August 22, 2011

Backward incompatibility

I ordered a USB 3.5" floppy drive, which just got delivered. I found my copies of SimLife and SimEarth and wanted to see if I could install them.

Answer? No. They are Win16 programs, and Win7 no longer supports them. The installer for SimLife won't run, even when I tell it to use Win95 compatibility mode.

It occurred to me that it might be a DOS program, so I tried running it with DOSBOX. It told me the installer was a "Windows" program, which of course means Win16.

So bummer. Those two were the Sim games I most enjoyed, and I wanted to see how they ran on a really powerful computer (i.e. something better than the 486DX/50 I used to run them on. But looks like I'm SOL.

They're the kind of games I keep hoping that GOG will pick up, but it hasn't. Someone else has the rights and won't let go.

UPDATE: I also found my copy of XCOM, which is a DOS game and which I probably can run under DOSBOX. Maybe sometime I'll get motivated and try to install it.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Computers at 11:15 AM | Comments (23) | Add Comment
Post contains 187 words, total size 1 kb.

1 For what its worth, I know XCom *can* run under DOSBOX.  Its how I played it during my brief try.  It came preconfigured from where I bought it, though, so I can't give any help on that angle.

Posted by: metaphysician at August 22, 2011 01:03 PM (3GCAl)

2 Configuring DOSBOX isn't really all that tough. I'm sure that the exact same config file I currently use for MOM would work just as well for XCOM.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 22, 2011 01:32 PM (+rSRq)

3 And now you know why Bill is one of my least favorite people.  I don't buy software, I just pay to lease it until Microsoft decides I don't need to run it anymore.

Why businesses put up with that kind of planned obsolescence, I'll never know.   Oh, right... no choice but Steve, Bill, or DIY.

Posted by: ubu at August 22, 2011 02:00 PM (i7ZAU)


XCOM used a DOS mode I never seen in any other DOS games.  It is obviously not a problem but it can add one more step to configuring it.

DOSBox is still one of the easier programs to use. I have been able to play DOS games without altering any configuration of DOSBox but installing DOS games might be a challenge.

I know trying to install and play certain early Windows-based games on Vista can be annoying.  My copy of Alpha Centauri/Alien Crossfire required me to download the patch that made it compatiable with Windows 2000 and editing an INI file to get it working.  Imperialism required fiddling too and even Galactic Civilization needed a patch.  I am not looking forward to seeing what Win7 requires.


Posted by: cxt217 at August 22, 2011 02:06 PM (iM/n3)

5 Planned obsolescence?  That's not really fair.  How many 68K-mac apps run on modern Apples?  Bear in mind that 16-bit Windows apps will work on Win7 if you are running the 32-bit version; it's only the 64-bit OS that doesn't do it.  And I don't recall what version of WIndows Steven has, but if it's Pro or higher, then he can use XP mode to run those games.

Posted by: RickC at August 22, 2011 02:30 PM (VKVOz)

6 Also, its not "planned obsolescence", its "actually making newer and better versions of software."  Would you, or anyone else, tolerate using Windows 95 today?  No, of course not:  you want more features and better functionality.  You want a more stable OS that doesn't crash every day.  You want an OS that will run modern programs, and run them well.

All these things require *changing the OS*.  And every time you make a change to an OS, you increase the chance of breaking *something*.  There is, bluntly, no way to actually make newer and better OSes without losing compatibility with older software.  The only way around it is OS emulation.  Like Windows Compatibility Mode, or DOSBOX.  You know, those things people actually *do* make so that legacy software can be supported.


Posted by: metaphysician at August 22, 2011 02:34 PM (3GCAl)

7 I'm running Win7/64 Professional. I actually did download all the files for XP mode and for the virtualization system but never went to the effort to get them working.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 22, 2011 02:35 PM (+rSRq)

8 Hmmm.... the 32-bit business hadn't occurred to me. I wonder if I could get it to work on Saten? That's running Win7/32 Pro.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 22, 2011 02:36 PM (+rSRq)


The idea that Microsoft makes old programs fall over deliberately is flat wrong. There are people there who basically make old programs work as their major job. It's a major effort of Windows to make sure everything that ran on an older version would run on a newer version, so people wouldn't avoid buying the new version of Windows. This is especially important for their corporate clients. Most of it is maintaining old, obsolete interfaces in the Windows API so as to not break programs, but also includes patching the OS to work around bugs in third-party software not written by Microsoft.

As a matter of fact the blogger above link gets routinely castigated by commenters for not letting badly-written third-party software fall over, rather than working around it. This spawned an interesting 200-comment long debate and two followups about how to handle a bug in Samba, which only became apparent when users upgraded to Vista. (They decided to change the way Windows worked to get around the bug. Samba had already been fixed, but the bug lived in a lot of embedded systems on network-attached storage devices that couldn't be upgraded, and many of those were for home users that wouldn't know what to do anyway.)

Posted by: CatCube at August 22, 2011 04:38 PM (20436)


One of my ancient programs that I rely on didn't work with Win7, and a Microsoft guy found this blog and helped me get it to work.

Microsoft goes to astounding amounts of effort to maintain backward compatibility.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 22, 2011 04:48 PM (+rSRq)


Even Microsoft does not have the infinite resources of maintain complete backward compatibility with all its previous systems.  At some point you have to say 'the resources we spend support legacy systems are no longer worth the return.'  Yes, even Microsoft has to say that (And if you want XBox Live support for the original XBox, that is what they say, too.).

As someone on the Traveller Mailing List said a few months ago "To me the term is reserved for companies deliberately building systems designed to fail within a shorter time period than the lifespan of the structure would indicate."


Posted by: cxt217 at August 22, 2011 05:22 PM (wjjIr)

12 I'd assume that EA has the rights to all the old Maxis Sim games now, and GOG have a deal with EA and has started releasing their back catalog.   So there's hope.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at August 22, 2011 06:14 PM (PiXy!)

13 The EA deal made me wonder because GoG got the rights to release Alpha Centauri.  But while EA published it, Firaxis was the developer of the game.  Unless Firaxis signed all the rights to the game to EA (Entirely possible.), they should have been consulted regarding the deal.

Posted by: cxt217 at August 22, 2011 07:19 PM (wjjIr)

14 The one I really miss is Carmageddon, which won't run under Vista or Win 7.  (I'm not sure about XP.) 

I was really looking forward to seeing how it ran on my current desktop when I got it in 2007, but there's just no way to make it work.  Not with DOSBox, compatibility mode, or anything.

So, I feel your pain.

Posted by: atomic_fungus at August 22, 2011 07:59 PM (v62gL)


I think it would be prohibitively difficult to even attempt to install SimLife or SimEarth on the Slate without a keyboard. So I just ordered a USB keyboard from NewEgg. When the Slate is in its stand, there are three USB ports, which means the keyboard, a mouse, and the USB 3.5" drive.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 22, 2011 08:16 PM (+rSRq)

16 GOG have just announced that their next batch of EA games will come out on Thursday, so fingers crossed!  (I'd like SimTower and SimAnt myself.)

Posted by: Pixy Misa at August 23, 2011 05:58 AM (PiXy!)

17 XP Mode works pretty well right out of the box:  Just run the installers. You can even shut down the VM and run installed apps so that they appear on your Win7 desktop, like Citrix seamless apps, although they aren't REALLY on the desktop, so you can't do copy-paste, for example.
IIRC the reason 16-bit apps don't work on 64-bit Windows is that AMD removed support for it from the 64-bit processor operating mode, but I'm not sure.

Posted by: RickC at August 23, 2011 09:17 AM (VKVOz)

18 Rick, if that were true then 16-bit DOS wouldn't be possible either, and I wouldn't be able to play Master of Magic.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 23, 2011 09:27 AM (+rSRq)

19 If you do get around to wanting to fiddle with X-Com I can get you my dosbox config file; there's one setting that needs to be twiddled to make it run well. I think there was a discussion about it on your site several months back that touched briefly on it.

Posted by: bkw at August 23, 2011 09:50 AM (34O+x)

20 Say one negative thing about Bill or Steve, and the world goes all durka-durka-jihad on your butt. Yes, they can't support old apps forever.  Especially games. But frankly, it's not that they can't, it's that their business model isn't designed that way.   They have to force movement in order to continue the revenue stream.

IBM was notorious back int the day for creating new software that required new computer systems every few years, but at least it was on a longer cycle: 5-10 years, IIRC.  MS is running effectively 3-year cycles, with about one version backwards capability.  And I'm notorious among my friends for refusing to upgrade until late in any O/S lifespan, because I believe that MS doesn't get a given release fixed until at least the time it releases SP1.

Where I work, we're having issues because some of the newest software requires Win 7, whereas our desktops are all still XP or even 2k.  "Ugh!" you think?  Well, we just upgraded to Office 2007 (from 2000, we skipped 2003) last year, but here's the kicker: the servers are supposedly still NT4.0!  Which Win 7 won't talk to, so my nice shiny new laptop is unable to talk to our servers and a USB stick is the only way to transfer data.

Or our IT guy is just making it up because I'm cross at him for having to go through that.

Posted by: ubu at August 23, 2011 10:53 AM (i7ZAU)

21 NT 4 had USB? Are you making it all up?

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at August 23, 2011 11:58 AM (9KseV)

22 "They have to force movement in order to continue the revenue stream."
This is just nonsense.  They TRY to get movement, but if what you say were true, then 16-bit programs wouldn't work under Win7 at all, nor would XP mode have been provided.
You can run NT4 if you want; I'd rather not use a 15-year-old OS that the vendor stopped patching 10 years ago and stopped patching 7 years ago.
(the mind boggles at businesses that do this; one of my company's customers uses an ancient version of HP/UX.  Earlier this year they inquired about upgrading some software they license through us; after they tried to install it, they discovered the new version wouldn't work because it depends on a patch that was released in something like 2002.  I'm continually amazed seeing this, let alone the people who are running unpatched software with serious bugs.)
It's not the cpu after all, as you say, Steven; Win64 doesn't ship with NTVDM, which is the VM 16-bit apps run under.

Posted by: RickC at August 23, 2011 03:51 PM (VKVOz)

23 I think this thread has gone on long enough.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 23, 2011 04:09 PM (+rSRq)

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