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Posted on Apr 16, 2013 in PC Maintenance, Troubleshooting Compatibility | 0 comments

Windows Vista compatibility problems – Part 3 – Two technologies that can help run all kinds of legacy software

Method 3 – Emulation

DOSBox Logo

DOSBox is just one of many emulators that can run all kinds of old software.

An emulator is a piece of software that mimics an older computing platform. Modern computers are so fast that they can emulate older systems at full speed and sometimes run legacy software better than the ancient computer systems it was originally designed for. Because of this, there are now dozens of emulators available for Windows computers.

If you are looking to solve Windows Vista compatibility problems with older games software, the MS-DOS emulator DOSBox might be exactly what you need. You don’t even need to find an old copy of MS-DOS (the text only operating system that most old PC’s would run), as DOSBox includes a simplified version of DOS with the download. DOSBox also includes some limited support for productivity software too, although for productivity software you may wish to consider Virtualization instead (we discuss that next).You can download DOSBox for free here. You can also find a great introductory tutorial for DOSBox here.

Emulators exist for all kinds of older platforms too. Want to run software designed for your Commodore 64, BBC Micro or ZX Spectrum on your PC? With emulators you can. However, transferring software and operating systems from old media can sometimes be tricky. A full discussion of emulators is a little beyond the scope of this article, but there’s plenty of information out there on the internet.

Method 4 – Virtualization

Vista XP Together

Running Windows XP and Windows Vista seamlessly on one desktop using VirtualBox. Note the two Start Menus and Taskbars, XP (guest) at the top and Vista (host) at the bottom.

In the command prompt window we are running a 16-bit Windows console application, something normally impossible to do on a 64-bit version of Windows. Click here for a larger view (opens in a new window/tab, warning, very big picture!)

Virtualization is a little similar to emulation, at least as far as the end user is concerned, but the two principles are a little different. Without going into technicalities, Virtualization allows you to run two or more operating systems at once. You boot your regular operating system (the host) then the secondary operating system (the guest) runs on a virtual machine. Typically virtual machines will have access to the hard drive and storage of the host but not all the hardware capabilities, such as 3D graphics or audio acceleration.

Virtualization is usually the preferred method for running legacy business and productivity applications on the modern desktop. No need to reboot every time you want to run your software, simply load the virtual machine and you are away. It’s even possible to share clipboard data with some virtual machines (depending on the guest operating systems capabilities) and configure printers and other hardware. Some Virtualization software also boasts a “seamless” mode. Instead of one Taskbar and Sart Menu, you’ll now get two, enabling you to launch programs from your host operating system or your guest on the same desktop. Having two Taskbars is strange at first, but you quickly learn to appreciate this feature when you use virtual operating systems on a regular basis. Installing a 32 bit guest operating system while running on a 64 bit host also allows you to run 16 bit executables (inside the guest OS only, of course), something that is otherwise impossible under a 64 bit Windows OS.

Our favourite desktop virtualization package, Oracle Virtualbox can run DOS, legacy and current versions of Windows and Linux and a whole lot more. Amazingly, it can be downloaded for free. Note that even though Virtualbox is free, Windows isn’t, so you’ll need to purchase a licence for any versions of Windows you install as guest operating systems.

While virtualization is appealing to those of you who want to run legacy business or productivity applications, gamers are likely to be disappointed. Expect your high-end, expensive graphics card to show up in your virtual machine’s guest operating system as a low end, basic VGA graphics card. You can forget using surround sound on your sound card too. Although the newest versions of Virtualbox have experimental support for DirectX and 3D acceleration, it is likely to be some time before these features are stable and ready for the mainstream.

Remember at the start of the article we promised to tell you how you can run Windows 1.01 applications on Windows Vista 64? Well, if you can find suitable installation media for MS-DOS and Windows 1.01, then with VirtualBox you can, though we’re not sure why anyone would want to! DOSBox is also capable of running Windows 1.01 and several other legacy versions of the operating system.

That concludes our guide to running older or legacy programs on the modern Windows desktop. We’ve covered a lot of material here and we hope it wasn’t too technical for you all. Please leave a comment or contact us with any feedback on this article and let us know how you get on with any of the methods discussed above.

What about older/legacy hardware?

Although this article concerns software, many users are frustrated that their older hardware won’t run on more recent versions of Windows. For legacy hardware, dual booting or virtualization may help in some cases, as does searching around the internet for possible solutions or updated drivers. If no Windows Vista drivers are available for your hardware, sometimes the old Windows XP drivers will work, even under Windows Vista, so it’s always worth a try.

References and further reading:-

Wikipedia page on Microsoft Windows
Virtual PC Guys Web blog
Frequently asked questions on 64 bit Windows operating systems
Limitations of 64 bit Windows operating systems

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