(This is a guest post by Antoni Sawicki aka Tenox)
I like exploring vintage hypervisors and emulators. In the past I did a whole series on Merge, VP/IX and others. This time I wanted to take look at something a little more exotic – SoftWindows on Alpha OpenVMS. I have in fact installed it a while back but I could never get it properly licensed. I looked everywhere, asked everyone and of course no one had a license pack for this. Fortunately there are two license generators for OpenVMS, pakgen and lmfgen. But how do you find out what is the exact product code and vendor? VMS provides a license debug facility:
The install comes with it’s own version of Windows 3.1 plus some additional tools and apps, typical for Insignia products. You can map drives to folders, ports COM and LPT, etc. There are a variety of video modes – Hercules, CGA, EGA and VGA, even 256 colors. The performance is quite decent, however the CPU is pegged at 100%, as you can see in the system monitor. There is a CPU idle detection tool, however it doesn’t seem to work very well. I suspect that perhaps this may be to do with much never OpenVMS version, than the software has been designed for. The SoftWindows has been released in 1994 and not been updated since.
How do you install and run this thing? There is a full installation guide, however since this is just a PCSI file, you can simply use product install:
From a hindsight, it’s ironic how roles have reversed in 30 years. Back then MS-DOS / Windows was a toy OS, running on a toy “personal” computer, emulated in a little window on a “real” computer like DEC Alpha. In modern times you run OpenVMS as a guest VM on a Windows PC.
(This is a guest post by Antoni Sawicki aka Tenox)
A friend and I were recently discussing differences between WABI, WINE, WISE, Merge, VP/IX, FX!32 and SoftWindows. This article covers Merge specifically which is a DOS/Windows emulator initially built for AT&T 6300 Plus computer. Later ported to UnixWare, OpenServer and eventually served as basis for Win4Lin. Later versions of Merge were build using Microsoft WISE SDK which allowed to run apps without full copy of Windows kind of like WINE. I will be running it on OpenServer 5 using VirtualBox. However one could get it going on UnixWre and under any other hypervisor same as easy.
For Vbox/OSR5, when creating a VM, make it other/other type, give 256MB to 1GB RAM and 4GB HDD. Once VM is created go to Settings and change network adapter to Intel PRO/1000 MT Desktop and Attachment to Bridge mode. For some reason I could not get DHCP working out of the box. Also under Display change graphics controller to VM SVGA.
One can get the last “real” OSR5 from this link. There also are never Xuinos versions and specifically targeted for VMware, for example this one.
Boot and go through the prompts as normal. At some point you will be stopped by a lovely prompt for license number and code:
Enter SCO043568 / pnhohvqm to get past this.
Watch out for this screen:
Don’t worry about not being able to get the NIC detected at this point. Leave it as Deferred for now. You need to install MP5 update and a driver update for this to work. This will be covered later.
Select some decent resolution for VESA SVGA:
Also select PS/2 Mouse:
The rest should just fly through on autopilot. Once system boots login as root with the password you set.
First thing you will need to install MP5 update. Download the ISO file from this link and attach to your hypervisor. Open the terminal and type “custom” to install software. Or double click that fancy “Software Manager” icon on the desktop. Under Software click Install New… and select this host. Select your attached cdrom.
You will need to install Maintenance Pack 5 and GFX / NIC Drivers:
Make sure to hit install twice one for each of these items as they cannot be selected together. Once complete you will need to reboot of course.
After reboot you should be able to add and configure the NIC. You will need to either run “scoadmin” or go to System Administration – Networks – Network Configuration Manager. Add a new LAN adapter. The Intel PRO/1000 should be detected automatically. I could never get DHCP to work and just used static IP config there. Make sure to ok re-link the kernel and reboot.
Installation of merge is a little bit more complicated. The latest version can be downloaded from here. If you are installing under UnixWare then this is your folder. Transfer it to your OSR5 VM via browser, ftp, samba, iso file or however you like. Open a terminal and go to the directory with the cpio file file and run:
cpio -icv -I osr5_merge5323a_vol.cpio
This will produce a bunch of VOL* files. These are installed with “custom” as well. However instead of cdrom you select Media Images and point to the directory with extracted VOL files:
There should be an option to install Merge.
You will be also prompted by a lovely license code prompt. Enter SCO837369 / bhtepkxy to get through. You will need to reboot again.
After login there will be a new folder on the desktop with Merge tools:
Root is not allowed to run it, but you can pre-install Windows as root. To do so go to Merge Setup and open System Wide Administration. You will find a button to Load Windows CD. You can just mount any bootable Windows 9x cdrom to your hypervisor and Merge will copy it for you.
There will be a prompt for network configuration. I opted for WinSock option which is user mode emulation, it’s enough to get a web browser going. If you need to use SMB/CIFS, open network shares, etc you will need the bridged mode with extra IP address for the guest.
Finally you will need to create and login as a different user to get this thing running.
This is the final product, with 4 level inception:
For the lazy of course provided is a fully installed OVA, one with VBox NIC and one with VMware NIC. Passwords are root/root and tenox/tenox. Note that this image has a static IP address of 192.168.1.111.
I came across this hefty box, “the easy way bundle”, as it bills itself, the easy way to save over $1,000 on four popular software packages for your new Macintosh computer.Â Clearly the box has seen better days over the last 27 years but amazingly the contents are just fine.
It’s amazing how much more cheaper software has gotten over the years.Â Software used to be super expensive on the PC level, it really wasn’t until the office bundling with new machines that drove the price down.Â Back in the 80’s and early 90’s it wasn’t uncommon to pay upwards of $500 USD for a single application, like a spreadsheet or word processor.
Inside the box is more boxes, and inside those boxes is a rare sight, manuals!Â Actual printed manuals!Â That is how you know this is something of near museum quality.Â I kind of like being able to read a physical book from time to time, and it’s really great.
Oh and incidentally the disks all worked, much to my amazement.Â I just needed to get a working Macintosh with a drive that can read 800kb disks and an Ethernet card.
Although it does list four packages, it really is 3, featuring:
AccessPC is simply a FAT driver for MacOS to read MS-DOS floppies & removable media.
So let’s take a quick look!
I haven’t seen something like this in a long while, an actual license printed on nice stock certificate stock paper (remember those?!), with a hologram tag.Â Does WordPerfect even exist anymore?Â Can I mail this in for an upgrade?Â Does it even matter?
While the install options give the impression that WordPefect is a really full featured word processor once loaded up for some reason it really felt barren.
Although it does have the important proofing tools, don’t expect a dictionary or thesaurus to have anything more than the words, no definitions or anything like a style guide.Â It did ship on floppy and I guess I’ve just become so spoiled living in the future with terabytes of storage and an overwhelming supply of deference media.
Going back to 1992 is a real trip to not only how clean some of the UI elements feel, but just how seemingly feature sparse the more advanced applications feel.
Personally I never really liked WordPerfect so I more so installed it as a curiosity, much like when I had WordPerfect for Unix.Â I’m the crazy one that likes MS Word.
With that said, I went ahead and installed Lotus 1-2-3, and I was really surprised, that the installer was not only really appallingly bad, requiring you to copy the contents to the HD before installing it (so you need a lot of free space), but there was no copy protection at all either on the disks, or in the form of a certificate/serial code.Â In school I did start with 1-2-3, but with the onslaught of Microsoft Office had quickly moved to Excel, and after 30+ years I really don’t remember much of the slash commands, let alone how to use if effectively.Â Luckily the menu is okay to walk through, and of course there is Macintosh style menus so you don’t even have to deal with the slash menu if you don’t want to.
SoftPC didn’t come with a box within the box, just the two manual sets & the disks shoved into the manuals.Â I doubt it came like that, but this is all I have.
Compared to the WordPerfect certificate, the stickers hidden in the folds of the SoftPC manual just feel cheap.Â And the years have not been kind as you can see with the discoloration, and the cheap adhesive on them has completely dried off.Â After I had scanned this they have all fallen off the backing paper.Â Although I also have version 3.1, I didn’t want to lose this so I’ll just save it for prosperity.
And SoftPC is a great program, although it really is an absolute crutch, allowing you to run PC software on your Mac.Â Flash forward 30 years, and the industry continues with VMware & Parallels.Â What is more amazing is how so many leaders in PC emulation completely missed the virtualization market.Â But most people would think you were a little strange to run a PC on a PC.Â Or more than one at the same time.
SoftPC emulates a really barebones PC, it only supports a maximum of 640kb of RAM, and the CGA graphics adapter.Â For anything more advanced you really need to get SoftAT, which supports more options.Â Or even better, get a copy of SoftPC 3.1, which not only allows more memory but bundles a copy of MS-DOS 5.0 and Windows 3.1
I found the emulation of the CGA kind of lacking when compared to version 3.1Â Although some games like BattleTech render just fine, Space Quest just looks horrible in version 2.52.
Although to be fair it doesn’t look so much better in version 3.1 either.Â However 3.1 emulates both EGA & VGA (along with expanded & extended memory) giving a far more richer 286 based emulation solution
As you can see there really is no comparison to the EGA version.
Although there are far more better solutions today to do PC emulation, for some reason there is always something cool to have an emulator running an emulator.. Sadly the 80386 based emulation didn’t come to the 68000 based platform, instead the later generation emulation was only available to the PowerPC.
I guess it goes to show, but of all the applications I have for MacOS, I enjoy SoftPC the most.Â I suppose I need better softwares.
I had purchased this a while back on ebay for $15, and used it occasionally but ever anything that involved. Mostly because it’s dreadfully slow on an 030, and ever since the intel cpu has won out, it’s not all that needed in this day in age. But at the same time, its interesting to check out various emulators through the ages.
Installing it was way easier under Basillisk II, then running it is more smooth under mini vmac. Mostly because of it’s 68881 emulation, and also it just seems faster.
An 80286 in every box!
Running MSD shows that it does in fact emulate a 80286 processor!
So doing the only natural thing, I installed Microsoft C 5.1 but configured it only for OS/2 development, then used a old 286 dos extender I found, and blamo, it works!
Hello from protected mode!
The sad thing, is that it seems the 80386 & 80486 stuff was RISC (MIPS/Alpha/PowerPC) or 80486 based only. I’m pretty sure the version of SoftPC for NeXTSTEP did a 80386… I’d love a real copy of that, but I know there was a demo out there somewhere.
Anyways for it’s age, SoftPC seems to be about as annoying as any 286 computer was at the time. And as a bonus running emulators under emulators makes it about as slow as a 286..…
Ok, so Iâ€™ve been on this MIPS kick as of late.. Me & Antoni just split the cost of Visual C++ 4.0 for the MIPSâ€¦Â All being well itâ€™ll arrive on Wednesday and we can do some more stuff.Â As I understand it, Visual C++ 4.0 was THE compiler for Windows 95 people at the time, and it will have all the controls & stuff that Visual C++ 2.0 simply does NOT have.
Anyways while I was playing with my virtual MIPS machine, I decided to try the MS-DOS emulation out..Â I had heard that they had a pretty advanced emulator to run stuff.Â So I downloaded a new version of MSD, and was really surprised at the CPU that it was emulatingâ€¦ a 486!Â And this is on a MIPS machine, I had to wonder why they couldnâ€™t have continued this for the x64 productâ€¦
Much to my amazement, the answer is YES.Â Ok the pallet is all screwed up, and yes it is SLOW.. It reminds me of a 386, but itâ€™s actually running!
Now I was interested, I opened up the ntvdm.exe in notepad to reveal itâ€™s origin:
SoftPC-AT Version 3
(C)Copyright Insignia Solutions Inc. 1987-1992
@(#)sun4_a3cpu.cÂ Â Â 1.2 5/24/91 Copyright Insignia Solutions Ltd.
Now what is really interested is this bit.. It only appears in the MIPS binary:
This version is subject to confidentiality provisions and should not be distributed. %s %s%s Copyright %s, an unpublished work by Insignia Solutions Inc.%s %s %s Copyright %s by Insignia Solutions Inc. All rights reserved.
Otherwise there is a LOT of mentions of D:\nt\private\mvdm\softpc.newÂ I guess itâ€™s about their build process since the DDK is nt\public.
Anyways I thought it was really interesting to see just how involved the NTVDM was on the RISC cpuâ€™s.Â I think there is no doubt that the Connectix product was faster, and of course on Ghz+ machines its usable.Â Not to mention once Connectix made a native version of Virtual PC for Windowsâ€¦ Itâ€™s really not that surprising why Microsoft snatched the product up!
Somewhere around here I have SoftPC 3.0 for the Apple Macintoshâ€¦ I wonder if it can load doom?