Running Obsidian on a VirtualBox Windows 98 Image

My mother unearthed  a load of old  CD ROMs in her attic over Christmas.  She was a big fan of adventure games, in particular MYST and Obsidian, and she wanted to play them again.  The games won’t install on Windows 10, but there was an old Windows 98 installation disk amongst the CDs and so a solution presented itself.

  1. Install VirtualBox
  2. Create a Windows 98 Virtual Machine
  3. Install the games on the VM

I did the following on an old laptop (> 10 years) with Ubuntu installed. It should be no problem on a more modern machine.

Given the number of posts online by other people attempting to run Obsidian, I thought I’d share the process I followed.

Before You Start

  • Install VirtualBox. VirtualBox is free and open source. If you’re not familiar with it, there are lots of tutorials on the web.
  • You’ll need ISOs for Windows 98 and the games you want to use. As I already had the CDs, I created the ISOs using Brasero on Ubuntu.

Creating a Windows 98 VM

The following pages how to install Windows 98 on VirtualBox

Be aware, however, that most of the initial steps outlined were unnecessary: I simply chose install from CD. The Windows image formatted the C: drive for me, I didn’t have to insert a boot disk or fdisk the hard drive.

However, on booting up the VM, the following error occurred

While initializing device NDIS:
Windows Protection Error. You need to restart your computer.

This is due to the fact that modern machines are much much faster than those that Windows 98 used to run on.

I found a fix here:

You need to download the NDIS.VXD file (there’s a link in the article above) and copy it onto your virtual machine. I found it easiest to make a floppy image.

If you’re using Linux, you can make a blank floppy disk image with this command

mkfs.msdos -C /path/imagefile.img 1440

Mount the disk…

sudo mkdir /media/floppy1/
sudo mount -o loop /path/imagefile.img /media/floppy1/

… and then copy NDIS.VXD across to the C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM\ folder of your Windows 98 image. Don’t forget to remove the floppy image or change your boot order when you’re done or you might find your image fails to boot (I wasted an hour before I realized my mistake!)

The above fix should mean that Windows 98 can now run. You’re not finished yet, however, as you’ll need to install video drivers. Go to the Configuring Video section on this link to find out how.

And that’s it, you’re done.  You can now install your games as normal. In my case the meant inserting the Obsidian disk 1 iso and then following the instructions (I’d forgotten about installing QuickTime, but there it is!)

Call me sad, but I enjoyed doing the above more than playing the actual games. It was also a buzz hearing the old Windows start up noise for the first time in years…

One last thought, the entire Win98 image is only about 175Mb.  It’s almost worth cloning it and having a clean install for each game.

Lightweight .emacs

The last couple of years have seen a change in my Emacs setup. Work dictates that I have to use a number of different machines; in the past I’ve tried to give a consistent experience no matter which machine I was working on. Bookmarks, abbreviations, org-agendas were all stored on Dropbox, and an increasingly complicated set of code took into account paths for different operating systems and network setups. 

It came to a point where I seemed to be spending more time on my .emacs files than I was on actually doing anything.  I began to ask myself, was consistency that important?

The answer was no.

So I changed my approach.

I’ve streamlined my init file as much as possible. I now spend my time trying to find a way to use existing features as far as possible, If possible, I write lightweight code to solve a problem,  only installing packages as a last resort.  (take a look at my really simple scrivener mode for an example of this)

I still use packages, of course. I’m not going to stop using org mode or evil or magit, but I don’t need them on every computer. 

As far as my Emacs setup goes, I now only use Dropbox to enable the use of Orgzly and Beorg on my portable devices (I still use it to sync all my other files, of course)

Lastly, I’ve had a love hate relationship with Evernote over the years but I’ve been really impressed by the direction that it’s been going over the past 18 months.  All my records are now stored there, my agenda and editing is all done on Emacs (I sometimes forget that editing was its initial purpose).

Goodbye Simplenote, Hello Again Evernote

We’ve all got a list of our favourite CEOs.

Okay, we haven’t. But if we did, mine would be Ian Small of Evernote.  You can see him here, clearly uncomfortable at being in front of the camera. I rather like him for that. Being good on camera doesn’t mean you can do the job. I’m increasingly wondering if the opposite might be true.

Anyway, read this message Ian Small wrote back in January, stating Evernote’s priorities for the year ahead. I particularly liked this passage:

And honesty requires us to state—straight out—that we can do better with the product you have today than we are currently doing. In fact, we can do better than we have been doing for some years.

He goes on to promise to concentrate on getting the foundations of the product right before adding new features.

Since then he seems to be making good on his promise.  

You might remember this article I wrote in 2016 saying I was leaving Evernote for Simplenote. Well, I’ve now gone back to Evernote. I like the direction things are going. I’m still disappointed with the lack of Linux support but I’ll trade that in for something that’s solid, or at least is attempting to get things right.

And I must admit, I rather like Ian Small’s (rather awkward) style.  Many people seek advancement by promising to make big changes.  They go for the grand gesture and then move on, leaving others to sort out the mess they’ve made. It’s rather refreshing to see someone quietly getting on with the challenge of trying to make something that’s already quite good work just that little bit better.