfenstein 3D on Steam. Sega has used their own Genesis emulator to release Sonic and other classic games on the App Store. The only thing stopping developers from doing the same thing with any number of classic PC games is tracking down who owns the rights to them, licensing the IP for distribution on the App Store, and tweaking iDOS to exclusively load that content. Chaoji told me he's even willing to help making the entire wrapping process easier in any way he can.

If you're an iOS developer out there trying to come up with what your next project will be, consider looking up who currently holds the rights to your favorite retro game. Since most of these games are freely distributed as abandonware, you might find that the owners may be willing to strike an amazingly reasonable deal with you, or just give you their blessing to breathe some new life into their projects of the past for nothing at all. As mentioned previously, the market is there, the software is there, the distribution network is there.

All we need to start the revolution is developers willing to answer the call.

Thanks to IzzyNobre for the awesome photos, and forum members for screenshots.

  • Anonymous

    Well I've been saying it for 2 years, Bring willy beamish to the iDevice and I'll buy it, $5, $10, whatever... After yesterday I got out spending $1 and couldn't be happier, Beamish runs perfectly and is awesome with a touchscreen!!! THANKS Chaoji!!! And also to you TA for giving us the heads up!!!

  • Jim

    I believe!

  • Anonymous

    Well written, intelligent article Eli and i agree with all of your points. It's a beautiful thing that we get to relive these old memories of dos games on new hardware like the ios devices. Shame that it got shut down so quickly , at least on the app store front.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mistergoomba Mąŗţįŋ ßøÿņŧöʼn

    I'm so glad I picked this up when I did. I knew it would be short lived! :D

  • E_Domina

    I'm sure root access should be allowed unless Apple is afraid someone with f up their device. Other than that, yeeeeeaahh. many violations.

    • Anonymous

      You don't say.

  • Robotron2084

    Some good thoughts.

    But honestly, I'd rather buy a new iOS game than an emulated port of an old game that wasn't designed for the platform.

    My money will go to iOS specific games, and/or recoded iOS adaptations (like ChuChu Rocket for example). Not emulations.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah I agree. It's fun to dig out old games from time to time, but the iPhone doesn't do them justice as closely as a good ol' PC does. I think they're definitely better suited to physical buttons.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        Every point and click adventure game inside of iDOS that I've tried so far on my iPad has been a substantially better experience than the PC version ever was.

      • http://spielhaus-ftw.com Stefan

        I agree. Every point and click adventure game (even unrelated to iDOS) feels significantly better on the iPad than on the PC. These things were made for this kind of games. It fits the "lesuire time at home" audience of the iPad very very well.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah I suppose that genre would work. It didn't immediately spring to mind as I never played them.

      • E_Domina

        yea. it's better though i think the scumm system is better than dos

    • Anonymous

      I agree, plus buying a new iOS game also supports the developers and so they will create more games

  • http://twitter.com/iTouchAppReview iTouchAppReviewers

    I WANT IT xP

  • Jas

    Glad I grabbed it too yesterday, but I HATE Apple for this. Why should I have had to buy those old games again when I have my old discs sitting in my cupboard? Why shoudl Apple cripple a device I own?

    • Anonymous

      Its crippled as advertised though, Apple makes no excuses for it, why not just get an Android phone and enjoy the free for all?

    • Adams Immersive

      Apple’s level of control is a real problem for people with old DOS floppies lying around, along with the old PC hardware needed to read those disks (if they work) and get them onto an iPad. Those people may end up having to play those old DOS games on that PC instead, or paying 2.99 for an iPad remake. I agree, that is a problem (albeit a small one). So is everything else a given platform can’t do, when it’s something you wish it did. We’ve all experienced that kind of frustration.But to help explain the “why”: Apple’s level of control also has real benefits. It’s not all bad, it’s bad AND good. The good, particularly when it comes to ease-of-use and security, tends to outweigh the bad by a long shot. (If not, then iOS is not the platform for you. But don’t give up: Apple is constantly evolving and improving their guidelines, and listening to customers and developers alike. They’re flexible and generally fair in the end. So what you wish iOS to be may one day happen!)Also remember that the rules that apply in this case weren’t published by Apple just to pick on this one app—they existed (publicly) long before. They are there to address very real situations that ARE problems. They can’t predict every future app that might run into those rules. So they adapt their rules over time. The app-makers have to adapt, and so does Apple, and that’s how you achieve all the progress made by the App Store and its approval guidelines.

  • wbjethro

    Waiting for a iOS port of SheepShaver (OS X classic mode) so I can try to setup my old Zoombinis game for the kids. Wish THAT was ported to iOS, too.

  • Vulture3

    So many fun factors with this app. It adds to my collection of now unobtainable apps.

    Running any dos childhood memory I had is awesome, and even the loading of the games into iDos is reliving the magic before plug and play games.

    I do enjoy when old games are ported nicely to iPhone. But aside from gems like DOOM, they usually aren't better than their original trusty counterparts anyways.

  • http://aussiebloke.blogspot.com/ scarnie

    There are some additional iOS issues for non-jailbroken devices. Emulators like DOSBOX take advantage of dynamic code generation (often known as a dynamic core) to improve performance. Unfortunately, security restrictions of the current iOS environment (for valid reason) prevent taking advantage of this very important feature. This will limit the types of applications and games that can be run.

    • TheFamousEccles

      You smart people and your computer-y ways are ruining our fun. Why do you have to know so much?

      I'd most like to see this app run like the C64 emulator, but considering how few games you've been able to get for it, through no fault of your own, I'm sure they'd have a hell of a time getting rights for games that aren't 30 years-old.

  • NamVeteran1964

    does fallout work with this?

  • Keslus

    Someone answer the call of Jumpman on Commodore 64 - I NEED to play that again..

    • http://twitter.com/stromdotcom Rick Strom

      I've always, ALWAYS wanted to do a version of Jumpman and Jumpman Jr. Figuring out the control scheme is super key on iOS though, because that game depended on quick reflexes a lot. I'd love to do it though.

    • thewiirocks

      Your wish is my... oh hell, just click here:

      http://www.classicdosgames.com/game/Jumpman_Lives!.html

      In case you're wondering, Apogee doesn't really care what anyone does with it:

      http://forums.3drealms.com/vb/archive/index.php/t-1766.html

    • Keslus

      Well I'm glad others care at least. I had hoped Manomio would attach it to their app but not so. But you're right, Rick, having that joystick was essential for quick reflexes. Maybe once a good third-party controller for iphone/ipad gets approved..

  • http://www.revolutionaryconcepts.net/apps Revolutionary Concepts

    V.Interesting! Though we spend an inordinate amount of time adapting and recreating retro titles like Karate Champ, Cobra Command and the soon to be released Road Blaster from scratch, I can think of plenty of examples where this solution would be a great way to get to relive the past. iDos seems like it could certainly lower the barriers to entry and im excited to see what awesome past classics might come down the pipe, but as ever the difference between a good game and a bad port is how much the individual developer cares about the user experience, respects the original creators vision and understands why a particular title has nostalgic appeal. Hastily emulated titles -because we can- minus any tlc or a passion for the original is never going to end well.

  • Anonymous

    I really wish I would have bought this in time, but on the other hand these iOS emulators aren't really good for anything other than a few moments of novelty. The games that require buttons just don't play well at all. Even point and click games really need special control schemes to properly work on a touch screen (like the one used in Broken Sword and Beneath a Steel Sky).

    I'd really rather have these emulators and classic game collections on a portable device that actually has some physical controls.

  • ely

    God i should have jumped on my ipad to buy iDOS. Now i'm afraid not to have any other occasions.

  • PHUCK-O

    Yeaaaaaa.... keep talking all this smack about importance. This will all be forgotten once rovio anounces Angry Turkeys for thanksgiving

  • LordVader

    I really wish I had downloaded this.

  • http://twitter.com/TheeGravedigger TheeGravedigger

    I was thinking, the logical extension of this project is for someone to make a deal with GOG.com, get them to provide the content, directly from their online store to a 'tame' version of this app. It would make most people happy, and probably be approved, since only the approved in-app purchased GOG games would run on it. Win for Apple, win for GOG, win for gamers.

    Yes, I'd rather have open access to play any game, but this seems like a solid compromise.

    • http://twitter.com/Erichd ErichD

      YES!!! YES! YES! Partnering with GOG would be awesome. No more hoping a game launches well with CrossOver. No more wondering why the Mac ports are still 400% more expensive than their GOG counterparts.

      And aside note: Where in Hell is Activision with the Sierra catalog? iDos emulations offer the best quick solution, if Activision is shy to challenge LucasArts in the remake department.

  • Max

    Apple have become the new corporate bully I love to hate. Sure, when I bought my iPad I knew it would never realise its full potential (without jail-breaking) thanks to Apple, but that doesn't curb my resentment one bit. I've seen other users clumsily attempt to justify Apple's ridiculous paranoid grip on the market with everything from "my iPad is crippled because Apple are protecting me" to "if they unlocked it, it would be Y2K all over again!". Money and greed, is why iDos was banned. Apple products remind me of Derek Zoolander: Only one look and can't turn left. Or was it Simple Jack that reminded me? ;)

    • Sam

      Yep, I'm sure Namco would have been perfectly fine with iDOS featuring pirated copies of its games.

      You crack me up, little buddy.

      • Adam

        So then what Namco SHOULD do is start selling the roms and older games specifically for emulation so that they can be bought legitimately. I know I would buy a few. I think all the game companies are really ignoring a HUGE market potential to rake in $$$ for games that have already been developed. They have nothing to lose because they are already available for free if you look. They can only make money not lose it. It would be trivial to sell them at this point.

      • Max

        The issue is not pirated software, which was certainly an issue in the case of iDos, the issue is Apple's reluctance to open up their products to allow a consumer to use a device they've purchased, however they like.

        I thought that was clear, if you're having trouble keeping up, perhaps you should leave the comments and debate for the grown-ups, sport.

      • Sam

        Don’t get your pretty long ears in a twist, Max.

        In your original comment you refer to Apple only as a "corporate bully" with a "paranoid grip on the market". "Money and greed" is the only explanation you'll accept for why they pulled iDOS.

        Now you acknowledge that the pirated Namco content is "certainly an issue" but, by some infernal cony logic, "the issue is not pirated software".

        ...I think I'll always have trouble keeping up with you, little buddy!

  • duckeedoug

    Battle Chess here I come. I was hoping for a port in the iTunes store but this is even better

  • http://www.facebook.com/Jimmy.Dago James D'Agostino

    Does anyone have any kind of tutorial links?

  • http://www.facebook.com/nitzanwilnai Nitzan Wilnai

    What about STAR CONTROL 2!!!

    http://sc2.sourceforge.net/downloads.php

    As far as I know the game is open source. I am amazed no one has ported it to iOS yet.

    There is even a Mac OSX port! Porting it to iOS should be trivial.

    I'd do it if I wasn't working 24/7 on Sketch Nation.

  • Gert

    I don't think anyone was asleep.

    No one sleeps *this* deep.

    It's definitely a PR stunt by Apple aiming to demonstrate iOS' capabilities.

  • PHUCK-O

    afterall, who wants to use iOS when you can run the cutting edge windows 95 instead

    • Handy Andy

      Windows 95 was cutting edge compared to System 7. Learn2historyoftechnology.

      • http://normalkid.com Arnold Kim

        Well, to be fair Window 95 came out 4 years after System 7.

        I bought a Mac in 1992. The choice was Windows 3.1 vs System 7.

    • Max

      Oh, and 95 doesn't run on DOS (not how you mean, anyway).

  • CamelX

    That Fallout screenshot makes my heart ache... I wonder if it is even possible to emulate it on iphone. On my computer I could only play it windowed, or stretched with black barriers given todays large monitors, so it would be awesome if someone could port it to work on I-devices.

  • chris

    man i always miss the good apps. laughs i was in the hospital. guess i will finally have to jailbreak my ipod instead of talking about it over and over. maybe today ill do so. i have so many old dos games. :)
    chris.

  • Applemac

    Hey guys,

    I missed this buy and I also missed the tethering app.

    Where do you guys get info about cool apps before Apple remove them?

  • http://twitter.com/pjburnhill pjburnhill

    Dammmnit.. Really.. I mean REALLY gutted that I missed this..

    Is there a way to be notified when the iDOS update goes live (if it EVER will) so I can make sure I grab it before it gets pulled again?

    Will AppShopper notify me if I add it to my Wish List?

    Also - Why was it only released in the US AppStore or am I mistaken?

    Can someone provide a 'Download this controversial app NOW as it will definitely be pulled by Apple within hours!' -service?

  • Hammonds Mark

    Ok I launched ipad then I ran win 3.1 once in windows I used windows dos shell then I ran space quest 5 as you can see in the video I get near perfect performance

    here is the video with out running windows dos shell

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3djVKeBKB4

    Here is a video running windows dos shell

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqZpH3BIi3o

  • http://twitter.com/sonofalink Dave L

    Can someone post a tutorial on how to get 7th Guest running? I try to install and it says it needs MSCDEX.

    • Hammonds Mark

      Z:>MOUNT D D: -t cdrom
      MSCDEX installed.
      Drive D is mounted as CDRom D:

  • Blades

    I hope this comes back. Minus the namco crap. I hope it isn't too restrictive. How cool would it to be to play all my floppy games of old. It would be an excuse to get them out of the storage...lol.

    If they restrict the update too much...then I guess jail break here we come...lol.

  • http://www.facebook.com/IchigoKyger Steven Mattera

    Whoever wrote this article really needs to do their research a lot better. Below I will list the two key problems with this article.

    1. This did not give root access to the file system. Root access would allow for you to read, WRITE, and EXECUTE to any section of the file system even outside the application's sandbox. iDos allowed you to mount root (/), but you were only allowed to read. All applications can browse the file system, but the point is you can't write and execute outside of your sandbox.

    2. Digdug and Ms. Pacman for DOS are considered Abandonware. These products have been discontinued, and no product support. They can be found across the web for free. Yes, Namco/Atari still hold the copyright on these IP, but it's unheard for a company to go after abandonware.

    The reason apple pulled this was because of the execution of third-party code. The person that approved it most likely thought it was a gag app and not the real deal. Will this ever be back on the app store? Simple, no. No matter what the developer does it will always be in violation of section 3, subsection 3, paragraph 2 of the iOS Developer Program License Agreement.

    3.3.2 An Application may not download or install executable code. Interpreted code may only be used in an Application if all scripts, code and interpreters are packaged in the Application and not downloaded. The only exception to the foregoing is scripts and code downloaded and run by Apple's built-in WebKit framework.