On the subject of running non-game applications

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On the subject of running non-game applications

Postby Kahenraz » 2019-9-14 @ 17:05

On the subject of running non-game applications for users with special use cases such as databases, etc; I'm familiar with Bochs. Are there any other recommended emulators for DOS, possibly even including support contracts?

I know a very small doctor's office that I visit (one doctor, no staff) who still uses some very old DOS-based application to handle some of her bookkeeping. The computer in her office is an x86 running Windows XP so everything is working fine for her with NTVDM. But I know that some day she may want or even need to have this system replaced. It would be cost-prohibitive for her to change to a new software and would require time and training to do so. She has done fine and is very satisfied with the software she uses now.

In the event that she and others do have to move to 64-bit Windows, what solutions are recommended for running these kind of applications in leu of DOSBox?

I've talked to her about the software before and was very impressed to see her pull a large binder from the shelf and unfold it to reveal a classic over-sized three-thing binder with the original documentation and various update diskettes held in plastic sleeves in the back. I don't recall if there were also some 5.25" disks behind the 3.5". I'll have to ask for another look the next time I visit.
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Re: On the subject of running non-game applications

Postby ripsaw8080 » 2019-9-14 @ 17:26

vDos/vDosPlus are based on DOSBox source and add features for applications, such as multi-user file access and printing. Maybe explore them as an option, but don't expect to find support on this forum.
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Re: On the subject of running non-game applications

Postby keenmaster486 » 2019-9-14 @ 17:45

There's nothing wrong with using real hardware.

Or another XP machine with NTVDM.

Using a modern computer to run that software would be so overkill it's not even funny.

How about a cheap generic Socket 7 machine or something? It only has to have an uber-reliable disk drive and backup system. That could easily be arranged.
I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

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Re: On the subject of running non-game applications

Postby DosFreak » 2019-9-14 @ 17:47

Considering the massive amount of dental systems that got hit with ransomware a couple of weeks ago they might want to upgrade to a supported OS.
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Re: On the subject of running non-game applications

Postby DrShazam » 2019-9-19 @ 15:16

I completely understand where that doctor is coming from. "If it ain't broke don't fix it" but they have more issues than that. Anything that old wouldn't be HIPAA compliant anymore and security on that old database is none existent. On that note, if she plans on retiring soon (<1 year) let it ride but anything greater than a year she's taking a lot of risks just to avoid updating to newer software. If this were my client/customer, I would not recommend any solutions using emulation/virtualization of old hardware.

Although, I'm extremely impressed with her backup binder.
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Re: On the subject of running non-game applications

Postby Kahenraz » 2019-9-20 @ 01:36

It's not connected to the internet. That is safer than most modern computers.
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Re: On the subject of running non-game applications

Postby Jo22 » 2019-9-25 @ 21:58

Kahenraz wrote:It's not connected to the internet. That is safer than most modern computers.

Hmm. Perhaps something stable is recommnded then. DOSBox in itself uses host filesystem for example, not an image,
which is good in theory, but has trouble with translating special CP437 characters (ä,ö,ü,ß).

A VM might be ok, but it has several shortcomings, as well. If the disk image corrupts, all patient data might be lost. Very bad.
Hm. If something like MS-DOS Player or NTVDMX64 would work for the program, it would be nice.

They both use emulation, so the risk of speed-issues would be lower than, say, "XP mode"
(uses Windows Virtual PC, which lacks a CPU speed limiter feature).

Anyway, without knowing the type of program in question, it's hard to tell.
(Was it written in clipper/dbase, turbo pascal, quick-basic, etc ? Does it use graphics ?
If it uses text, is access done by BIOS, DOS or directly ?).

Edit: Some stuff that comes to mind..
a) Are there existing backups of the diskettes/database ? If not, I would very carefully try to make some.
Safest would be to carefully disk image the complete hard disk 1:1 into a binary file,
so it can be restored by Win32DiskImager or Linux in the future.
(Or by the help of a live CD/flopy set of a commercial backup program; Acronis TrueImage 7 or 9. It can boot on a Pentium 166 onwards afaik.)
Even if there's a change in the future, the new doctors might need the old patient data at some point.

b) What about using an old computer (for running the DOS program) along with a remote connection ?
Some programs like PC-Tools 7 or DESQView/X had the ability to provide a remote desktop.
That way, the precious database computer can be placed in a "safe place", say, a boxroom or wall closet
and any damage to the doctor's main computer (Viruses, MS Update etc) can't harm the patient data.

Anyway, just some thoughts here. Remember, I know nothing about the real situation there. :sweatdrop:
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In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

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Re: On the subject of running non-game applications

Postby Caluser2000 » 2019-9-25 @ 22:19

Just back up the data up make copies/images of the original disks and keep a couple of XP boxes in storage. The system is not networked so impact from the interweb wrt security is nil and absolutely no impact on the customers at all. You'll probably find the database is DBaseIII compliant so no issues there as well.
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Re: On the subject of running non-game applications

Postby Kisai » 2019-9-26 @ 03:46

The issue, primarily with Dosbox, is that dosbox does not perport to be a PC Emulator or a Virtual Machine. So running software intended to be run on real hardware is a BAD idea. Using dosbox to run an old version of wordperfect or wordstar, or foxpro or something like that is so much overkill, and risks corruption/destruction of the data, because things outside of dosbox can affect/impair the files in use.

Dosbox and it's forks are best used for games because all games ever do is save files to their own directories, they don't need file sharing/locking mechanics that would ensure data integrity. If you use DOSBOX as a replacement for PC's connected to SCADA equipment, well, that's just a disater in the making.

But should a VM be used? I'd say, no.

If you need a system that actually emulates, accurately a 386/486 era system, I'd suggest having a FPGA system.
eg https://github.com/alfikpl/ao486

But the point is, that one shouldn't replace a working system on a whim. If someone from accounting says this PC controlling expensive machinery consumes $400 a year, can it be replaced with a $99 Android smartphone, I'd say stop them.

Point of interest. The RFID security passes used by virtually every big highrise in the last 20 years? Probably running on an overpowered desktop of the same vintage in a closet somewhere in the building connected to a USB-to-Serial cable. This is a great example of IT people wanting to move all these servers to the cloud and then running into that one machine that is only connected to the network because it's a pain in the ass to get into the actual room where the machine is to change employee badges.
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