Protel AutoTrax, DOSemu and Linux

Not exactly a "howto", not exactly finished.

Persuading AutoTrax to operate happily in the Linux environment with the help of DOSemu is reasonably straightforward once you have a list of tasks and a few examples to look at.
Content revision history:
Article first written: 29th December 2006.
Updated: 21st September 2007

Introductory preamble

AutoTrax is a rather decent, commercial PCB design package created for the DOS environment by a company called Protel. By making use of the DOS emulator the AutoTrax software can be used in a Linux environment. The most recent version of the software is believed to be version 1.61 originally released in or around 1992.

To use Protel AutoTrax in a Linux environment you will need:

  • The Protel Autotrax software
  • The DOS emulation software, DOSemu
  • A reasonably fast computer.
Linux penguin dancing in front of computer screen showing PCB design
Those blue ones look like dance tracks!

Computer hardware has changed since the software was first released and the original hardware drivers do not take advantage of more recent hardware. Happily various people have independently developed some extra video and printer drivers that will allow you to get better performance than you could with the original hardware drivers. See the links at the bottom of the page.

Putting it all together

The process of making it all work smoothly is not difficult but it is a little laborious. The files need to be put in sensible locations. The DOSemu and Autotrax software both need to be configured and you might want to create some batch files and desktop links as well.

The principle hardware and software used by the author to obtain a working AutoTrax installation is noted in this specification.

You will need to install the DOSemu software. This can be downloaded (see links below) or, it might be included with your Linux distribution. If you are using a version of SuSE Linux prior to 10.1 then it can be installed using YaST. In OpenSuSE 10.2 the DOSemu software no longer seemed to be included in the downloadable distribution.

  • Directory structure
  • The AutoTrax program files and hardware drivers
  • DOSemu configuration files
  • DOS configuration files
  • Optional DOS batch files. These batch files work for our installation and requirements. You might not want batch files and, in any case, you will need to adapt them to your own needs and situation.
  • General configuration of the DOS path: setpath.bat
  • General configuration of the DOS environment: setsys.bat
  • Start the PCB layout software: trax.bat
  • Start the schematic drawing software: schedit.bat
  • Start the PCB plotting software: traxplot.bat
  • Start the schematic plotting software: schplot.bat
  • Your actual work files. If you configure your system carefully you will be able to place your project work files in a convenient directory of your choice. Generally you should avoid mixing data files with program files and, on our installation, that is in any case impossible.
  • The desktop link This particular link will start DOSemu in full screen mode.
  • Full screen mode. For best appearance, swiftest redraw, and fewest overall complications you are advised to run the Autotrax software in full-screen mode. However even in full screen mode the operation of the pointing device (i.e. mouse or trackball) will not behave as you expect until you tell the graphical user interface to allow the DOSemu emulator to have full control. This is a quirk but one that is easy to become accustomed to. In the DOSemu configuration files this is referred to as mouse “grab” and you can choose which key combination to use for grabbing and releasing pointer control by modifying /etc/dosemu/dosemu.conf (search for “grab” to find the pertinent configuration line). The default key combination is Ctrl-Alt-Home. You will normally need to use the “grab” key combination every time you switch between the DOS screen and your ordinary Linux desktop or applications.
  • Complications. Did I say there were no difficulties? I might have told a wee fib, ooops, sorry. One possible source of trouble is that the Protel programs need to believe that they have write access to the program files and directories. In a Linux environment it is quite possible (and also often desirable) that software directories are "read only" so that nobody can accidentally or maliciously delete or modify the software. Happily it is possible to keep the Protel software on a read-only disk but deceive it so that it thinks that it has write access to its own program files and directories. The deceit is accomplished by setting all the individual file permissions for rwx (read write execute) but then only allowing the users to refer to them via a symbolic link that does not allow write access. An alternative method of achieving a similar result might be to remount the AutoTrax directories at a different (second) mount point and make the remounted version read-only.[Further and better particulars to be added later]


Internal Links

General AutoTrax notes


External Links

The DOS emulator project for GNU/Linux.
SuSE Linux
The SuSE Linux distribution has been used as the base platform for DOSEMU and Rapidfile.
Video and printer drivers from
This Australian electronic design firm has some video drivers, printer drivers for the Autotrax software. They also offer some hints written by themselves and other users based on their use of the software and experience of PCB design.

You are also advised to check the Wikipedia.