A couple weeks back I tried to run an old game of mine, you know, those really, really old ones that were more DOS than Windows games or were made for really old versions of existing libraries like DirectDraw and DirectX. Well low and behold, it just doesn’t work. Now many of these games are also available from www.gog.com if you want to buy them again, but if you are like me and a cheap son of a gun, well you would try to exhaust all possible options before spending money on these titles.
Sure it may be convenient and it may be user friendly to buy from Good Old Games… but where is the fun in that?
So I went looking for options and I found several software suites that allow for emulation of a complete operating system. Sure there is DOS Box for the really old stuff, but I hate messing with it if I don’t have to. And plus, my game was an early Windows title, not a DOS application.
Now since the vast majority of our users are Windows customers, this will be highly windows focused.
However, for those of you on Mac and Linux, “WINE” is a great piece of software that essentially is a compatibility layer (much like the compatibility layer that modern windows has for older versions of itself) for windows software on your system. This provides almost Windows level performance that you may have trouble reaching when virtualizing or emulating older operating systems.
So what is all this gobbleygook about virtualization and emulation?
Emulation is the software reproduction of hardware on non compatible systems. This is done to keep data and software from becoming obsolete or inaccessible to modern audiences. For example, an emulator of the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Playstation 2, or old PowerPC based Mac computers on a modern desktop PC or Console would be an example of emulation.
Virtualization is entirely different from emulation. It is a complete reproduction and encapsulation of software, like an operating system, that uses mostly native hardware. In a virtualized environment, you cannot run software not made for your hardware. So a Linux system running Windows 98SE, or Windows 7 and vice versa would be an example of virtualization.
After I tried VMWare (the free version), Virtualbox, and Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 SP1, I found that the only one that truly worked for me was the offering by Microsoft. As I was trying to recreate Windows98SE/WindowsME, each of these offerings already had defaults configuration options for those two operating systems. They all also have what is called “guest additions” that includes graphics drivers and some other utilities. Very nice.
So with my trusty WindowsME disc from 1748 AD, I put it into my CD drive and started configurating!
Virtualization with Virtualbox
After following the guide to create the default WindowsME install, Virtualbox wouldn’t even let me get past the installation phase and essentially gave me the “blue screen of death” for the installer.
Virtualization with VMWare
This went a little better. After following the guide and creating the default WindowsME install base, I was able to install and start WindowsME. After it was finished installing, I was able to install the “guest additions” from VMWare, I was able to go fullscreen. Unfortunately, my mouse turned into a quite useless device when they were enabled, it would move in the exact opposite of the actual mouse movement sporadically. Which for the game I was wanting to play, it was not acceptable, since it used the mouse for the user interface.
Virtualization with Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 SP1
The install of WindowsME and the guest additions went without a hitch. The game installed and ran just like it would be expected to as if this was 2000 again. It was extremely simple to setup and provided little hassle to do so. I ended up making an ISO file (I will talk about this at another time) from the CD so I could make the game run even faster, and ran it inside the virtualization with Daemon tools (fakes a CD-ROM drive and runs the .ISO file like it is a CD).
VMWare: Download it here.
Virtualbox: Download it here.
Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 SP1: Download it here.
Daemon tools for Windows ME, 98SE: Download it here.