Archive for July, 2006

Maintaining old x86 machines

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

Drew Scott Daniels

I am maintaining a variety of old machines including many running
Windows 95. I have many licenses for Windows 95, but not as many for other versions of windows (although my MSDN subscription allows me to install certain versions of Windows on certain computers).

Applications I use on Windows 95 include:

  • Abiword
  • VideoLan Client (VLC)
  • Opera Web Browser

Problems

I’ve had significant trouble with, Mozilla Firefox mostly due to its
installer. I believe Firefox would run fine, but it was taking too long
to install so I switched to Opera instead.

Abiword had a well documented required that I download some
“redistributable” Microsoft files. I was considering OpenOffice.org, but
it is quite bloated and has many features that I and other users do not
use. I use OpenOffice.org on several Windows XP machines quite happily.

One feature that I miss in OpenOffice.org’s Writer is a grammar checker. When I was in grade 10 I had my grammar level tested. The test indicated that I had a grade 14 level of understanding. Despite that, I enjoy grammar checkers such as the one in Abiword. A number of years ago I tried many word processors including Correl WordPerfect, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Works and Lotus WordPro. I found Lotus WordPro’s grammar checker to be so useful that I still like to run it over documents that I proof read. I hope to have more time to see if Abiword’s grammar checker is up to that level, and maybe help improve it.

VLC worked on one Windows 95 machine, but not another due to missing dlls. The missing dlls could probably all be downloaded, but I ran out of time. I installed two Microsoft packages after searching to find the source of the error messages that I was getting. A third error message left me without time. It had some kind of winsock dll requirement that could probably be removed if the dlls were delay loaded. I would imagine that it would be the same case for several other dlls that VLC required.

I find VLC to be one of the best video and audio players available.
It supports almost every format I want, is OpenSource, has support for
professional broadcast standards, and is very portable. I run VLC on
quite a few different operating systems including Windows 95, Windows
2000, Windows XP, Debian Linux and others. Unfortunately I currently
can’t say I run it on Apple’s MacOS X version 10.2 as it seems to crash. I believe the version 0.85 was the one that was crashing on startup. One other problem I have with VLC is that its playlist seems to cause the application to crash under certain circumstances. Rather than look into it, I’ve simply avoided the playlist feature.

I’m hoping to use VLC or ffmpeg to transcode some movies I have into
a format that I can watch and listen to on my 200MHz laptop. In the past I used to play 128Kbps mp3′s at lower quality on a 486 DX2 50Mhz. To do that I think I used WinAmp’s decode at quarter quality option. I think I can decrease the decoder requirements by lowering the frame rate. I was also considering lowering the bitrates of the video, audio and stream, but I’m uncertain as to whether that might mean more processing. Some compression/decompression algorithms take more system resources when trying to lower the bits per byte ratio (“better compression”).

Time has been a valuable resource lately. I finally got around to
upgrading my laptop to Windows 98. I spent quite a few hours trying a
few weeks ago, but the installer refused to work as I was trying to
upgrade with Toshiba’s Windows 95 winutils installed. I tried figuring
it out what was going on by reading all the documentation I could find
on the computer, and on the Win98 CD, but there was very few hints. One day, when I had some time on another computer, I searched and found that Toshiba has a nice upgrade web page. The trick to the upgrade was a separate uninstaller that was not linked to from the list of downloadable files.

My upgrade to Win 98 required a Linux boot CD, and a USB storage
device. The files I wanted/needed would not fit on a floppy
easily/conveniently. Win 95 does support USB, but it does not support
mass storage devices. That means that it would not support my USB key, any external USB drive, my digital camera… It also doesn’t support the Palm Pilot USB driver, and I couldn’t get a dlink USB wireless network key to work.

One of my motivations for updating, was that despite my many hours
working on getting my WPC11v4 working, I found that I required special out of tree Linux drivers, or Windows 98. I did find some indications that it might work on Windows 95, but it seems that was the WPC11v3 using a different chipset, the European version… The RealTek RTL8180 (or RTL8180L?) reference driver would install, and I believe attach, but not work.

More on these topics later.

Drew Scott Daniels’ resume: http://www.boxheap.net/ddaniels/resume.html

Originally from: http://www.boxheap.net/ddaniels/notes/20060723.html