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Virtualization tool bundles assist older OSes

Virtualization administrators are in a unique situation where older operating systems (OSes) can potentially “live forever” in the virtual world. While we may not wish to enable older OSes to remain in our environments indefinitely as virtual machines (VMs), situations arise where we need to do just that.

Recently, I had a situation where an older OS had been removed from the installable toolkit platform — in this case it was VMware Tools. The older operating system, Windows ’98, had been removed from the VMware Tools installation with the release of VMware Server 2.0. While the need for a Windows ’98 virtual machine is rare, it does exist.

To solve the immediate problem, I was able to install a VMware Tools .ISO image from the 1.0.3 version of VMware Server that I’d been using on another host system. Once installed, the older tools are listed as ‘out of date’ as expected, but the basic features of driver optimization are present on the guest VM.

At first this dilemma did not appear to be much of an ordeal, but it started an important thought process. While Windows ’98 was the first occurrence of platform removal from a guest toolkit installation that I have observed directly, I don’t expect Windows NT or 2000 guestOSes to be that far from the chopping block of supported platforms.

One way to prevent this issue is to hold onto the tools installations for each platform of the hypervisor. VMware Tools, XenTools and Hyper-V Integration Services all exist as virtual CD-ROM .ISO images that you can hold onto for re-installation on another guest VM. Also, keep in mind that there may not be support from the host side either, so check to see which supported guest operating systems are available.

As you might expect, configuring an environment in this fashion may be met with some skepticism, as it could possibly divert resources. As a result, it may be worth placing this type of guest workload on a free hypervisor like VMware Server or on a similar lower tier of virtualization and storage. Having a flat file backup (.VMDK or .VHD) of the VM is a good idea as well.

While this situation is less than ideal for truly obsolete guest operating systems, the rare instance may arise where archiving toolkits can prove very beneficial.

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I have a whole virtual OS museum running under VMware Workstation. I've installed Windows 3.1, NT 4.0, MS-DOS 6.22 and Windows 95 just for old times sake.