VMware and Windows 95


This is the second in a multipart series on virtualisation software. In an earlier post, I used VirtualBox to create a Windows 95 virtual machine. In this post, I’ll do the same thing, but use VMware instead of VirtualBox.

The first challenge for me was to figure out exactly what constituted VMware virtualisation software. I had assumed VMware was the virtualisation software. Turns out, a number of products are covered under the VMware umbrella.

Here’s a screenshot of the home page for VirtualBox. It’s pretty obvious what virtualisation software I need to acquire.

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Here’s the home page for VMware. Hmm…

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…and the downloads page from the side menu…

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I’m none the wiser. Anyway, after further research, I figured out that what I needed was Workstation Player (WP).

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I’m working with WP version 12.5.7. Installation was straightforward. I cranked up WP and was presented with the following screen.

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Interesting… I need to upgrade to WP Pro to do snapshots. A bit of digging around and I realise I’m not able to clone a machine in WP. I need WP Pro to do that. Cloning and snapshots are included with VirtualBox. I found cloning invaluable. If I was happy with the state of a VM, I’d clone it and continue experimenting with the copy. If I stuffed that up, I could take another copy of the backup and continue experimenting with the copy.  It saved a lot of time and effort in not having to build the VM again from the ground up.

Creating the VM to house Windows 95 was straightforward. A notable difference is that WP wants to create an 8GB container for Windows 95, while VirtualBox creates a 2GB container by default. I changed this to 2GB. I also opted for a single file rather than splitting the virtual disk into multiple files, which is the default for WP.

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Firing up the VM and I’m presented with quite a lot of information. Unlike VirtualBox, which had no Guest Additions for Windows 95, WP does have VMware tools for Windows 95.  Nice! No point downloading and installing VMware Tools at this stage though as the C: drive has yet to be prepared.

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I soon realised that I have access to an optical device, but no floppy device. Fortunately, this was pretty easy to add.

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As with VirtualBox, WP handles both optical and floppy devices well. Interesting that WP also assigned the letter R: to the optical drive. The floppy was A: and the target drive for the system was C: as expected.

Ctrl-Alt is used to switch back from the guest system to the host system. I found this easier than using the Right-Ctrl key that VirtualBox uses to switch from guest to host. I think the reason its easier is that you have a choice of Ctrl-Alt on either side of the spacebar, whereas for VirtualBox, you’re restricted to the Right-Ctrl key.

I find some useful notes in this VMware article for a much earlier version of WP, but essentially adopt the same steps that I followed for VirtualBox. Of note in the article is the discussion DMA transfers for virtual disks. Initial setup proceeded smoothly and the experience was identical to that of VirtualBox. Interestingly, WP didn’t experience the same Windows protection error that I saw with VirtualBox. Nice!

Initial Impressions

After finalising setup and booting into Windows, the first thing that I noticed was the lack of sound. I also noticed that Windows 95 only runs in 640 x 480 resolution and 16 colours. The display matched what I saw with VirtualBox.

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It was easy to setup VMware Tools for Windows 95. However, after restarting the guest system, I did find the mouse cursor overly sensitive within it. I eventually realised that, as long as I stayed within the guest windows and didn’t touch the edges, I could avoid the erratic mouse behaviour.

WP scores points over VirtualBox for having guest services available for Windows 95. For instance, with guest services, drag and drop is enabled between the host and guest systems making it very easy to transfer patches and add-ons to Windows 95 when there isn’t any network connectivity. In VirtualBox, which doesn’t have guest services for Windows 95, the only way to transfer files to the guest system is via the floppy and optical drives.

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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). No sign of any audio device.

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Display

Unlike the VirtualBox experience, once I located this article, it was dead easy to set up an enhanced display. A much better experience here than with VirtualBox.

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Sound

This article, which I didn’t  locate in VMware forums, describes a method for enabling sound in the Windows 95 VM. The required drivers can be found via this YouTube video.

Network

I followed what I did for VirtualBox, but even after a reboot, I still had no network visibility. Forum discussions I came across weren’t particularly useful. After some tinkering though, I managed to figure it out. The clue was that the VM was not getting a valid network address from the host’s DHCP server.

I checked the network settings for the Windows 95 VM and noticed a reference to a VirtualBox Ethernet Adapter (as VirtualBox was installed on the same host PC). I unchecked this and rebooted and magically, the private network became visible.

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Internet Explorer (IE)

Drag and drop through guest services made it easy to install IE 5.5, the latest version of IE Windows 95 supports.

Summary

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

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

Review

Once you get your head around the VMware website and forums, WP is a great product. On the up side, WP has:

  1. VMware Tools to provide guest services; and
  2. A straightforward display setup compared to VirtualBox.

On the down side, WP has:

  1. A difficult to work out website;
  2. Contradictory, incomplete and inaccurate information in VMware forums;
  3. Twitchy mouse control within the Windows 95 VM;
  4. A tricky sound setup; and
  5. No cloning and snapshot functionality in the free version.

On the up side, VirtualBox has:

  1. An easy to follow website; and
  2. Accurate and consolidated information in VirtualBox forums.
  3. Straightforward sound setup; and
  4. The ability to clone and take snapshots.

On the down side, VirtualBox has:

  1. No guest additions; and
  2. A tricky display setup;

In my humble opinion, VirtualBox just pips the free version of WP mainly due to the lack of cloning and snapshots, and the difficulty of finding relevant information for the latter. However, WP Pro, the paid version, would be ahead of VirtualBox  mainly because of the lack of guest services for Windows 95 in VirtualBox.

References

  1. VirtualBox and Windows 95
  2. VMware Workstation 3.2: Windows 95 Installation Guidelines
  3. Configuring the SVGA video driver on older versions of Windows virtual machines
  4. VMware Workstation 3.2: Configuring Sound in VMware Workstation
  5. Installing sound drivers in Windows 95 (1025639)
  6. Windows 95 VMware image no sound
  7. How To Install Windows 95 in VMware(With Working Sound,Video and Networking)
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