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Impersonator, a different kind of virtualization

By Mark Gibbs
June 29, 2011 03:44 PM ET

Network World - One thing we all have is lots of old software, and we always need to worry about how we will run that one crucial application next year, the year after, or a decade down the road. Will the hardware be available? Will the drivers and libraries required still be available?

My recent quest to run up an old computer game -- "Star Wars Episode I: Racer," published in the 1990s -- has been a good example of this problem, though, admittedly, rather more fun than dealing with some moldy accounting app. Even so, the same principles and complexities are involved.

A VISUAL HISTORY: 'Star Wars' video games

The game in question, "Racer," is one of the few games I have ever really liked, but it is fussy: It will only run under Windows 98 and requires DirectX 6.1 and 3D video acceleration.

I started my quest to raise the digital dead a few weeks ago by trying to get "Racer" running in a virtual machine under VMware Fusion on my iMac, but, alas, with no luck. While Fusion is pretty amazing in the range of operating systems it supports, it turns out Windows 98 with DirectX 6.1 and 3D acceleration is not a supported or supportable combination.

A few weeks later I tried Oracle's VirtualBox and, again, despite the awesomeness of this virtualization product, it too was not up to the task of running an obsolete, nay, antiquated, operating system with such specific requirements.

I had pretty much given up hope of ever being able to duke it out as Anakin Skywalker in a pod race with that swine, Selbulba, unless I set up a machine specifically for the purpose (which seemed like far too much effort) when I stumbled across CodeWeavers' CrossOver Impersonator.

Impersonator is a commercialized version of Wine, a free open source Windows emulator. Wine (which stands for "Wine Is Not an Emulator"), is, as the Wine folks like to point out, "not that kind of emulator."

By "not that kind" they mean that it's not trying to emulate an entire PC architecture. but rather, presents a system interface for applications that looks like the system interface for Windows.

Now some people assume virtual machines a la VMware are just better for a variety of reasons, and one that is often cited is performance.

The fact is that full virtual machines often aren't faster for the simple reasons that there's a lot of code between, say, a disk input or output request or a screen update, and the code that requests it. This is because the virtual machine has to encompass an entire operating system as well as emulations of video, keyboard and disk drivers and going through all of that code eats up processing cycles.

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Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2012 Network World, Inc. All rights reserved.
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