A way is described to run Windows 98 Second Edition when the last hardware you owned that would run it natively has died. Then a problem with getting Excel 5.0 and Word 6.0 to install is solved.



The first PC I ever owned (whose history is described here) arrived with Microsoft's Windows 3.11 for Workgroups, a fairly primitive operating system, which I soon replaced with Windows 95 and then Windows 98 Second Edition.

That first PC died in 2016, and was succeeded by a series of decreasingly impressive outfits set up only to run Windows 98 so that I could continue to use Excel 5.0, for which I had coded some moderately complex macros that I didn't want to have to convert for newer versions of Excel.

The last of these ancient second-hand machines died in late 2021 after not much more than a year of life. That's it... no more old hardware!

I had earlier read up on using VirtualBox to run W98 as a guest OS, but most commentaries said that it didn't work very well. Nevertheless, I thought I would give it a try. I had a five-year-old AsRock Beebox, used for not much else than Secure Shelling into the main machine to force a remote shutdown on the rare occasions when the desktop froze. It had been running for 827 days, the longest of any machine I had ever had. Perhaps I could get something working on that?

To give it the best chance, I added a well-reviewed and new distro release, MX Linux 21, as the host. Installation of that went as well as the best ones do these days, apart from gifting me a rather stupid GRUB menu screen.


Installing Windows 98 SE

I had a look for videos on this topic online, and was fortunate to find this one by YouTube user Nevets. To illustrate how useful it was, I summarise the contents here, with an indication of just how helpful each step was.
*  means "Yeah, I can do this without expecting a problem"
**  means "I can probably do this after some research"
*** means "Some of the information in this step I probably couldn't have found at all, or only after time-consuming research".

  1. Identify a location online where a bootable W98 SE CD image can be downloaded as an ISO image file, and where a "licence key" is provided so that you can use your copy. **
  2. Download VirtualBox (for Windows, but the author rightly says that the procedure should be almost identical for Linux). Install it with the default settings. *
  3. Create the Windows 98 virtual machine in VirtualBox. Choose how much RAM and disk space you want it to have. *
  4. Specify settings for the new VM under the headings of "system", "display" and "storage". Under the last, we attach the W98 ISO file we downloaded above and stored somewhere in the filesystem of the host OS. Now VB will present it to the guest OS in the guise of the familiar old "IDE Secondary Master" optical drive. ***
  5. Start the VM for the first time. Follow the usual round of reboots from the "CD" until we have a drive letter D: as well as C:. Copy the WIN98 directory from D: to C:. *
  6. Run C:\SETUP with a critical switch to install ACPI, needed to stop W98 running at 100% CPU load all the time. This starts the familiar Setup Wizard. Do a typical installation with the most common components. ***
  7. With the setup finished copying files, reboot for the first time from the "Hard Drive". *
  8. Input the Licence Key (5x5 characters). A working value is supplied on the page where the W98 download was available. This would once have been piracy, but all support for W98 ended in 2006 and the automatic Windows Update Service for W98 was removed from Microsoft's servers in 2011, so it unlikely that you will be hearing from their lawyers! *
  9. Reboot and get to the "Welcome Video". Shut down the VM. *
  10. In your host OS, input the Big Mouse Command (see below). Otherwise (in my experience) the mouse pointer doesn't roam over the full W98 window. ***
  11. Start the VM again. Begin the procedure of enhancing the display from the initial 16 colours and 640x480 size. To do this, download SciTech Display Doctor (also abandonware). SDD arrives as an EXE file, so cannot be imported as such into the W98 VM. ***
  12. Use your optical disk burning program (in my case Brasero) to burn SDD to a CD image (.iso file), not an actual CD. *
  13. With the W98 VM shut down, attach the SDD .iso file in place of the W98 installation one and start W98 again. *
  14. Install SciTech Display Doctor off the virtual CD. An express installation is enough. Reboot W98 again. *
  15. Now run SciTech Display Doctor to install their drivers and get 32-bit colour and 1024x768 resolution (or in my case, 1600x1200). Has to be done in two steps; W98 hangs after the first one, but this is harmless. Just force-close the VM and start it again for the second step up to the full values. **
    (At this stage, might as well edit the Registry to stop Display Doctor from popping up a window every time Windows is restarted. See the instructions below.)
  16. Set up an Internet connection. With only Microsoft's IE 5, there's not a lot you can browse nowadays, so... *
  17. Download Opera version 9.64, recommended by the author as a suitable "more modern" browser. Once again, he gives a location online where it can be downloaded. **
  18. Burn it to an ISO file, attach it to the W98 VM and install it (with the same steps as for SciTech Display Doctor). *
  19. Finish off by downloading an old Windows 98 game and installing it, which is what the author wanted to do with W98 in the first place. As it's not my requirement, I didn't do this step.

Follow the instructions in the video for the Big Mouse Command (step 10), with the following substitution:

"%ProgramFiles%\Oracle\VirtualBox\VBoxManage.exe" -> vboxmanage

SciTech Display Doctor sets itself up to open a window every time the system is started. This is annoying, particularly when you come to run the Auto Patcher from the second video and it covers the DOS windows showing the progress of the patching. To get rid of the SciTech splash screen at W98 startup:

Click Start in the taskbar and click Run...
Run regedit.exe
Go to directory: [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run]
Delete "Check for SDD updates"="C:\\Program Files\\SciTech Display Doctor\\sddboot.exe"

The number of asterisks above is a pretty good indicator of just how useful the video was. Not only that, but the procedure went just about exactly as portrayed. With no guesswork at all, I had a beautiful 1600x1200 copy of Windows 98 SE living inside MX Linux on the Beebox. Very impressive!

It seems that neither of these browsers can display https content at all, so they are of very limited use.

After suggestions from followers, the author produced a a second video to put further polish on the result.

  1. Get rid of the black screen boot menu at startup by modifying MSDOS.SYS. **
  2. Prepare for the implementation of all possible patches to W98 (which will require numerous reboots) by changing "Network Logon" to "Windows Logon" for all users and removing the password, so that the whole procedure can run without user input. *
  3. Download W98 Auto-Patcher with all the patches (at least up to 2007). To spare people the search, the author has prepared the ISO file himself and made it available. Attach it to the W98 VM as usual. **
  4. Install Auto-Patcher from the virtual optical drive. *
  5. Run the Auto-Patcher. With the measures taken above, it proceeds through numerous automatic reboots to its end. *
  6. Register the copy of Display Doctor to stop it expiring after the 21 days free trial period.
  7. Load an old game ("Lemmings") and show that some sound files aren't working. Show how to change the sound from Sound Blaster 16 to AC97 and find workable drivers to fix the problem. As I have no sound device on the Beebox, I didn't do this step.
  8. Install "Windows 98 Plus", which adds more desktop themes and some other treats. To spare people the search, the author has again prepared the ISO file and made it available online. He also supplies a working CD key. **
  9. Get a joystick to work in W98. As I haven't got one, I didn't do this step.

Once again, things went almost exactly as in the video, with such small differences as I came across usually caused by my own actions. Now I had a surprisingly polished instance of Windows 98 Second Edition ready to be kitted out with such older Microsoft Office programs as I had been using on the old PCs.


Installing Excel 5.0 and Word 6.0

Why would I want to install such old applications? Well, I just like Excel 5.0; in my opinion, it was the best thing Microsoft produced around that time (1993). It's simple to use, but has lots of powerful functions. But the main reason I want to keep it is that I have written some Visual Basic macros for it which I still use, and I don't want the hassle of converting them to run in newer versions of Excel. Word 6.0 is less important. It's just coming along for the ride, so to speak.

Each of these applications came as a set of nine floppies. The first step is to create image files for every floppy, with names like disk01.img, using commands like:

dd if=/dev/fd0 of=<your files>/disk01.img

But you probably haven't got a real floppy drive any more, so that won't work. The solution is to get a USB floppy drive; they are still cheaply available in 2022. Then use if=/dev/sdb or whatever in the above command. You can probably also find the images online in some abandonware repository.

Here's a tip... All nine floppy images can be read-only, except the first one. The installation routine writes to floppy 1 to mark it as used, so copy that read-only image to something else like disk01.img.orig and unprotect the original (...how simple software protection was back in those days!), and you can always restore the first image from the copy to avoid licensing issues when you need to run the installation more than once.

Another tip... Excel installation expects the file SHARE.EXE to exist, and aborts without it. The file seems to be a hangover from Windows 3.1 and has disappeared from W98. In any case, it seems to be enough to create a dummy text file with that name and the installation routine is happy. I put it in C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND, though it would appear that the installers look for it in various other places too.

Yet another tip... install to non-standard directories to avoid clashing with any later installation of Office 2000 versions. In my case, I created directories C:\LEGACY\EXCEL50 and C:\LEGACY\WORD60 and specified them during the installation process. Make sure to create them before you start the installation processes, as these seem to disturb the mouse and keyboard quite a bit. Also, assign the applications to program group "Legacy" instead of "Microsoft Office".

With all eighteen floppy images prepared on the host machine, I attached the first Excel one to the Windows 98 VM. Then I opened an MS-DOS window on the desktop and typed A:. Sure enough, the drive letter worked, and I could see the files on the floppy. Time to start the installation I had done many times "in real life", so to speak, by entering A:\SETUP.

...and it didn't work. Installing Excel on a fresh copy of Windows 98 SE was exactly what I had done at various times in the past. Now the Excel installation was failing immediately, claiming that it couldn't find ACMSETUP.EXE, but I could see its compressed form ACMSETUP.EX_ on the floppy, along with the DECOMP.EXE program required to expand it. Decompressing the file by hand and storing it on the C: drive merely led to the same complaint about MSSETUP.DLL on the next try and so on. I could find no useful information online. Numerous trials later, despair set in... had the whole (admittedly interesting) procedure been for nothing?

In desperation, I went back to the drawing board and went through the entire procedure to create a fresh VM from the instructions in the first video, leaving out all the patching and beautification done in the second. Bingo! - the Excel and Word installations worked perfectly. Something in that second video was doing it, most likely an item in the huge list of patches. And this indeed was the case, as I proved by running the Auto Update on this VM and starting the Excel installer once more afterwards. The exact same failure was back.


Installing Office 2000 Excel and Word Versions

I had an Office 2000 CD lying around, complete with product activation key. With somewhat newer versions of Excel and Word, it looked worthwhile to try installing it. An ISO image of the CD was duly made and copied to the host machine.

In the event, the installation proceeded absolutely normally according to the instructions on the screen and it was unaffected by the preceding operation of the Auto Patcher.

Must click "keep" when the installation asks if older versions of Word and Excel are to be preserved. The alternative is to go back nearly to square one!


A Full, Clean Installation in One Go

Watch the two videos in advance and make notes of all the ISO files that are going to be needed. While doing the procedures, I found it easiest to follow the videos on a separate laptop so as not to miss anything.

  1. Download ISO files and have them ready in a directory on the host system.
  2. Have all eighteen Excel and Word floppy images ready on the host system. Copy the first one of each installation to a backup and make the originals writable.
  3. Perform the actions in video 1 above. Do them in this order: 1, 2, 10, 3-9, 11-15. The rest are optional.
  4. Do the registry edit above to stop Display Doctor popping itself up all the time.
  5. Take a clone of the VM at this point in case of blunders in the rest of the installation.
  6. Create the file C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\SHARE.EXE with any content.
  7. Carry out the installation of Excel 5.0 and Word 6.0 as described above. Install every component, as after the Auto Patcher has been run, the installers will never work again.
  8. Perform the actions in video 2, omitting steps 7 and 9 as there is no sound card connected to the Beebox. Don't do anything else, even on the host system, while the Auto Patcher is working!
  9. Install Office 2000 Excel and Word components. This has to be done after Excel 5.0 and Word 6.0, as Microsoft won't allow older versions than existing ones to be installed.

With everything done, there's about 900MB space left on the 2GB virtual disk, plenty for the kind of files I will be working on.