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Operating Systems Virtualization Windows

Ask Slashdot: Best 32-Bit Windows System In 2012? 313

First time accepted submitter justthinkit writes "I have a number of applications that will not run on 64-bit Windows, but I would like to gain the benefits (most better caching) of having more than 4GB of RAM. Am I stuck with these Windows operating systems? And why is Windows Server 2008 Datacenter and Enterprise not included on that page? Should I go with a Linux or Win 7/8 system, and run a VM of Windows XP? Is this a solved problem or a lost cause?"
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Ask Slashdot: Best 32-Bit Windows System In 2012?

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  • by pak9rabid ( 1011935 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @11:31AM (#41967797)
    What's wrong with running Windows 7 x64, and running your 32-bit applications in compatibility mode?
    • by mastershake82 ( 948396 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @11:34AM (#41967869)
      Generally, if they have applications that will not run on 64-bit Windows, it is because the applications are 16-bit, not 32-bit.
      • by Spad ( 470073 ) <slashdot@spad.[ ]uk ['co.' in gap]> on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @11:41AM (#41967961) Homepage

        Or they have shoddy legacy code that checks for 64-bit systems and refuses to run on them in the same way that a lot of older websites still keep insisting that you upgrade to IE6 in order to view them in their full glory because someone did a != instead of a =

      • by adonoman ( 624929 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @11:47AM (#41968057)
        XP mode on 64-bit Windows 7 can run most 16-bit apps.
        • No, it can't. I don't think you realize how archaic 16-bit mode is. 16-bit mode was for running on *286* Windows. If you had a 386 you ran in 32 bits.

          • by tgd ( 2822 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @11:57AM (#41968203)

            No, it can't. I don't think you realize how archaic 16-bit mode is. 16-bit mode was for running on *286* Windows. If you had a 386 you ran in 32 bits.

            No, he's correct. You're talking about WoW32, he's talking about XP Mode. XP Mode is "Windows Virtual PC" and runs XP. 16 bit apps run fine in there.

            They won't run in WoW, because the 16 bit support is a different subsystem in Windows, its not part of Win32.

          • 16 Bit is for Windows 3.1x and earlier in this case. We didn't have a 32 bit Windows OS until Windows 95/NT. The 386 may have been a 32bit chip in 85 but we didn't have 32 bit windows until 10 years later. I'm sure there is some technical reason for not keeping the number in sync with the chip, or maybe fools where in charge then and were upgrading their feet on upgrading. However, a 16bit windows application is for 3.1x which were the target market for many 386 and 486 processors.
            • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

              No, Windows 3.x could also run 32-bit apps. Windows 95 just replaced some of the 16-bit layer with 32-bit code, for example display drivers were still 16-bit.

              NT was the first fully 32-bit Windows, and the biggest issue with Windows 95 programs is that many of them were 32-bit but used 16-bit installers; you can run them on 64-bit Windows 7, but you can't install them.

              • by afidel ( 530433 )

                No, 3.x could not run 32bit Windows apps out of the box, after NT 3 shipped they did later backport a subset of the Win32 API to 3.x, this was called Win32s and it was a separate download.

            • by guruevi ( 827432 )

              There was no 32-bit Windows until NT and no consumer Windows was fully 32-bit until XP. Windows 95 introduced (some) 32-bit drivers and an interface that would allow you to run (some) 32-bit applications (a lot like DOS4GW did way better back then) but the underlying system was still MS-DOS.

              The reason 8-bit and 16-bit (pure DOS and early Windows) applications are nigh impossible to run on 64-bit systems is because they request a switch to real mode from the CPU which means direct access to the full memory s

              • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

                16-bit apps can run in protected mode as well as real mode, but there's no segmentation support in long mode, so 16-bit code can't run there.

            • Parts of the Windows 3.1 infrastructure may have been 16-bit, but it ran 32-bit apps. To find a version of Windows that did not support 32-bit apps, you have to go back to 286-mode Windows, as I said.

        • I'm a bit surprised everyone is looking for a software solution when a simple hardware solution would probably meet the needs posed by this question. Specifically they were looking for the benefits of caching for disk access. Simply provide a server with higher capacity SSD's. In essence, you get the perks of having data 'cached' in memory without having to beat yourself up looking to cram a square peg in a round hole.

          That will at least buy you some time to beat some sense into whoever is keeping this legac

          • That will at least buy you some time to beat some sense into whoever is keeping this legacy software around that it's well beyond time to get it upgraded to something more current than a few decades old.

            Sometimes legacy software has no still-maintained close substitute, and some sort of virtual machine is the answer. True, the OP probably isn't asking about games, but I'll still give an example of a 16-bit app that hasn't been upgraded: Is New Super Mario Bros. Wii for Wii an adequate substitute for an old 16-bit app like Super Mario World for Super NES?

      • WinXP Mode in Win 7 X64 is simply an XP 32 bit VM, so it would basically solve his problem right there, end of story.

        That said there are ways to actually use more than 4Gb in 32bit windows,there is using PAE in the server versions or my personal favorite RAM Discs. Simply have a RAM disc set to run at startup and use it for the OS and programs temp files and it'll give that 32bit Windows a serious kick in the pants.

        But when all is said and done it sounds like this guy just didn't do his homework, XP Mode

        • by fnj ( 64210 )

          Hardly any of the respondents did their homework either. They were all blabbing about you couldn't do it without a whole lot of trouble.

      • Generally, if they have applications that will not run on 64-bit Windows, it is because the applications are 16-bit, not 32-bit.

        Which would probably make Dosbox [] the simplest solution.

    • Compatibility mode doesn't work if the program uses 16bit Legacy Code. Yea, I know, it should have been eliminated back about 15 years ago, but my employer has to run data though a clients "checker" and it will not install on Any 64bit windows for that very issue. If that is what the problem is then the program in question must be updated, or you are married to a 32bit Windows OS.
    • I've scrolled down the page, and read a lot of good answers. With a little consideration, I have to agree with those who suggest, "It's time to upgrade your software!" As has already been pointed out, 16 bit software was on it's way out when the 386 processor came of the manufacturing lines. 16 bit software was carried by sneakernet on floppy drives - both 5 and 3 inch. 16 bit software predates Windows 3.1. Dump that shit, and pay some zit-faced intern to code something to do what you need. The intern

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @12:36PM (#41968761)

        For all you know he's got a 15 year old piece of industrial kit that needs 15 year old software to interface with it. Assembly line equipment maybe, oil drilling gear, CNC stuff, who the hell knows. A lot of this stuff is unsupported or the original vendor has vanished. Maybe this hardware still has years of life left in it, and the replacement value could be in the millions.

      • by guruevi ( 827432 )

        If you were married to consumer-grade Windows you had 16-bit apps until Windows XP came out, 32-bit was actually extra work and it would also run on the 16-bit subsystems in Windows NT without a hitch while compatibility between 32-bit on Windows 95-ME with NT/2000 was not guaranteed.

        If on the other hand you would have developed with OS/2, various Unices, Solaris, VAX, BeOS or Linux in mind you would've gone 32-bit almost 3 decades ago.

      • Oftentimes, in industrial settings, a certain instrument has certain certifications. In order to make products that comply with various laws (like medical or automotive components), the materials have to meet certain standards. Legally, they only meed those standards if you can demonstrate that you are making measurements with certified instruments. Frequently it is the case that the instruments are only supported by a proprietary codebase, and the manufacturers do not have a functional app that runs on

        • You make some pretty good points there - but - I do have machinery and equipment at work such as you describe. Now, putting myself into the OP's shoes, if I were to come to slashdot, I would spell out what type of machinery I was running, and what was required to make that machinery run. Some of our machinery is over thirty years old, quite a lot of it over twenty. Most of our stuff runs on Linux. Machinery that is older than Linux is slowly being phased out - the last of it should be gone in another th

    • by jps25 ( 1286898 )

      Compatibility mode doesn't always work. For example Kathrein's DVR manager requires a driver that does not run on 64bit.
      Thankfully it works in a VM with 32bit XP.

    • compatibility mode is for different windows versions rather than architecture. I have a problem with a 32 bit app, i am sure it's not a 16 bit one and doesn't work on win 7 x64, but works fine on x32.

    • Because it doesn't work with his applications, for example.

      Major applications, like older versions of MATLAB, won't run on anything after XP, even in compatibility mode.

      (And this MATLAB code we licensed won't run on anything but the older versions of MATLAB.)

  • Depends on the 3D (Score:5, Informative)

    by Krneki ( 1192201 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @11:32AM (#41967823)
    Do you need 3D accelerated graphics? If not, VM is the way to go. Just RDP to the machine and do what you have to do.
    • by bmo ( 77928 )

      >Do you need 3D accelerated graphics? If not, VM is the way to go.

      After ignoring the Windows 3D driver for VirtualBox, I installed it and ran Neverball, a 3D table-tilt ball game.

      It worked fine.


  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @11:36AM (#41967893)

    >> I have a number of applications that will not run on 64-bit Windows, but I would like...more than 4GB of RAM

    Do you realize that many of your 32-bit applications would freak out in a 4GB memory space?

    • Each process is limited to 2gb but you can run multiple processes.
    • by Minwee ( 522556 )

      >> I have a number of applications that will not run on 64-bit Windows, but I would like...more than 4GB of RAM

      Do you realize that many of your 32-bit applications would freak out in a 4GB memory space?

      " gain the benefits (most better caching) of having...". That's the part you cut out, and it clearly points out one example of how the operating system can benefit from having more physical memory without having to assign it all to a single process. That's the way that virtual memory works -- The OS can have a huge pool of memory while each process only sees a small portion of it.

    • Do you realize that many of your 32-bit applications would freak out in a 4GB memory space?

      Precisely how? A 32-bit app, architecturally, is designed to access up to 4Gig of addressable Memory. This is the reason for 32 bits. If the application in question is "freaking out" then it's either not a true 32-bit application, or it's been written with heavy use of kludge.

      • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

        Some Windows apps do stupid things and crash when they see a 'negative' memory address (i.e. > 2GB). But they're pretty rare these days since so many people run 32-bit apps on 64-bit Windows.

  • I've gotten some cranky Win32 apps to work on Win7 64 by getting the 32-bit dll files in the C:\Windows\SysWOW64 folder instead of C:\Windows\System32.

    The naming conventions don't make any damn sense; they should have kept System32 for 32-bit files and created System64 for 64-bit files. But that's just me.

    • I remember reading somewhere that System32 is called that for another reason (it isn't anything to do with the shift to 32bit windows back in the mid-90's). I can't for the life of me remember what that reason was, though. Nor can I remember where I read it.

      It's entirely possible I just made that up, but if anyone knows what I'm talking about, I'd love to be reminded.

      • Actually I think I've found a reasonable source that explains it: []

        So originally it was for 32bit DLLS, then Windows 95 went and ruined it anyway by putting 16 and 32bit stuff together (gj, microsoft). However these days the reason they do it is for .bat scripts that were hard coded to use System32 to do things like update the registry - the .bat would be running as a 64bit process but the hardcoded path to System32 would mean it would attempt to run a

  • We have some crappy in-house database software that will only run properly if the graphics depth is set to 16bit. Without that change the window rendering gets all messed up. I never ever would have guessed that's what the problem was.
  • by concealment ( 2447304 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @11:40AM (#41967951) Homepage Journal

    Think about this critically: you probably want your operating system to be the master of its new hardware, and then you want it to interpret the needs of your older software.

    If compatibility mode won't do it, set yourself up a VM and run everything in there. You can share a drive with the host OS and thus be nearly transparent.

    It doesn't make sense to me to hobble the OS in order to run older software, when the newer OS is better with the newer hardware.

  • 1. Yes
    2. Dunno
    3. Yes
    4. Yes
    5.... errm yes?

  • I would try running it under Linux with Wine. Windows may not be necessary if it's just for a couple of applications.

    • Indeed. I've found that some old applications (especially games from around 1999), tend to work on wine, while they fail to run on Windows > XP.

      They may be few, but it's worth a try.

  • It's implied that they have userland software that for some reason won't work in 64 bit windows. The asker then goes on to suggest using 6 different OS's as well, as if their finicky software has no problem with linux or windows from XP to 8. Is the real question about PAE? I feel like we are missing something here.

    • I suspect their problem is that they have 16 bit Windows code to run. 64 bit Windows can't run 16 bit code.

      16 bit Windows code will work in 32 bit Windows (any version) or a 32 bit Windows running in a virtual machine on a 64 bit OS.

      (Myself, I keep an old Win98 laptop around to run Quicken 6 on. Why? It's the only thing that can sync with the version of Pocket Quicken I have decades of checkbook data in. And it's 16 bit Windows 3.1 code.)

      • The latest version of Pocket Quicken (2.5) can apparently sync with Quicken 2010. Of course both OSes Pocket Quicken supported are just as obsolete as Windows 98 at this point!
        • I think Pocket Quicken's version has reset to 1 several times, each time PQ changed developers, it seems.

          Mine is, obviously, very old. However, it still works well, which is the reason I use it. (I don't use desktop Quicken, really; I just synch to it to back up my PQ data.)

          And desktop Quicken never seems to support a given Pocket Quicken very long. (The Pocket Quicken I have was sold for longer than a desktop Quicken that synchs with it. Gah.)

  • by ilsaloving ( 1534307 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @11:51AM (#41968123)

    First and foremost, all consumer 32-bit windows versions are licensed to top out at 4GB. If you want more than 4GB, you will have to buy a (reassuringly expensive) server edition that permits it. Done. End of story.

    The only other alternative is to get a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Pro. The Professional (and up) versions of Windows include something called compatibility mode, which is a free copy of Windows XP 32-bit, running inside a virtual machine. That's probably going to be your most cost-effective way of running your legacy apps on top of a 64-bit machine with oodles of RAM.

    • I forgot to mention... if you go the virtual machine route, then there's no functional difference between what I stated, or using a Linux machine or a Mac and running VM software on top of that instead. There is a difference in cost, however, because you'll need to get VM software which may or may not be free, and you'll need to purchase a retail copy of Windows XP.

  • Not sure if this is of any use but the Windows 7 32bit Kernel can be hacked to properly support PAE and allow 64GB accessible memory under W7 32bit. W7 32bit was supposed include full PAE support but was nurfed at the last moment due to third party device drivers getting confused over the > 4GB memory space (I never had this issue).

    A couple caveats come to mind:

    # You have to patch the 32bit Kernel. Linky: []
    # Although you have access to >4GB of memory, no single process can u

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @12:11PM (#41968411)

    Seriously, it is real, real hard for me to find programs that don't run on 64-bit Windows these days. Windows has a flawless 32-bit user mode compatibility layer, so all 32-bit apps run no problem. The only cases that you have problems are:

    1) Kernel mode stuff. There is no 32-bit kernel mode shit on 64-bit.

    2) 16-bit programs. 64-bit Windows does have the 16-bit compatibility layer since there's no 16-bit mode you can access form long mode on the CPU.

    3) Stupid programs that check the version and fail out, even though they'd actually run.

    There just aren't many of those anymore. We use some amazingly fussy engineering programs at work, and they all run on 64-bit Windows these days.

    So if your software really won't work, look and see if there's an update, or something else that'll do the job. If you just haven't tried it, then try it. Get a copy of 7 64-bit and see. I bet you have no problems. If you really have old 16-bit programs you need to run, do it in a VM, they can't benefit from modern system resources anyhow.

  • There's a commercial product, I can't remember the name, that allows you to run Windows XP on a machine with >4GB of memory. Processes still have their usual memory limit, but the extra memory is used for disk cache and page space cache. Your processes will essentially be paging to RAM disk, which seems silly, it but works.
    • DESQview!

      Oh, wait.

    • Here's what I was thinking of: []
      It was originally designed to give WinXP readyboost like capabilities. The latest version allows you to cache to what would be unused memory when running XP on a large machine. I don't know if it's any better than runnning an XP image on a giant Linux machine.
    • Your processes will essentially be paging to RAM disk, which seems silly, it but works.

      That's exactly how RAM Doubler worked in the mid- to late 1990s. It reserved some of a machine's RAM for a RAM disk containing a compressed swap file.

  • Because 2008 and 2008 R2 are only available in 64-bit flavours, they do not need to support Physical Address Extension (PAE), which by definition is a way of allowing a 32-bit OS to address more than 4GB RAM.
  • by TrekkieTechie ( 1265532 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @12:46PM (#41968945)

    This was briefly mentioned earlier, but I wanted to state clearly and concisely:

    Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate all include licensing for Windows XP Mode [], a 32-bit virtualized instance of Windows XP SP3. It is an additional download [] (actually a couple downloads), but it is free. I use it every day at work (on my 64-bit Win7 machine) to run a 16-bit app that was written in 1992, while I wait for that app's replacement to be written. It works perfectly, in fact much better than VirtualBox did for the same use case (there was laggy/odd redrawing issues with VirtualBox, no matter how many resources I allocated to the virtual machine).

    • by fnj ( 64210 )

      ^ THIS! ^

      Ignore all the bullshit in the vast bulk of ignorant and wrong posts. This is an obvious and good solution.

  • >VM of Windows XP?

    No, not a VM of XP.

    A VM of Windows FLP. It's like one of those pirated and trimmed back XPs, but official and not botnet ridden.

    It boots in 8 seconds on this user's machine, so fast that in order to install the 3D drivers in VirtualBox, you must hand-edit boot.ini to put it in safe mode, since spamming the F8 key doesn't work.

    It's. Fast.

    And to every other program, like Photoshop and whatnot, it identifies itself as XP. I dare say that anyone pining away for the days of W2k, this is t

  • "I have a number of applications that will not run on 64-bit Windows" ...

    There is *NO* difference between 32-bit environment applications see on 64-bit windows vs 32-bit windows.

    You either have driver issues, compatibility mode issues or ancient 16-bit apps that only run under a 16-bit wow. Some older installers for 32-bit apps used a 16-bit setup.

  • ... then the community could give a better tailored solution for your needs. :-)

    i.e. Why do you need more then 4 GB? Does one app need more then 4 GB?
    Why not just run multiple VMs ?
    Are your apps closed source?
    Do you need DirectX / OpenGL support?

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.