Virtual PC Museum 2007

As Mike Swanson mentions in his blog, Virtual PC 2007 was released this week as a free download. This isn't a revolutionary release, but it's notable for its support for Windows Vista as both a guest and host OS, as well as x64 architecture host support.

Some of you know that I have a side-interest in collecting vintage editions of Windows. In the same way as many people see their histories as being framed by the music of each era, my professional career and interest in computing is set against the soundtrack of different Windows milestones. My first experiences of PC computing included Aldus Pagemaker running on Windows 2.x; Windows 3.0 represented my first experience of setting up a network of PCs; my memories of Windows 3.1 are dominated by learning almost every entry in win.ini in order to pass my first MCP exams. I remember the excitement and pain of installing each Windows 95 beta release on a 386 PC; the embarrassment of taking out an important server for two days with a failed Windows NT 3.51 upgrade that I hadn't properly prepared for; the agony of Windows NT 5.0 Beta 1 and so on. Now I'm turning into a thirty-something curmudgeon, I look back with some nostalgia at those days when life was simpler and you could truly know a Windows release to a depth that is impossible today.

For a few years now, I've been keeping a little "museum" of old Virtual PC images on my machine as a way to remind myself of these old Windows releases in all their warts and glory. My collection goes as far back as Windows 1.03, a release that typically ran on a 4.77MHz 8088 machine with dual 5ΒΌ" floppy drives and no hard disk. Virtual PC was clearly not designed first and foremost as an archival environment, but it's actually impressive in its compatibility with these older releases. I was a little worried that the 2007 release might have broken many of the vintage images, but to my satisfaction everything that worked on Virtual PC 2004 continues to work without change on the latest release, as the following screenshot demonstrates:

A few releases have never worked, sadly: Windows NT 3.1 fails at the second or third reboot with a fatal warning that doesn't come to mind right now. Microsoft OS/2 1.31 gets most of the way through the floppy-based installation before locking up the virtual machine. And Windows 3.0 hangs in 386 Enhanced mode (you need to run win /s from the command line to start it in the 80286-compatible standard mode). But it's good enough to satisfy my nostalgia.

One obvious benefit of running in a Virtual PC environment is the ability to easily run so many releases side-by-side. It's possible to see the subtle transitions that took place between point releases (ooh - WfW 3.11 introduced fax support!), and identify amusing idiosyncrasies (Notepad didn't gain Find and Replace support until as late as Windows NT 4.0). One day I'm sure I'll look back at Windows Vista with similar nostalgia...

Comments (18)
  1. Anonymous says:

    Ah yes. I have an MS-DOS 6.22 VPC. And I really can’t think *why* I have it.

  2. Tim Sneath says:

    In a nice appendix to this entry, there’s a Channel 9 interview I recently recorded with one of the original Windows 3.1 shell developers (who coincidentally happens now to be the Product Unit Manager for WPF) that went live about ten minutes ago here:

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have my collection of VMs, too. But I lacks Windows 1. I programmed for it many years ago. I envy you very much!

  4. Anonymous says:

    You don’t need a VM to run the really old versions of Windows, you can actually run them in DOSBox too:

  5. Ivolved says:

    Dude, either you got a really late start or you’re really young! Of course "really late" is relative. I was typing BASIC programs from the back of Family Computing (later called Family and Home Office Computing, and now Home Office Computing) when I was 8 on a Tandy 1000. It was a top of the line computer with a whopping 256K of memory.

    On the other hand I have a co-worker who never used the computer for anything more than standard office applications but is now hands down one of the most knowledgeable data architects I know.

  6. Tim Sneath says:

    I’ll opt for the "really young" choice πŸ™‚

    But of course, the reality is simply that my computing background predates the PC – I didn’t talk about the plethora of machines I started on that ranged from the Commodore PET to the Sinclair ZX81 to VAX/VMS. That gives me an idea for another post that I’ll write up in a day or two…

  7. Anonymous says:

    The first thing I did when I found Virtual PC was install DOS and Windows 3.1.  I looked around for Norton Desktop but I could not find the install disks.  I liked that shell. I think the earliest version of Windows I have used was 2.0 on a 286.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Can you guys share your VM’s?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Any chance of getting a download of your clasic images?   I hate to try and find my 3.1 disks anytime soon.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Ya, +1 to getting those images. πŸ˜‰

  11. Tim Sneath says:

    Sure, you can have the images. Which format would you like – JPEG or PNG? πŸ™‚

    Seriously, much though I’d like to share these out with the world, they remain the copyrighted intellectual property of my employer,  which might not be overjoyed if I unilaterally decided to make them available.

    That said, there’s plenty of copies of some of these early versions available on eBay, often at pretty cheap prices. A search for completed listings of Windows 3.1 revealed a number of copies that have gone for under $10 in the last few days alone, including several new factory-sealed copies!

  12. Anonymous says:

    What settings did you use to install Windows 1.0?

    I’ve installed DOS 6.22 into a blank VM, and then installed Windows 1.0 on top of that.  But no matter what settings I chose for the Windows 1.0 display (EGA, etc), I can’t seem to get it to run.  It just displays garbage on the screen.

    Are there any special tricks (VM settings, DOS version, Windows install settings, etc)?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.


  13. Anonymous says:

    You are my kind of guy.  I collect old OS and beta OS’s myself and love VPC for that reason.

    I used to have NT5 Beta1 on my msdn subscription and lost the CD in a move.  It’s IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND.  Nobody sells old msdn on ebay for some reason.

    Anyway great article.  Enjoy!

  14. Tim Sneath says:

    Mark, some of the oldest versions of Windows aren’t able to handle more than a tiny amount of memory (it turns out, nobody thought to test Windows/286 on a machine with 2GB of installed RAM πŸ™‚

    For Windows 1.03, I installed on MS-DOS 5.0. I know this isn’t historically accurate, but I didn’t have any earlier MS-DOS versions available to me at the time that would boot from floppy. I set the memory allocation to 4MB. It’s not glitch-free – for instance, the opening splash screen is slightly corrupted because of CGA emulation issues, but it does run.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Thanks tims.

    I don’t suppose you remember which graphics card you said you had when you installed Windows 1.0?


  16. Tim Sneath says:

    Sorry – not a clue. It was several years ago when I built that VPC. Looking at the display, I’m going to estimate that it’s EGA (640x350x16), but I could be way off.

  17. Anonymous says:

    When I installed the first windows we had it was for a demo on our Tandy machines at Radio Shack.  The Tandy TGA (like EGA) wasn’t supported, but the first VGA monitors we had were.  This probably because they were monochrome 640x350x2… Good times.

    BTW, I too do this, I got all the old OSs I could find; including DOS 2.11 running Tandy Deskmate.  Yes, I still have all the original installation diskettes πŸ™‚

  18. Anonymous says:

    hi, i was wondering if you could give me some insight into how to create floppy images from files already on my computer, as i have windows 3.1, but in folder, i.e. folder1, folder2, folder3. etc.


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