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A better way to do legacy software

One of our middle school teachers runs a great technology education program. He covers everything from basic tools to electronics to biomedical engineering to CAD.

One of our middle school teachers runs a great technology education program. He covers everything from basic tools to electronics to biomedical engineering to CAD. The kids enjoy the class and they get a very broad survey of the real scope of technology. A major component of the course is the use of a series of software programs to reinforce the various lessons.

While some of the software was purchased as part of a tech ed curriculum and other programs were picked up over the years, all are old. Interestingly, because they deal with broad principles, they really aren't out of date, but they would be expensive to replace today. One on CAD, for example, teaches kids about scale and multiview drawings. Another deals with computer models of the human body. Still another is a flight simulator focused on aerodynamics. Are the graphics the latest in 3D? No. Have the principles of flight changed in the last 10 years? Nope.

Unfortunately, the computer lab for this course was left out of the big tech refresh we just finished at our middle school. While the rest of the classrooms and labs have beautiful iMacs in them, he's holding his Windows 98 PCs (purchased in 1998) together with parts discarded from the high school. Of course, all of this useful software is designed for Windows 98 and we're fresh out of money to purchase new PCs for his lab anyway.

Enter VirtualBox. It's free, it's open source, and it lets me run Windows 98 (among countless other operating systems) inside a Window in OS X. You can also create snapshots (basically restore points) of the virtual machines including the installed software and rapidly deploy them. While virtualization is a real buzzword lately, here's a simple way in which virtualization can help us leverage existing resources.

In this case, it means that I can redeploy underutilized iMacs to the technology lab, run the legacy software on new stable machines, and avoid additional software licensing and hardware costs. Oh yeah, and I can restore a hosed Win 98 system with a couple of clicks, running it inside a virtual machine on new, stable hardware.