Wednesday, November 1, 2017

My suggestion for QEMU

I have been involved in open source software since 1993. And in 1994, I believed so strongly in the ability for people to come together to write code that I created the FreeDOS Project, to replicate the functionality of MS-DOS. And twenty-three years later, I'm still using and developing FreeDOS.

My desktop system is Linux, and I run FreeDOS using QEMU (Quick EMUlator). QEMU is very easy to use, and provides great flexbility to define your virtual machine. I run FreeDOS in QEMU when I want to play an old DOS game, or when I want to test some legacy software, or when I want to write code to update a FreeDOS program.

But one problem pops up occasionally when using QEMU. A lot of old DOS software uses the function keys to do various things. The most extreme example is WordPerfect, which was arguably the most popular commercial word processor of the day. WordPerfect is notorious for using all of the function keys, in every combination, including use of Ctrl and Alt to access all the common features. I think WordPerfect probably used all of the expanded keys too, like Home and End.

Other DOS programs use the function keys in different ways. The most common was F1 for help, but it was common for an install program to use F10 to start the install.

And with QEMU, you can use those keys. Except some of them. And strictly speaking, that's not QEMU's fault. Some function keys, like F10, are intercepted by the window system or desktop environment. You can get around this in QEMU by using the QEMU console (available in the menu bar or tabs) and typing a sendkey command, like sendkey f10. But that's kind of awkward, especially for new users. Nor is it very fast if you often need to use the function keys.

So as a frequent user of QEMU, I'd like to suggest a modification to the user interface: a toolbar with the function keys. Here's a simple mock-up to show what I mean:

A possible improvement would be to add "modifier" buttons for Ctrl, Shift, and Alt to make it easier for users to enter combinations like Ctrl-F1 or Shift-F5 or Alt-F7.

I've already submitted this idea as a feature request in the QEMU tracker, and it's been added to a Wishlist. If you are a QEMU developer, or want to make a contribution to QEMU, I encourage you to work on this toolbar.

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