For a dozen years, I’ve owned an Imacon Flextight scanner. It started life as a Precision II, and I bought the Imacon kit that supposedly upgraded it to a Precision III. The kit consisted of a firmware upgrade, a third-party FireWire to SCSI converter, and a stick-on rubber thingy with a “III” on it to go over the “II” on the scanner. Since I’d paid a couple of thousand bucks for the upgrade, I wasn’t very happy. It seemed like the only thing of value was the firmware upgrade.
Years later, I realized what a truly lousy deal it was. Imacon stopped supporting the SCSI-based scanners in their new software. But I was covered, right? Nope. They still supported real Flextight Precision III’s, but not Precision II’s that had been made into Precision III’s through their upgrade process. They froze the driver for my scanner at a version that ran on Windows XP, but on no newer operating system.
I didn’t want to dedicate a computer running XP to the scanner. My first thinking was to make the boot disk removable, and boot to Vista with one disk and XP with another. Technically, it worked fine, but it gave the Vista copy protection software fits. Every time I would put Vista back in the boot drive location and fire up the machine, I’d get complaints that were only resolvable with a phone call to Microsoft.
The phone calls got real old, so I then installed a boot manager from Acronis. It worked fairly well, but had two annoying problems. First, the support for my mouse was buggy. Second, every so often Windows would wipe it out and I’d have to reinstall it.
I thought about virtualization, but it seemed like too much trouble, and I was worried about finger-pointing if I had a problem running Windows on virtualization software from another vendor.
In the 80s and 90s, when I was working for IBM, I was a user of virtualization software that ran on IBM mainframes. It was called, VM, which stood for virtual machine. Some of IBM’s product names are amazingly generic: there was a popular programming language called APL, which stood for, you guessed it, a programming language. VM is now more than 40 years old, and I hear it’s still going strong.
In the last five or six years, virtualization has enjoyed a renaissance in the server and personal computer worlds. Mac users employ virtualization to run Windows on their Intel-based machines. Systems administrators run virtual machines on servers to allow optimization of the OS environment for various applications, to allow testing to take place in convenient and safe environments, and to improve hardware utilization, thereby saving money and energy. Developers use it to conveniently test software under many different operating systems and configurations. End users and IT people use it to set up safe environments for testing applications and new operating systems.
Microsoft has leapt into the virtualization business with a number of products. Most of them are aimed at servers and large businesses, but one is an easy to use, free implementation that allows Windows XP to run on a Microsoft virtual machine on a Windows 7 computer. To get it, go to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/download.aspx. You’ll need to download and install the virtual machine hypervisor and the Windows XP OS separately. IF you’re running a version of Win 7 before SP1, you’ll need to run an update at the end of the installation
When you run the installation programs, you’ll be treated to what looks like a conventional XP install in a window of your Win 7 desktop, complete with “restarts” that cause the virtual machine to be shut down and restarted, but you won’t see the BIOS, because it’s just a virtual restart. Then you’ll have to install a bunch of updates on your virtual XP installation, and watch a bunch more fake restarts. Finally, you’ll need to load antivirus software on your XP installation, since your Win 7 AV won’t offer any protection.
The version of XP provided by Microsoft is SP 3, which hasn’t got the patch to correct the time for the current law. Here’s a screen shot of the lower right corner of a window of a virtual machine running XP with the lower right corner of the Win 7 host in the bottom right of the image. Note the one-hour difference in the time.
All in all, this is an effective way to run what are quaintly known as “legacy apps”, even if under the covers there’s lot happening. This is no halfway measure, you’re not running something that’s compatible with XP, you’re running XP, warts and all, and the initial SP 3 version takes 50 or 60 updates to get it up to the current state of the XP OS. I like that. It indicates a seriousness on the part of the folks at Redmond in giving the user fine-grain control over anything that might mess with program compatibility – you can back out any update that screws it up.
I haven’t yet installed the SCSI card to drive the Imacon scanner, but I have installed Chromix ColorThink, which doesn’t run right under Win 7. It works fine under virtual XP.