I've been doing quite a bit of tinkering and testing.
I got WIN98SE running from a 32MB Compact Flash Card with DOS 7.1 on both my old laptops and that is in addition to a 2.5 MB executable I have written with this cross platform kit. Since WIN98SE comes up in 12 seconds from power on running off the flash card and appears to be extremely stable, obviously this operating system can be used in very low specification PCs of almost any recent x86 blend. I would not have believed this possible if I had not seen it with my own eyes.
I managed to find enough SD-RAM to put 16 megs on both laptops and the PC-104 compatible SBC boards I got already came with plenty of RAM to run Win98SE. This seems to be sufficient for a 200mhz Pentium to run the scaled-down Win98 version and the application at a pretty good clip.
Once you've got Windows '98, of course you have internet explorer, apps like notepad, system info, all networking supported, TCP-IP sockets and nearly everything you'd expect from the Windows environment. In addition I get the Windows display system to support my customized GUI look'n'feel under Ultimate++. In addition to all this, Ultimate++ has it's own rich text format, help file format, icon files, multithreaded cooporative multitasking environment, PDF generation and viewing, complete SQL generics and full storage of binary data through serialization (XML, etc.) into the database system or resource files and back. It's like .NET except without the extra 40MB run-time overhead. Wait, that's not all. Ultimate++ comes with it's own easily embeddable scripting language called ESC that can be tailored for any app's needs with a single file. Still not impressed? Well, I did a test and my Windows source code compiled perfectly on Linux the first time. They've got ports for almost every operating system including FreeBSD.
So I get all the convenience of developing, testing and deploying in a Win 32 OS without having to run a virtual machine DOS x86 under QNX Neutrino just to see if the app is working, with a RAD tool that expedites layout design and coding all in one integrated IDE.
Most important of all, the resulting application can be run from any Win 32 OS without the .NET runtime, whether it is WinXP, WinNT, WindowsMe, Windows2000,WindowsForWorkgroups. If you want to try what I have done, you can crush your Windows deployment down to a compact flash card ... or you can just run it on the machine you have now.
Like you'd expect under Windows, I get TCP-IP, HTTP server, Email, SMS and all the other networkable frills that are so difficult to come by under DOS these days.
Does this sound like the best of all possible worlds? I think I have reached the end of my architectural investigation. I don't think it can get any better.