Running Older Games on Windows 7

by Thomas Ward

Many gamers such as myself have recently purchased a new computer in
the last year with state-of-the-art hardware, equipped with the new
64-bit processors from Intel and AMD, and a 64-bit version of Windows
7 preinstalled. For the most part this is fine for the majority of
computer applications, and computer users, but for some of us who wish
to hang onto our older Dos and Windows  games it is getting to be
quite an issue to maintain backwards compatibility.

One of the problems is that the 64-bit versions of Windows 7 will not
run any 16-bit applications. As a result many Dos games including Dos
based interpreters like Scare, Frotz, and so on are simply
incompatible with newer releases of Windows. Sure, there are MS Dos
emulators like DosBox, but those aren't screen reader accessible. For
text adventures there are other interpreters like Adrift, Winfrotz,
Wintads, etc but those are not a perfect solution either. While they
run fine on Windows for anyone using a screen reader it requires a
fair amount of reviewing the screen with the screen reader's review
cursor which drastically slows down game play.

Another issue we are being confronted with is backwards compatibility
for older Windows technologies. For example, Visual Basic 6--which was
developed for Win 98--is now deprecated and officially unsupported on
Windows 7. Although, these runtime libraries can be installed, and
most Visual Basic apps and games still work nobody knows how long this
compatibility will continue to last. It might work on the next five to
ten versions of Windows, or be totally incompatible with the next
version that is released. We just don't know. This means that we need
to find a solution that will help maintain compatibility with our
newer systems and platforms for years to come regardless of what we
might be running at the time.

Believe it or not there is a fairly straight forward solution for
these and other compatibility issues. Its called virtual machines. A
virtual machine is simply a third-party application such as VMWare
Player or VirtualBox that allows the end user to install a guest
operating system inside a host operating system. This creates a
virtual environment that runs on top of the existing OS/platform
allowing the end user to run software and applications in their native
environment.

For example, I'm running a Toshiba notebook with an AMD 64-bit
processor, have 3 GB of ram, 325 GB of hard drive space, and Windows 7
Home Premium installed.  That's plenty of power to run Windows 7, but
I'm actually now running two operating systems side-by-side on the
same machine. I downloaded VMWare Player 4.4 from
http://www.vmware.com
and installed it. Then, I created a new virtual drive, and installed
Windows XP with service pack 3 into that virtual drive. As a result
Windows XP is running side-by-side with Windows 7 Home Premium. The
advantages here are huge.

With Windows XP running virtually ontop of Windows 7 I can now install
any games written in Visual Basic, older 32-bit Sapi voices, any Dos
games I want, as well as 16-bit interpreters like Frotz, Scare, Tads,
etc and run them on a modern PC inside Windows XP. It really is the
only surefire solution to bridge the gap between running a fully up to
date PC and hanging on to software from yesterday.

Another advantage of using a virtual machine is being able to easily
back up your installed software and games. VMWare Player installs your
guest operating systems and software into an image which can be backed
up to an external hard drive. To restore it on a new PC all you have
to do is restore the image into a fresh copy of VMWare Player, browse
for the image containing your software, and open it. So instead of
having to reinstall your older games and applications from scratch you
can keep a master image somewhere for new PC installs making backing
up and restoring guest operating systems a breeze.

For game developers--such as myself--it has the added advantage of
being able to write games and other software for multiple target
platforms and environments. The developer can run multiple versions of
Windows, Linux, etc allowing him/her to develop, design, and test
his/her products on different operating systems than the one  the
developer is currently using.

That's not to say virtual machines are perfect though. For one thing
virtual machines may require quite a bit of hard drive space as the
end user  is running one or more operating systems inside another. It
also requires a fairly modern PC with enough ram and CPU power to run
two or more operating systems concurrently. For a new PC this isn't
really a problem, but it is advisable to have enough memory to run
both operating systems and applications at the same time. I've
noticed, for instance, if I don't give XP at least 512 MB of ram of
its own the virtual machine runs too slow for running screen readers
and games on the virtual machine.

The other downside is cost. Many end users got their copies of Windows
as a bundle with their old PC, and do not own or have a full retail
copy for general use. They just have the stock OEM versions supplied
by their manufacturer. This means there may be a small fee involved in
having to purchase an older copy of Windows--such as Windows XP
Basic--to run inside a virtual machine.  Although, this is not an
ideal situation it isn't a deal breaker. Copies of Windows XP can be
purchased from software retailers like
http://www.buycheapsoftware.com
for under $100. Which is fairly reasonable in order to maintain
maximum backwards compatibility and still keep your new OS at the same
time.

In conclusion while technology is rapidly advancing, technology is
changing daily, and older software is being left behind there is still
a fairly simple solution for this problem.Virtual machines like
VirtualBox, VMWare Player, VMWare Workstation,  and VMWare Fusion are
the ideal solution for those who want to upgrade to a new PC or switch
to a different operating system and still run your older Windows games
and software. So if you are having troubles playing that favorite game
of yesterday on your new Windows 7 64-bit PC a virtual machine might
just be what the doctor ordered.

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