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Tech Software:
How to Make MS DOS Programs Run on Windows 7, 8 and 10
 
Posted 29 months ago on 2/8/2018 and updated 9/16/2018
Take Away:

This article describes how to use Virtual Machine software to make old MS DOS programs run on the newer Windows operating systems.

KB102818

For those of you who still have a need to run old MS DOS based programs on Windows 7, 8 and 10 computers, you may find yourself in a real bind. However, there is a solution to make this work. You can install something called a “virtual machine” on the PC so it will emulate a Windows XP environment within the newer Windows OS that will in turn be hospitable to a MS DOS based application program.

There are a number of different virtual machines you can download. I like “VirtualBox” from Oracle, which can be downloaded for free. You can use an application from Microsoft called “Windows XP Mode” to create a virtual machine for Windows XP, but it only runs on Windows 7 – sorry Windows 8 and 10 folks! However, this same utility can actually be used to make Windows XP run on Windows 8. The trick is to open up the downloaded Windows XP Mode file, “WindowsXPMode_en-us.exe”, from Microsoft Corporation with archiving software – “7-Zip” is good. Within that archive, you will find the "sources/xpm" file within it. That needs to be extracted to your hard drive. Within the extracted “xpm” file you will find a big file called “VirtualXPVHD”. This is a Windows XP virtual machine. It now needs to be renamed to the same name, but with a “.vhd” filename extension so VirtualBox can recognize and use it.

I recently used this technique to make an old server based SBT Foxpro for MS DOS program run on three Windows 8 computers for a customer. I had to select the network drives through VirtualBox and then map them to specific drive letters according to the SBT Foxpro DOS program requirements in the virtualized Windows XP environment. It worked fine – for a while.

This is what happened after about a month. When I initially configured the “VirtualXPVHD.vhd” file, there was a Windows XP product activation utility that had to be set. I tried to do it in the virtualized Windows XP environment and I thought I made it activate properly. But the activation screen kept appearing when I entered the Windows XP virtual machine. Then I used Windows system registry tweaks in the Windows XP virtual machine to disable it from appearing again. Note that this Windows XP installation never required a product key to be entered. And it seemed to work fine until the 30 day limit for product activation was up. Then all Windows 8 machines were displaying a message that Windows XP needs to be activated to continue. After clicking through that, it displayed another message that it had been activated, but the first message kept coming up after that. The thing kept going round and round like that so we were essentially shut out of the virtualized Windows XP environment and unable to run the SBT Foxpro for MS DOS application program – aaarrrrgggghhhh!

I had hit a wall and now I had to find a way to create a Windows XP virtual machine without the product activation snafu. It was time for “plan B”. I had two Windows XP service pack 3 installation CDs I had custom made several years ago by “slip streaming” Windows XP SP1 with SP3 update from Microsoft Corporation. I used one of these installation CDs to make a “.vhd” file using the virtual machine creation utility in VirtualBox. I inserted my Windows XP SP3 CD into the Windows 8 DVD drive and selected 80 gigabytes for the hard drive space and just went through the prompts as if I was installing Windows XP on a real hard drive. This time there was no product activation key business – I just had to enter the Windows XP product key from my installation CD. Soon after, VirtualBox had created a Windows XP virtual machine for me. I then reconfigured the networking settings in the virtual Windows XP environment as I had first done using the other technique. I made a shortcut to the SBT Foxpro for MS DOS application program in the Windows XP virtual machine and voila…it worked! All I did was double click the Oracle VM VirtualBox icon on the Windows 8 desktop to bring up the VirtualBox main program screen. Then I clicked the “Run” button and my Windows XP virtual environment came up soon after. FYI – this also worked on Windows 7 computers.

"Fix my computer" issues like Windows XP virtualization can typically be addressed with a variety of solutions, but not all are viable for the long term as seen in this story. Computer repair engagements can be very challenging and may require a lot of insight and experience to create a solution that is both reliable and cost effective for customers.


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