Virtualization is the latest trendy technology buzzword. It offers the ability to save on expensive servers by hosting multiple, independent operating systems on a single piece of hardware. That's a tad boring though. The real fun is being able to try new operating systems, and revive obsolete ones, without keeping extra hardware around. My first reaction to Microsoft Virtual PC was "hey, I bet I can run Windows 95 with that". Not content to stop there I opted for an even wackier, and less productive, endeavor...
I had a tower of 11 100mb Zip discs sitting in my closet for a number of years. They were great back when CDR drives and blank CDs were pricey. During my last spring cleaning I decided to finally part with them. I tried selling them on eBay, cheap, but no takers. We had a garage sale over the summer and I tried to sell them again, even cheaper, still no takers. Finally I broke down and just left them in front of my driveway in a box labeled "free computer junk" along with a dozen parallel cables. I was legitimately surprised when someone took them.
What the heck can you do with 100mb these days anyway?
Another item in my stack of useless hardware is my old 128mb USB flash drive. I paid $20 for it a few years ago but now it's basically garbage. Unlike the Zip disks it doesn't take up much space so I can't bring myself to toss it. So I thought "maybe I could put some Virtual PC image on it?"
I'm fortunate to have a job that doesn't require much travel, once a year on average. Business travel has a lot of downtime. There's the flight itself of course, 2-3 hours of extreme boredom. Then there's the evenings back in the hotel room. I'm past the age of looking for local hot spots, I just want to drink red wine and play some video games. I have a number of portable systems, they're good for filler but after 3-4 consecutive evenings the eye strain is too much (getting old pretty much sucks). I also have a tiny PSOne I could bring along but that doesn't help in the airport or on the flight.
Being business travel I of course have my company issued laptop along for the ride. Installing games on it is a no-no. I guess no one would ever find out but I'll play by the rules anyway (at least for the sake of this article). I do have Virtual PC 2007 on it though. I use it all the time for stuff like trying new versions of software or researching bugs that only occur on goofy configurations. I suppose I could bend the rules and use it to run a virtual gaming system too.
What to do with 128mb?
OK, this isn't really just about playing games in the hotel room. It's about the challenge of trying something new. 128mb is basically nothing today but it used to be pretty darn decent. With 128mb I could either install:
Ultimately I decided to go with FreeDOS. I've never tried it before and wanted to give it a whirl anyway. Plus, anyone reading this who wants to try something similar won't have to dig up MS-DOS install discs. Completely free, and legal, gaming is the intent here.
A couple other alternatives could be considered:
The Setup (Total Time ~30-45 Minutes)
You're probably tired of reading my ramblings, you just want to know how to set this up and whether it worked. Well wait no longer:
Step 1 - Download the Software
If you don't already have Virtual PC 2007 and FreeDOS then get them.
FreeDOS - Version 1.0 was used for this article.
Step 2 - Create the Virtual Machine Image
All the images are thumbnails, click on them for the full-size image. These screenshots were taken with Virtual PC 2007, the steps are slightly different on Virtual PC 2004 but not drastically. FreeDOS compatibility is the same on Virtual PC 2004 and 2007.
Sticking with the "free" theme let's try some free DOS games. Over the years a number of publishers have released their old commercial games to the public domain. That's incredibly cool of them considering they could probably bundle them with a DOS emulator and keep on charging. There's also a wealth of freeware & shareware games floating around, some of them are even good quality. Let's see which of these run in this FreeDOS configuration.
Here are links to a variety of free DOS games including the ones tested below:
All the images are thumbnails, click on them for the full-size image.
OK, so I achieved the goal of running a couple free games. I also have a couple boxes of 3.5" disks and a 3.5" floppy USB drive. Some of these are bound to work on FreeDOS too.
Like the previous session this is just documenting the compatibility of these games. Same note about images being thumbnails and stuff.
FreeDOS is a good alternative for those looking to play old games. From what I saw in the installer, it's probably a decent OS for actual productive work. I should give that a try one day... Anyway, my only complaint is with the installer. Yeah it's great that you can pick and choose what to install, but it also lets you install applications without their dependencies. I left out the part about how I completely hosed the first install because of this.
Overall I was impressed with what I saw.
The bad news... when a game locked sending a CTRL+ALT+DEL did nothing. Not sure if this is a Virtual PC problem or a FreeDOS one. The boot menu gives you a few options but not one to boot without CD support, I guess that would be easy enough to add myself though as it's just a matter of changing some configuration files.
So that was fun. You know, I have a 64mb SD card lying around somewhere...