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Using Virtual Machines to run old programs in Windows 7

In this article, I will show one of the uses for Virtual Machines in Windows 7. I am often asked, 'How can I get an old program to run on Windows 7?'. A few years back, I ran into this issue when one of my favorite search programs (WebCompass) was discontinued. The last operating system it was released for was Windows 98. So when I switched over to Windows XP, it ran fine until Service Pack 1. It lost functionally when one of the system DLL's it depended on got upgraded. That's when I started to use Virtual Machines (Virtual PC 2004 & 2007).

There are a few different Virtual Machines out there. I have used the top three (VMware Player by VMware, Inc., Windows Virtual PC by Microsoft, and VirtualBox by Sun / Oracle). For this article, I will demonstrate Windows 7 Virtual Machines and Sun VirtualBox. Instructions on how to create a virtual machine in Windows 7 and install a guest operating system follow.

Note: The following demonstration was done using virtual machines created in Virtual PC 2004, upgraded to Virtual PC 2007, and then upgraded to Windows 7 Virtual Machines.

How to create a virtual machine in Windows 7 and install a guest operating system

A guest operating system runs in a virtual machine. If you do not want to use Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 3 (XP Mode) as the guest operating system, you can create a virtual machine. You will use a wizard to create the virtual machine and customize it by specifying details such as the name and the amount of memory to assign to it. Before you make the virtual machine, consider the following questions:

  • How much memory will you allocate to the virtual machine? Be sure to give enough to run the guest operating system and all applications that you want to run on the virtual machine simultaneously.
  • Where do you want to store the virtual machine, and what do you want to name it? For example, you might want to use a name that identifies the guest operating system or describes how you want to use it. You can use as many as 80 characters for the name.
  • What type of virtual hard disk do you want to use?
    - Dynamically expanding virtual hard disk. This type requires a minimum of 8 MB of free space on the physical storage media. The size of the disk (and the .vhd file) grows as the disk is used, up to the maximum size specified when the disk was created.
    - Fixed virtual hard disk. This type of disk requires as much physical storage space as the size you specify for the disk when you create it. The size of the .vhd file is the same as the virtual hard disk size and remains unchanged.
    - Differencing virtual hard disk. This type requires a small amount of physical storage when you create the disk and requires more storage as the disk's size grows. The maximum size of a differencing disk is restricted by the maximum size of its parent hard disk.
  • And where do you want to store it?

After you create the virtual machine, you can modify it as needed.

To create a virtual machine

  1. Open the Virtual Machines folder. From the Start menu, click Windows Virtual PC. If the menu item is not visible, click All Programs, click the Windows Virtual PC folder, and then click Windows Virtual PC.
  2. The Virtual Machines folder opens in Windows Explorer. From the menu bar, click Create virtual machine.

    Note:
    The Virtual Machines folder provides details about all the virtual machines created by the current user and access to the tools for creating and modifying virtual machines and virtual hard disks.

  3. The Create a Virtual Machine Wizard opens. Proceed through the pages of the wizard, choosing the options that are appropriate for the guest operating system.
  4. After the wizard finishes, the virtual machine appears in the file list in the Virtual Machine folder.

After you create the virtual machine, you can install the guest operating system. The procedure varies slightly depending on the type of installation media you plan to use, such as physical CDs and DVDs, .iso files, and network-based installation servers. The following procedures describe how to use each type.

To use a CD, DVD, or .iso file to install a guest operating system

  1. To use a CD or DVD, insert it into the drive and skip to the next step. To use a .iso file, do the following:
    • Right-click the virtual machine in the file list, and then click Settings.
    • In the left pane, click DVD Drive. In the right pane, choose Open an ISO image. Click OK.
  2. Start the virtual machine. In the file list, select the virtual machine and click Open. Windows Virtual PC opens and displays the video output of the virtual machine.
  3. The virtual machine searches for bootable media. Setup begins after bootable media is found.
  4. After the installation is complete, install the Integration Components package. From the Tools menu of the virtual machine window, click Install Integration Components.

To use a network-based installation server to install a guest operating system

  1. Start the virtual machine. In the file list, select the virtual machine and click Open. Windows Virtual PC opens and displays the video output of the virtual machine.
  2. The virtual machine automatically starts the PXE boot agent and attempts to contact the remote installation server. Watch the screen for instructions. When prompted, press F12.
  3. Note:
    If the remote installation server does not respond, you will receive the message “Reboot and Select proper Boot device.” Check the virtual machine settings to ensure the network adapter is connected to an external (physical) network. If it is, check with your network administrator for instructions about using a network-based installation server.

  4. Select an operating system from the choices offered by the remote installation server.
  5. Use the setup utility for the operating system to complete the installation. If you need to restart to complete the process, press CTRL+ALT+END, or click Ctrl+Alt+Del from the virtual machine window.

Edit digital images and photos with Paint.NET

Note: This article was based on Paint.NET version 3. Since this article was written, Paint.NET version 4 has been released. Click here to read the newer Paint.NET 4 article.

I have recently been looking for a digital photo editor that is comparable to Adobe Photoshop and can read RAW format photos from my Nikon D40. But it also needs to be able to run on the Intel Atom processor in my Acer Aspire One Netbook. I found all of this and more with Paint.NET.

Paint.NET
(Screen capture from Acer Aspire One Netbook: 1024x768 dpi)

Paint.NET was initially intended as a free replacement for Microsoft Paint, the image software that comes with Windows. It features an intuitive and innovative user interface with support for layers, unlimited undo, special effects, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools. An active and growing online community provides friendly help, tutorials, and plugins. Here's a quote about the features from their site:

Simple, intuitive, and innovative user interface
Every feature and user interface element was designed to be immediately intuitive and quickly learnable without assistance. In order to handle multiple images easily, Paint.NET uses a tabbed document interface. The tabs display a live thumbnail of the image instead of a text description. This makes navigation very simple and fast.

The interface is also enhanced for Aero Glass if you are using Windows 7 or Vista.

Performance
Extensive work has gone into making Paint.NET the fastest image editor available. Whether you have a netbook with a power-conscious Atom CPU, or a Dual Intel Xeon workstation with 8 blazingly fast processing cores, you can expect Paint.NET to start up quickly and be responsive to every mouse click.

Layers
Usually only found on expensive or complicated professional software, layers form the basis for a rich image composition experience. You may think of them as a stack of transparency slides that, when viewed together at the same time, form one image.

Active Online Community
Paint.NET has an online forum with a friendly, passionate, and ever-expanding community. Be sure to check out the constantly growing list of tutorials and plugins!

Automatically Updated
Updates are free, and contain new features, performance improvements, and bug fixes. Upgrading to the latest version is very simple, requiring only two clicks of the mouse.

Special Effects
Many special effects are included for enhancing and perfecting your images. Everything from blurring, sharpening, red-eye removal, distortion, noise, and embossing are included. Also included is our unique 3D Rotate/Zoom effect that makes it very easy to add perspective and tilting.

Adjustments are also included which help you tweak an image's brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, curves, and levels. You can also convert an image to black and white, or sepia-toned.

Powerful Tools
Paint.NET includes simple tools for drawing shapes, including an easy-to-use curve tool for drawing splines or Bezier curves. The Gradient tool, new for 3.0, has been cited as an innovative improvement over similar tools provided by other software. The facilities for creating and working with selections is powerful, yet still simple enough to be picked up quickly. Other powerful tools include the Magic Wand for selecting regions of similar color, and the Clone Stamp for copying or erasing portions of an image. There is also a simple text editor, a tool for zooming, and a Recolor tool.

Unlimited History
Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody changes their mind. To accommodate this, every action you perform on an image is recorded in the History window and may be undone. Once you've undone an action, you can also redo it. The length of the history is only limited by available disk space.

Free!
Paint.NET doesn't cost a dime.

If you are looking for a digital image editor, I recommend you take a look at Paint.NET. Just click on the link below. I also have included a link to a Photoshop plugin I found useful.

Get Paint.NET!
Paint.NET Photoshop Plugin

CodePlex - Open Source Project Community hosted by Microsoft

Note: The CodePlex website has been retired and is no longer accessible. Microsoft purchased GitHub in 2018 and transferred all CodePlex projects to GitHub repositories.

In this article, I would like to tell you about CodePlex, an Open Source Project Community hosted by Microsoft. Open-source software is computer software that is available in source code form for which the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that permits users to study, change, and improve the software.

CodePlex allows developers to create new projects, join projects already in development, to use the applications created and provide feedback. Now, before you start thinking that this site is only for developers, let me tell you it is not (o.k., I will admit that I found this site looking for some C# code). This is a great place to find some really cool applications for the Windows platform. I have written several articles about the applications I have found here and keep finding more every time I stop by.

Here are some of the features of CodePlex:

  • Source Code Control
  • Project Discussions
  • Wiki Pages
  • Feature / Issue Tracking
  • Release Downloads
  • News Feed Aggregation

I encourage you to go over to CodePlex and take a look around. Maybe do a search or two. You might find a really cool app.

Edit more types of text files with Textpad

In this article, I would like to share a handy application for text editing called TextPad. If you have ever used Notepad, you will love TextPad.

TextPad

Some of the features I like are spell checking, undo/redo capability, and a great search/replace engine. Here's a quote from their web site:

TextPad® is designed to provide the power and functionality to satisfy the most demanding text editing requirements. It can edit files up to the limits of virtual memory, and it will work with the 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Windows® 7, Vista, XP, 2000, Server 2003 and 2008.

TextPad has been implemented according to the Windows XP user interface guidelines, so great attention has been paid to making it easy for both beginners and experienced users. In-context help is available for all commands, and in-context menus pop-up with the right mouse button. The Windows multiple document interface allows multiple files to be edited simultaneously, with up to 2 views on each file. Text can be dragged and dropped between files.

In addition to the usual cut and paste capabilities, you can correct the most common typing errors with commands to change case, and transpose words, characters and lines. Other commands let you indent blocks of text, split or join lines, and insert whole files. Any change can be undone or redone, right back to the first one made. Visible bookmarks can be put on lines, and edit commands can be applied to lines with bookmarks.

Frequently used combinations of commands can be saved as keystroke macros, and the spelling checker has dictionaries for 10 languages.

It also has a customizable tools menu, and integral file compare and search commands, with hypertext jumps from the matched text to the corresponding line in the source file (ideal for integrating compilers).

TextPad is available on a try before you buy basis and is available for download at TextPad.com.

RAW Image Viewers for Windows

When I migrated from Windows XP to Windows 7, one of the things I have missed is the Microsoft Powertoys. A couple of the functions have been integrated into Windows 7 (Open Command Window Here and Power Calculator). However, there are a few I am still looking for applications to replace them with.

One of them is the RAW Image Viewer. I am into digital photography and like to organize and work with digital RAW image files in Windows Explorer (much as you can with JPEG images). But Windows does not have support for this format built-in. Well, I am glad to say I have found a replacement for it.

FastPictureViewer is a free collection of 32 and 64-bit RAW Image Decoders for Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10.

Once installed, you have the same features for RAW image formats in Windows as you do with JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF, and TIFF, complete with thumbnails in Explorer, preview, slide show support in Photo Gallery / Photo Viewer, and metadata search integration.

For more information and to download FastPictureViewer, please visit their web site.

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