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How I Got My Android Tablet to Boot Windows 95

24/05/2013

I was rummaging through some old software of mine a few weeks ago and taking stock of the old operating systems that I had commercially. I noticed that along with some older versions of Redhat and Ubuntu Server, I owned every version of Windows since 95, including quite a few server versions. I wondered what I could possibly do with them, since I don’t even use my store-bought copy of Windows XP anymore.

Hey, I remember you.

Hey, I remember you.

Then I looked at my new Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet and got an idea. I wondered if I could get Windows 95 to boot on it. So, I fired up Virtual Box and an old machine I had and got to work.

Note: I am using Ubuntu 12.04LTS and a Galaxy Note 10.1 to do this project. Also, I had access to another, older machine with which I could install Windows 95 myself. Your mileage may vary.

Build 95

There are a few ways to go about this. One is to use Virtual Box to create working Windows 95 VDI file and then convert that to an IMG after you’ve got it running and another is to just find a computer with Windows 95 and make an image of the drive. Either way you’ll have to do three things:

  1. Install DOS 5.x or better before installing Windows.
  2. Install Windows 95 and get it working.
  3. Make your image (.IMG) file.
Click to Enlarge

In Virtual Box, you’ll need to set up an MS-DOS environment first and then probably migrate to 95 later.

Now, I’ve tried both ways, and they’re both complex. In the first example, using Virtual Box to create a Windows 95 compatible area for the OS to work in is a pain. This is because the Windows 95 disk is not bootable (and neither is Windows 98 for that matter). You have to have DOS 5.x or later installed first and THEN go to Windows 95. This is as much work today as it was back in when Win95 came out.

Then, once you have Windows 95 running you need to get all the drivers (and you’ll probably have to use an older version of Virtual Box because of compatibility issues), some of them custom-made, install them, and squash bugs as they come up.

When you have everything set up Virtual-Box side, you can convert the VDI to an IMG file to make it usable with the vboxmanage command in termninal:

vboxmanage clonehd Win95.vdi Win95.img --format RAW

This is not the method I recommend, as it is the hardest even with a walk-through, however it may be the easiest for people with limited access to hardware. I had, luckily, a piece of hardware that would run Win95 with minimal effort so I went that route.

First, I put I installed MS-DOS 5.0.7 (available legally and for free here) from some image files to actual real-live 720KB disks. Yes, I still have a few of those. Then I set up my CD-ROM*, no small feat, and began the Windows 95 install.

Once this had been done, I pulled the HDD out of the computer and connected it to an IDE slot in another machine. I then used the dd command to make a raw image file of the newly-added drive. This ended up giving me a large file because I had given a Gig of space to the virtual drive so I’d have lots of space to move around. You could probably get away with only 200 or 300 MB if you wanted to do so. In any case, the command to image the drive was:

dd if=/where/drive/is/mounted/ of=where/you/want/image/ bs=4K

Now I had my Windows 95 image and it was time to get it running on the tablet!

Install 95

There are multiple ways to get Windows to run on your tablet once you have an image you like. I personally went through my version and pulled out all the things I didn’t want so I could create a smaller image. I eventually got the entire thing down to 200MB, but that was with a lot of work. There are also two ways to get the image running on your tablet. There’s the way I did it initially, and then the easy way. I’ll be showing the easy way and then give a brief overview of the more difficult path.

The Easy Way

You’re also going to want to use something like AirDroid, which I’ve reviewed before, to move the files over because chances are you’re going to be doing this a lot. As you make tweaks or move different things back and forth that GUI is going to come in real handy.

Click to Enlarge

After you put in the image location and name, it will need to copy it to the SDLlib’s directory, probably on your internal memory.

Move your image file over to your device and take note of its location. You’ll probably want to write it down or something, make sure you note the CASE of the letters, because that will be very important. Also you’ll need to make sure you have enough space to copy the image over to the working directory of the emulator that we’re going to use here in a minute. So you’ll need at least twice the space of the original IMG file to use it.

Go to the Play Store and find Motioncoding’s Emulator. It looks like an Android with the Windows XP flag colors on it. Download, install and run it.

Once running, go through the menus (using the forward/back buttons, it really couldn’t be more simple) until it asks you to install libSDL and do so. Then select the option under “Import from Library” to Add Custom Images. Name the image whatever you want and put in the path to the image in there. For example, mine is:

/storage/extSdCard/SDL/Win95.img

Select the image from My Images and continue to the end. You should see your OS boot.

The Hard Way

The reason I’m putting the hard way on here is because it gives you a bit more control over your install and, I think at least, runs a bit faster. In any case I’m going to assume that you’re doing it this way because you’re a little more experienced/curious and don’t need me to hold your hand.

Click to Enlarge

Copying over the SDL apk and related software.

Step one is getting a working version of the SDL apk and installing it. You can do a quick Google search for it, but I’m not sure of the legal ramifications (or its copyright) so I’m not putting a direct link here. Keep in mind that you will need to allow “Apps from Unknown Sources” to be installed on your device. This can usually be found in the “Application Settings” area, depending on your version of Android.

Place your Win95 image in the SDL folder with the APK and rename it c.img, and load SDLlib. You may have to do more tweaking at this point as Networking didn’t work out-of-the-box for me. I needed to modify some already existing .bin and .inf files to coax them into doing what I needed to do, and even then it’s a little haphazard. You’ll need to have some method of editing the img file if you can’t get networking going or you’re going to need to re-image the drive every time you want to make a change.

This way you’ll also have access to the BIOS and VGABIOS bin files, if needed, but I didn’t end up touching them.

Android 95

My reasons for doing this were purely academic. I just wanted to see if I could get it to boot and get it usable. After several weeks of poking at it I was, by all of the above methods, able to get 95 and 98 going this way. Windows 98 was just a matter of upgrading 95 and creating a new image file. I can’t think of many reasons to do this other than for the learning experience, though there are lots of pieces of software out there that don’t work so well in modern versions of Windows and maybe you want to take them with you.

Click to Enlarge

Windows 95 successfully running on my Galaxy Note 10.1 with mouse and keyboard support

Also, I was able to get my Logitech keyboard/mouse combo to work through the 30-pin charging port, and while dragging the cursor across the screen and “clicking” by tap was interesting, the keyboard is the way to go. It’s just too cumbersome for daily use otherwise.

So there it is, an Android tablet booting Windows 95/98! You can supposedly do this with Windows 2000 or XP, but I have not tried. If you have let me know, because I’d be interested in how you got native NTFS to work.

*There’s no instruction here because it really depends on your CD-ROM as to how you’d go about this. You’ll have to find one that will work with Win95 and DOS. I had one in the machine already so it was just a matter of setting it up manually through DOS.

-CJ Julius

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