VirtualBox and Windows 95


In a previous post, I provided an overview of my experience with installing Windows 95 in a VM. I decided to provide further detail in this post not so much to focus on Windows 95, but as a prelude to investigating how well different virtualisation software handled legacy operating systems.

The guest OS I used in these evaluations was Windows 95 OSR2 (also referred to as Windows 95B). I avoided Windows 95 OSR1 (Windows 95A), as FAT32 only first appeared in OSR2. I also didn’t bother with Windows 95 OSR2.5 (Windows 95C)  as it bundled IE4. I decided to skip this complication as it’s possible to install IE5.5, the last version of IE that Windows 95 supported.

Under the microscope in this post  is VirtualBox version 5.1.22 from Oracle, the latest version available at the time of writing this post. In a future post, I’ll cover VMware Workstation Player. Time permitting, I may even decide to look at Virtual PC from Microsoft, and possibly even DOSBox.

Out-of-scope for this series of evaluations are network operations covering file and print services, and Windows Update. In-scope will be graphics and sound capability and elementary network functionality and internet access i.e. ‘Can I see stuff, even if I can’t readily access it?’

Installation

What makes Windows 95 installations different to that of later Windows OSs is that the installation CD (or ISO) is not bootable. A boot floppy (or image) is also required. VirtualBox handles both optical and floppy devices well. The only curiosity for me, was that VirtualBox assigned the letter R: to the optical drive. The floppy was A: and the target drive for the system was C: as expected.

A mouse click within the VM windows was used to make the guest OS active. Once the guest OS was active, the Right-Ctrl key was used to make the host OS active. Switching between host and guest systems took a little bit of getting use to.

I allow Windows 95 to detect hardware during installation. I also install the IP protocol at this stage. When first booting Windows 95 after initial setup, I’m confronted with the first hurdle to overcome:

screenshot.2

The solution required Enable VT-x/AMD-V to be unchecked as suggested in this post.

screenshot.3

As I found out later, the issue stems  from a ‘divide by zero’ problem as a result of using a modern day processor for the host system. Refer to this Microsoft article for an explanation.

Initial Impressions

After finalising setup and booting into Windows, the first thing that I noticed was sound. I also noticed that I have network visibility. However, I noticed that Windows 95 only runs in 640 x 480 resolution and 16 colours.

screenshot.5

Attempting to install VirtuaBox Guest Additions throws up the following dialoge box:

screenshot.8

This VirtualBox tutorial states that ‘Windows 9x is not officially supported by VirtualBox team, which means, that it lacks Guest VM Additions, and it runs slowly, because VirtualBox is not optimized to run Win 9x.’

The view of Device Manager below provides additional clues to what we’re observing. Note that the display is standard VGA and there are some unknown devices. At this stage, also note that the VM network adapter has been identified as an AMD PCNET Family Ethernet Adapter (PCI&ISA).

screenshot.51.jpg

 

Display

The tutorial also sheds light on display limitations within VirtualBox for Windows 95 and recommends the use of a SciTech Display Doctor driver to address the limitations.

screenshot.9

Internet Explorer (IE) 

IE3 is bundled with Windows 95 OSR2. Being non-standard and out-of-date, it complained when attempting to display web pages. As you can see from the image below, web pages look pretty grim on IE3.

screenshot.17

IE5.5 SP2 is the highest version of IE that is compatible with Windows 95. While there are still some problems, Web pages look a lot better under IE5.5.

screenshot.20

A Tools menu item and Windows Update (WU) has been added to the IE5.5 menu. This did not exist in IE3.

Installaing IE5.5 required me to create an ISO image to deliver it via the optical device.

Windows Update

Sadly, I haven’t been able to get WU working in Windows 95. A search on the internet suggests that numerous updates are available. However, there isn’t one definitive source that says ‘I’ve got it all!’.  Over time, I may install some of the more significant patches, but, as this is not the focus of this post, that’s going to have to wait for a more opportune time.

Summary

Words that describe my experience in key areas in getting Oracle VirtualBox to create a Windows 95 VM:

  1. Installation – A little tricky.
  2. Sound –  Trivial.
  3. Display – Tricky.
  4. Network – Trivial.

References

  1. Is there still life in Windows 95?
  2. Error while booting Win95.
  3. Windows protection error in NDIS with a CPU that is faster than 2.1 GHz
  4. Tutorial: Windows 95/98 guest OSes
  5. Puzzling share access behaviour
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