Windows 98 Legacy Application

Hi Experts,

I am looking at replacing a Windows 98 PC, for a specialised application, but I don't want to buy ageing hardware.

Is it possible to run something like a VMWare emulation to do this on say a Windows 7 machine?  And if so, specifically what products could do it?

The application is running as a real-mode DOS application and requires the following hardware to work as if it is natively available:
COM1 serial port for communications
Parallel port for software protection key, along the lines of the old Rainbow Sentinel products.
EGA display is expected for the drivers.

If you are interested, the product is Simatic APT v1.8 for programming various PLCs.

Who is Participating?
Gary CaseConnect With a Mentor RetiredCommented:
As I'm sure you know, VMWare provides direct access to both serial and parallel ports on your hardware IF they exist.     As noted above, many modern motherboards do not have these ports (especially the parallel printer ports), but you should be able to find some relatively recent hardware that does.      

Note that some Intel motherboards that don't have serial ports on the ATX header DO have serial headers on the motherboard -- so you only need to bring these out to the rear panel with a simple cable [ ].     I've used these several times for folks who needed a serial port for some older hardware that wasn't yet supported by USB.

Note that you need to check Intel's manual to determine which boards do/do not have these headers => the descriptions on popular retailer's sites (e.g. Newegg, Tiger, etc.) do NOT always mention these headers.

Parallel ports are a bit more problematic.    As long as the system has a PCI slot (also becoming rare), a PCI add-in card will USUALLY work with security dongles;  but not in every case.    Not sure how to determine which do/don't work short of simply trying it.

Probably your best chance for success is to get a server motherboard (which will generally have a native serial port -- check to be sure);  and be sure it has at least one PCI slot [I'm not aware of any PCIe parallel port cards that work with security dongles;  but as I noted above, most PCI cards will].

Here are a couple of motherboards that meet those criteria:

Note:   There are a couple of "tricks" to installing Windows 98 in a VMWare machine.   I've had mine for so long I've forgotten the details, but if you get the hardware to do this, just ask and we'll get it working.    I built my '98 VM seral years ago in a much earlier version of VMWare, but it runs just fine on the newest version.   [So does Windows 95, and even Windows for Workgroups :-) ]
Dave BaldwinFixer of ProblemsCommented:
Most Windows 7 or newer machines do not have COM ports or Parallel ports.  They have been 'replaced' by USB ports.  But the USB hardware interface is of course not compatible with the old hardware and software.

Your chances of finding new hardware that will support your application are slim.  I keep old but barely used hardware for just these reasons because I still make money off my old software.

Some of the newer PLC software is finally moving to a modern Windows format.  A friend has both new and old Siemens software.  The old versions require the old hardware like yours does.
Have you checked whether the software runs under Windows XP? In most cases you can get things that run under w9x to run under XP too. If that is the case you should also be able to run it under Windows 7 using XP mode or another, better hypervisor like VMware player, as you can use the physical com and lpt ports of a PC inside a VM (at least with the player you can. There are still PC's available that come with those ports, particularly industry standard machines (not the general user PC), or you can look on ebay for used PC's.

A further option if it is a DOS and not Windows program, could be to try it using DOSBox, a very good DOS emulator:

And a probably even better option could be to have a Linux Distro as the main OS on your PC, and then run the tool using wine (a windows emulator), or also Dosbox, which is available for Linux too.
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pau1scottAuthor Commented:
Thanks for your suggestions,

This software version is only supposed to run under DOS and Win 95.  There is a newer version that will run under Win NT (APT 1.9), which means it may be portable or run-able on something later (more likely than a DOS App I would think).  The main issue with the new version is that the whole program has to be recompiled, re-downloaded and re-proven which is time consuming and possibly dangerous.  So we are preferring to look at the option of maintaining the current version.

I think the COM port will not be an issue, and emulating a real LPT port so that the copy protection dongle can operate will be the main problem.  

dosbox I think is a good suggestion.  I had looked briefly at it before, but it was unclear about LPT ports.  

Any other inspirations or experiences would be welcome.

Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)Connect With a Mentor VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
Both VMware Workstation supports Serial and Parallel ports.

VMware Workstation 9.0 (60 day trial, $199) [EVALUATION]

We also have clients in the Semi Conductor industry that that use legacy virtual PCs, that hjave serial port control from Windows 95 and Windows 98 VMs, that we have P2Ved into VMware Workstation running in Windows 7 and Windows 8.0.

Modern PCs that do not use serial ports, we are using USB to Serial Port converters, which map to a virtual serial port in the OS. e.g. COM3.

So we also use these as well in early versions of Windows.
rindiConnect With a Mentor Commented:
LPT ports work with DOSBox, but I think you need a special version of it which has full LPT support. I think it's the DOSBox Megabuild you need for that.

I've seen cases where DOSBox will work better than VM's for DOS apps, as many old DOS apps can have issues when they run too fast. With DOSBox you can also make the app run at the old 8086, 80286, 80386 or 80486 PC's speeds, like 4, 8, 16 etc MHz.
Gary CaseConnect With a Mentor RetiredCommented:
... I know you said you'd like to avoid ageing hardware, but I just had a look at a few old Dells I've got that folks have given me to reload and donate [one of my spare time endeavors -- an old 2-3GHz P-IV system works for for a basic internet/e-mail system or for disadvantaged youth.    All of these systems [Dell 2350, 2400, 3000, 4500, and 4600's] have BOTH serial ports and parallel ports ... and they're available on e-bay (and probably at local used computer stores)  for under $100.      You can't run VMWare on these -- but they'll run Windows 98 natively very well ... and they have the ports you need.    Might be worth considering.    These are VERY reliable old workhorses.

Note:  There's a "gotcha" here too => be sure they don't have too much memory installed, or '98 won't install :-)       You can work around this with a "maxmem" entry in the .ini file, but if all you're going to be running is '98, the simplest approach is to only install 512MB of RAM (even 256MB is plenty for '98.
ded9Connect With a Mentor Commented:
You can install vmware player free version and then install windows 98 in virtual env and check.

You can also try compatibility mode -

Right click the setup file in windows 7- properties- compatibility- select windows 98 from the list- then click ok.

Now install the software and check.....might work.

RickEpnetConnect With a Mentor Commented:
I have the same issue with a FoxPro 2.6 application. On all new PC purcashed at that company we make sure they a serial interface and we use VMware Workstation with Windows XP. This seems to work very well. The parallel ports is not an issue either most computer manufacturer (for sure HP) allow you to add a real parallel port as an option.
Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
As I noted above, the issue here isn't virtualization => clearly the application will run fine in a virtualized OS ... the question is whether the hardware dependencies can be satisfied.    Some older systems use dedicated hardware controller cards -- in those cases there's nothing that can be done except use old hardware that supports those cards, or move to another system without the dependencies.    But in this case, the system only needs a serial port and a parallel port => both of these are still available on some systems;  so the "trick" is to be sure you use a system that has these available.

r.e. the comment above that "... most computer manufacturer (for sure HP) allow you to add a real parallel port as an option ..."  is simply wrong.     NONE of the systems on HP's web site list that as an option -- I downloaded the detailed PDF specs for several of them, and most show "No" for both serial and parallel ports;  although a few show "Optional" for the serial port -- but still "No" for a parallel port.     As I noted above, however, as long as you have a PCI slot, an add-in card should be able to provide a parallel port that will work with the security dongle.
I do not want to start any augments here so lets clear this up with a link to HP 6300 Pro desktop quick specs. Please search for Parallel and or Serial. This is a commercial desktop you may have been looking at consumer models.

I/O Ports – Optional
1 – Serial RS-232 compatible
1 – Parallel
1 – eSATA
Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
No, I actually had a look at a few samples from every category on the HP web site.    Their generic "I/O Ports - Optional" section is still included in their quickspecs packages on several systems;  but it's simply out-of-date.    If you look at the detailed manual for the systems, you'll find none of their current systems have parallel port headers.

In fact, if you follow the quick-spec link to the "optional" parallel port, you'll find that it's HP part #KD061AA -- shown here:

This is a simple back bracket providing a parallel port from an on-board parallel header -- clearly it only works IF there is such a header.   If you click on the "view all compatible products" link for that bracket, you'll find that it lists two systems:  the DC5800 and the DC7900 => both of which are discontinued systems.    They ARE, however, both available from various resellers in remanufatured form or "off-lease" systems  ...  and they would in fact be good choices for this specific problem => while not new, they're "new enough" technology that they use Core 2 Duo CPU's instead of the older NetBurst architecture Pentiums ... so a virtualized Windows 98 would work well and would have access to the serial and parallel ports the system needs.
I just did this on a 6300 Pro system a few weeks ago. I believe this quick spec is out of date.

The customer purchased these two parts and it worked perfectly.
Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
Good to know.   It's unfortunate they don't make it clearer what headers are available on the motherboard that aren't brought out to the ATX panel -- or at least update the specification for the parallel port backplate (KD061AA) to reflect the newer systems it supports.

... Intel is almost as bad, however => although they DO have manuals you can download that show the exact configuration details.
I agree they should have updated information. That is not the only thing wrong with HP these days however they make good servers.
pau1scottAuthor Commented:
Thank you experts, this gives us options that we can discuss and proceed with confidence.  The preferred solution is virtualisation as then this old App can be run on a new machine which will be doing other jobs.  In summary, the most valuable comments and the 3 options I see for us are:

A VMWare trial on the right hardware sounds like the best shot, supported by your experience.
Dosbox Megabuild also seems worth trying as it supports parallel ports which can be customised.
Final fallback is the old suggested Dell models [Dell 2350, 2400, 3000, 4500, and 4600's] (we could buy a spare as well) that we can simply load and use as per the existing system.

I will now try to allocate points accordingly.

All the best
Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
Agree a virtualization option is the best choice -- not only because you can use the machine for other purposes at the same time;  but also because if you ever need to move it again, the only thing involved is finding a machine with serial and parallel ports ==> the actual "move" would be nothing more than copying the .VHD and .VMX files and installing VMWare :-)
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