Machine in a Machine

Earlier this year, I bought a Mac PowerBook G4 (for about what I could have gotten a new MacBook only a few months later — GRRRR!), largely because I’d seen a number of people in Tucson last year with Macs (we hung around Arizona State during our vacation) and because I had gotten tired of being a systems manager. Oh, and there was the little thing about plastic computers falling apart. Tired of that, too.

I love my PowerBook. I love GarageBand (even if no one else pays any attention to my music). I love how it almost never complains, or has problems, or gives me a screen o’ death (the Mac version is gray, BTW, in several languages, and saves all your work before it crashes your comuter — it is a very polite screen o’ death). There have been a few frustrations — the gray screen o’ death was a problem early on, but a system upgrade appears to have fixed that — but nothing compared to dealing with service packs and device errors and memory overflows.

(The hard drive from my Compaq laptop, running WinXPSP2, is sitting on my desk — I need to get a case for it so I can use it as a back-up drive.)

But there are a few things I’d like a portable PC for. I have an old Compaq Presario 2200EZ desktop running Win98SE. I call it The Toaster, because it looks like the kind of personal computer Electrolux would have made had they made PCs in the 1950s. My gradmother had a vacuum cleaner that looked like that. It’s useful because it houses my Yamaha SW1000XG midi-audio recording card — a useful piece of equipment for writing midi parts and using midi sounds despite the advent of GarageBand. But it doesn’t have speakers and it’s not portable.

No, I need a portable Windows PC to use MS Works — I have lots of old files in the Works proprietary formats — and something called The Alim, a nifty piece of software with various versions of the Qur’an, Hadith and whatnot on it. (Including a recitation of the Qur’an.) My version is about 10 years old. And I’m in no hurry to upgrade it.

What to do? I discovered iEmulator, which purports to allow Mac owners to create DOS/Windows/Linux drives on their machines that can be booted from with the Mac OS. And they can, too. This is a really nice piece of software that works (more or less) as advertised.

I said more or less because my Win98SE CD required a previous installation of Windows, so that meant installing Win95 (which I have) first and then letting it do it’s thing. It took a while of fiddling — the freedos version distriubted with iEmulator doesn’t create real DOS partitions or hard drives for actual MSDOS disks. Now, the folks at iEmulator will send you a disk image with DOS 6.22 on it if you ask. After some playing around with FDISK and FORMAT and CDs, I got Win98 installed and running.

There have been some interesting problems. The system is a little slow, and can sometime crawl to a stop. It does not like AVG’s free antivirus program. And after I installed Alim, not only did the sound not work for my Win98 setup, but it completely disabled the Mac’s sound card too. That was odd, and shouldn’t have because the Alim doesn’t insert itself into system files, at least so far as I know. This was solved by adding a second sound card setup to the emulator hardware profile — at least I think that solved it, since it started making sound again after that. And, for whatever reason, my Win98 system needs real CDs — it won’t read disk images, no matter how I rename the file extension. Go figure.

Firefox is very slow too. I have installed Browzar, the minimalist no-tracking web browser. It works nicely.

On the plus side, Works 4.5 runs very fast, as does Alim. And it’s generally stable, and about as good as the 10-year-old Pentium laptop it’s pretending to be. All on my Mac. Well worth the $24 I spent for it.

And I may eventually get around to running that 10-year-old copy of Linux I have sitting around. Assuming I ever get the time.