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Craig Utley Somniferous Bloviations

Microsoft Virtual PC is one of the best productivity tools I use. It allows me to build a machine, test a variety of scenarios, and simply delete a couple of files when I'm done. Just because Virtual PC is productive doesn't mean it can't be fun. During a recent meeting conference call lull, I decided to revisit the old days by creating a Virtual PC image (or VM, which stands for Virtual Machine) using software from days gone by. This VM was to consist of DOS 6.22, Windows 3.11, and as the crowning touch, Microsoft Bob.

While many people have heard of Bob, few ever had the privilege of actually using Bob. Back around 1994 I bought a PC from Gateway 2000 (now Gateway) that came preloaded with Windows 3.1 and included a copy of Bob. My wife, a computer novice and therefore a perfect candidate for Bob, looked at it for five minutes and said, “That's the dumbest thing I've ever seen.” It's bad when a member of your target audience declares your product to be the dumbest thing she's ever seen.

Challenge One: Installing DOS with only Update Versions and No Floppy
The first step in creating the VM was to install DOS. This seemed simple enough, but all I had were copies of upgrades; in other words, they would only install over an existing copy of DOS. In addition, the copies wanted to be installed from floppies, and my laptop does not have a floppy drive. As a first step, I installed VFD, a free program that creates a virtual floppy drive. I was then able create a virtual A: drive and run “make14.bat” in order to create a copy of the floppy. (In case you are wondering, I did have .img files of the DOS disks, but Virtual PC would not use them since they were not exactly the right size.)

In order to get this to work, I followed these steps:

  • Ran the batch file to create the first disk on the virtual floppy and then stopped the batch file
  • Connected the virtual floppy drive to the VM and booted up
  • Install would not work since the hard drive in the VM didn't already have an OS on it. I ran “format c:/s” in order to format the drive and transfer the system files to the disk.
  • Rebooted the VM and now the DOS disk saw an OS on the C: drive
  • Ran the installation of DOS from the virtual floppy drive (for the first disk)
  • When installation asked for DOS disk 2, I ran make14.bat again, and this time made the first and second disks, both to drive A:\ (the second just overwrote the first)
  • When prompted for DOS disk 3, I ran make14.bat and let it make all three disks

Challenge Two: Getting Super VGA from Windows 3.x in the VM
Once DOS 6.22 was installed, I began the installation of Windows 3.11. This went well until I got to the step asking me to choose some settings. The default video for Windows 3.11 is VGA (640x480 with 16 colors.) I wanted a higher resolution and Bob prefers 256 colors. I changed the setting to Super VGA and finished the installation, but then Windows would not start up. For a second install, I chose VGA and Windows ran fine. Inside of Windows I then changed the video to Super VGA and Windows would no longer run.

Since Virtual PC emulates an S3 Trio, I did a web search and was easily able to locate a Windows 3.x driver for the S3 Trio. I ended up installing Windows 3.11 with VGA and then installing the S3 driver. I can now boost Windows to at least 800x600 with 256 colors.

The Crème de la Crème: Bob
The final step was to install Bob. This went without problems, and now I can relive the glory days of DOS, Windows 3.11, and Bob. Bob is great to show people because it's the product that is frequently mentioned as Microsoft's most visible flop. What a lot of people don't realize is that pieces of Bob live even today: The little dog in the XP Search window came from Bob.

Building the VM with DOS, Windows, and Bob was an interesting exercise. It's also fun to show people what the world was like just 11-12 years ago. It's amazing how far we've come. And before you ask: No, I can't give you a copy of the VM. Sorry.

This is in no way the opinion of Microsoft Corporation; it is my opinion only.

Posted on Friday, August 4, 2006 9:18 PM General Technology | Back to top

Comments on this post: The Retro VM: DOS, Windows 3.x, and Bob

# re: The Retro VM: DOS, Windows 3.x, and Bob
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I just attempted a little ditty like this! Except, I had a CD image with DOS, and 3.11... Anyway, I got my networking done, and I was happy... Anyway, glad to see I'm not the only one who still enjoys tinkering with old os's...
Left by Trevor on Jun 09, 2008 6:09 AM

# re: The Retro VM: DOS, Windows 3.x, and Bob
Requesting Gravatar...
no vm? lame. I gots a license key just not install media.
Left by joe on Nov 21, 2008 5:31 PM

# re: The Retro VM: DOS, Windows 3.x, and Bob
Requesting Gravatar...
Can you please send me a copy of the VM?
Left by RatFace on Feb 27, 2009 7:51 AM

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