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Running HPC stuff (including ActiveSync) in a VM

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hpcboy Page Icon Posted 2020-10-19 7:57 PM
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H/PC Philosopher

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Over the last few days I have been wrestling with setting up a proper environment to run all my handheld-related programs on my Win10 PC. Many of those old programs either do not run at all (most notably ActiveSync), or run sub-optimally. Using a separate computer just for this purpose is rather cumbersome. So I began to explore the possibility of using a VM as a viable solution. My computer skills are just average so complicated scripting and registry hacking are beyond me.

I found that WMDC can only replace ActiveSync to a limited extent. For one thing, syncing works for some programs only and the pace is rather slow for old devices such as the HPCs. Also some of the old PC installers (such as HPC Notes and ListPro) require ActiveSync to install the CABs and more importantly to establish the synchronization conduits, which WMDC fails to do.

I have try to use Oracle VirtualBox (free) to set up different OSes to facilitate a better handheld experience. Here are my findings:

Windows 98 (SE): In principle it should be the ideal choice. Being able to use DOS natively is a huge advantage for retro users like me. However, support for Win98 is rather disappointing. Considerable tweakings are in order to get SMB1 to work. Display driver is a nightmare (stuck with VGA mode in 16 colors). USB support is flaky. Crashing is frequent and sometimes can be fatal. Frequent DLL errors and BSOD lead to reinstalling the whole system and wasting the whole effort.

Windows XP: Too modern and too bloated to my taste. I want something more compact and lightweight to fulfill my exact purpose (i.e. being a kinda central hub for my handhelds and nothing more). And I have to admit that I've become paranoid about its security holes as XP seems to be the most targeted versions.

Linux: Support for ActiveSync seems rather obscure. Windows programs need to run in Wine but there is no guarantee they can actually work. Not an ideal solution either.

ReactOS: Feels really like between Windows 2000/XP and Linux. USB support is barebone. Runs pretty fast and smoothly, though. But ActiveSync fails to install, which is a show stopper.

Windows 2000 (SP4): My choice for now after so many failed experiments. My VM uses a 8GB of HDD space, 2GB RAM, 128MB video RAM, plus Virtual Box's own Guest Additions. File Sharing, Clipboard Sharing, Drag & Drop all work straightaway without extra fiddling. Everything runs blazingly fast, to be honest much smoother than my Win10 host. The biggest pro is the speed of synchronization (both ActiveSync and Palm HotSync) with my Jornada and Alphasmart Dana via USB are MUCH faster than under Win10. Compared with Win98, Win2000 is far more stable and "handhelds friendly". In addition I turn off the VM's internet access and can only access the host Win10 via one specific folder.

Initially I resist the idea of VM as it sounds like too much work and feels cumbersome (i.e. running another OS within the main system). The upshot here is a VM can work like a semi-sandbox and is highly portable, i.e. the same virtual machine .vdi file in principle can be used on any machines running VirtualBox. No need for a separate old PC to take care of the old buddies. Plus having a dedicated environment purely for my handhelds and without letting old stuff mess with the host Win10 also feels so good.

Has anyone done something similar? Any good/better solutions to get the old HPC stuff to work with modern systems?


Edited by hpcboy 2020-10-19 8:06 PM
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Mjolnir Page Icon Posted 2020-10-19 10:46 PM
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I generally use an old stand alone Windows ME machine I've had for a very long time. I already have a couple of VMs on a cheap Win 10 laptop I use, I may dig out my winme install cd and play with a vm this week if I find time.
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hpcboy Page Icon Posted 2020-10-20 11:47 AM
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Oh yes, I totally forget about ME! It's much more USB friendly and less prone to the BSOD syndrome at the expense of giving up native DOS mode. Great ActiveSync support too. But I am not sure about its display resolution in VirtualBox. It's now on my next quest list.
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C:Amie Page Icon Posted 2020-10-20 1:23 PM
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Windows Millennium is so buggy it hurts. If you want a BSOD experience, it's the way to go. I think you are better off with Windows 2000. True fact: I was the most prolific programme bug reporter for Microsoft on Windows 2000 SP4. They sent me free stuff
Clinton Fitch, one of the founders was a programme manager on Windows 2000 RTM and HPC:Factor's first server was Windows 2000 Server .

Windows 2000 doesn't solve your SMB 1.0 problems though. You need Vista or higher for that. It does support signing by default though, provided that SP1 or higher is installed, so part of the issue with 98/NT 4 are removed. If memory serves there are also a couple of modifications that you can make to force it to run XP code - i.e. newer versions of Chrome/Firefox.

However, to answer the original question. No, I think a VM is the best way to do it in 2020.
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Mjolnir Page Icon Posted 2020-10-20 2:40 PM
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C:Amie - 2020-10-20 1:23 PM

Windows Millennium is so buggy it hurts. If you want a BSOD experience, it's the way to go. I think you are better off with Windows 2000. True fact: I was the most prolific programme bug reporter for Microsoft on Windows 2000 SP4. They sent me free stuff
Clinton Fitch, one of the founders was a programme manager on Windows 2000 RTM and HPC:Factor's first server was Windows 2000 Server .

Windows 2000 doesn't solve your SMB 1.0 problems though. You need Vista or higher for that. It does support signing by default though, provided that SP1 or higher is installed, so part of the issue with 98/NT 4 are removed. If memory serves there are also a couple of modifications that you can make to force it to run XP code - i.e. newer versions of Chrome/Firefox.

However, to answer the original question. No, I think a VM is the best way to do it in 2020.
It's funny how people's experience differ. I've had this old desktop 19 years and have never had a BSOD. It'll probably never boot up again now that I've bragged on it! I do agree Vista or higher is probably a better option if the OP can get it to work properly.

Edited by Mjolnir 2020-10-20 2:41 PM
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hpcboy Page Icon Posted 2020-10-20 3:06 PM
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As most of the HPC related programs belong to the (pre-)XP era, and I don't need a full-fledged powerhouse VM, it looks like Windows 2000 SP4 provides the best balance between compatibility and usability for the HPCs.

Glad to know about C:Amie's and Clinton's expertise and effort in W2k.

No need to invoke the ancient SMB1 anymore because VirtualBox's folder sharing works "out of the box".



Edited by hpcboy 2020-10-20 3:07 PM
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Rich Hawley Page Icon Posted 2020-10-20 6:07 PM
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I've never had problem 1 using Oracle VM with Win10 and using XP in virtual mode. I love the ability to share files between the VM environment and Win10.

However, I also have used an external USB hard drive with XP installed on it and Win7 Pro intalled on the computer's main drive. It is similar to where you can dual boot into various HD partitions to run whichever OS you need.

Since the boot priority is determined by the bios, if there is a USB device present, it (XP) boots first. If not, then Win7 boots.

Six of one, half dozen of the other…
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