Running 16 bit apps in Windows 7 64 bit

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We got for my wife a much needed upgrade for her aging Toshiba laptop. The new one came with Windows 7  64 bit. I managed to get all her old software working with the exception of Oxford Superlex. This one is a dictionary from the Windows 3.11 ages. It worked fine in all windowses we had (98, 2000, XP) but having a 64 bit Windows killed it because the support for 16 bits apps is dropped in 64 bits versions of Vista and 7.

My wife likes this dictionary a lot, and as far as I can tell there are no upgrades available for it. One option would have been to have a copy of 32 bit XP or 2000 running as a virtual machine. Since the laptop only had windows 7 home installed it wasn’t elligible to run XP mode. A full blown virtual machine would also tax a lot the laptop.

Sollution: I grabbed a copy of Windows 3.11 I still had around, installed dosbox with freedos, set up windows 3.11 inside it. I gave some old graphic drivers a shot in order to get more than a 640×480 windows but gave up, it’s pretty usefull like this too. If someone knows how to get 3.11 inside dosbox to run at more than 640×480 please let me know.


I also set dosbox to launch win /s c:oxfordsuperlex.exe at start and created an icon for it. So, it’s possible to directly call the wanted 16 bit app, without having my wife to remember how to launch windows 3.11 from dos.

  • Lujan

    Hi!! I have just purchased a pc which comes with Windows 7 64 bits and I have the same problem… Have you discovered a new way to use it?
    By the way, I also wanted to ask you if it is possible to run the 2 Windows at the same time (one for the Superlex, and the other for everything else).
    Thanks a lot!

    • Like I said above – you can either run a full blown virtual machine and run xp or whatever 32 bit windows you like inside it – or for 16 bit windows apps like superlex use dosbox and run windows 3.11 or windows for workgroups inside it. BTW dosbox with win 3.11 is much lighter on resources than say Virtual Box with Windows XP inside. And startup times are much better.

  • Doare

    Thanks a lot! Finally managed to get my dictionary to work! 😀

  • caracu

    You’re post inspired me to give Dosbox, Win 3.11 and Oxford Superlex a try on a Mac OSX. I’ve managed to get it all to work, however, the mouse becomes “trapped” in the Dosbox so I can’t use it to run my other apps/ programs unless I exit Dosbox altogether. Any ideas? is it an impossibility? I’d love to be able to use it in conjunction with my Mac apps.

  • caracu

    Your post inspired me to give Dosbox, Win 3.11 and Oxford Superlex a try on a Mac OSX. I’ve managed to get it all to work, however, the mouse becomes “trapped” in the Dosbox so I can’t use it to run my other apps/ programs unless I exit Dosbox altogether. Any ideas? is it an impossibility? I’d love to be able to use it in conjunction with my Mac apps.

  • caracu

    Sorry, I was so excited I rushed into the question without researching… I just discovered Control-F10 will release the mouse. Awesome! now I can use my favorite dictionary once more.

  • Dan

    Great solution. I’m wondering if this might actually be a better way to run the SuperLex program, because I’ve noticed that under Windows XP or Vista if you use Ctrl-F to search for a word within an entry (to quickly find a specific phrase, for example) the SuperLex program usually crashes when you dismiss the search dialog. Perhaps it would function correctly the way you are running it?

    • It probably would because like this you run it under the original medium it was programmed to work under – not just some compatibility layer that was not updated or well tested for ages that everybody at microsoft can’t wait to be finally dropped.

  • valentas

    http://www.dosbox.com/ is the solution for me

    • You are correct. It’s the same sollution I present above 🙂

  • Jean Hare

    Very usefull post !
    I now have 3 icons in my seven x64, one for my two 16-bits dictionaries, and another for win311 only, which launch a suitable .BAT file in the win311 root directory.

    BTW, for the screen resolution as suggested on
    http://www.dosbox.com/comp_list.php?showID=3210
    a win311 driver can be downloaded on
    http://www.s3graphics.com/en/drivers/legacy_software_archive.aspx (with 17004 id).

    It should be installed under windows, and then activated with the “windows Intallation” utility. You will have to use -machine svga_s3 on command line or in DOSbox confg file. For me, it works up to 1024×768 with 64K colors

  • Georgia

    Very useful post! Unfortunately it’s all double Dutch to me. I’ve been trying for 3 days to get it done, but no success so far. The thing is that I simply hate Windows 7 and at the moment this is all I can have on the new laptop.
    Will you PLEASE give some step-by-step instructions for installing Superlex on win7? I imagine it might be boring for you, but at least you’ll feel good helping someone in need 🙂
    Thank you.

  • Same comment as Georgia. Is there anyone out there who could translate? Thank you

  • Aland8

    I was also bluffed, until I found this link which installs dosbox complete with windows 3.11  [removed] Just download and install and a windows 3.11 window appears already launched in Dosbox.  It is then possible to install Superlex in this window.  Tip: CTRL and F10 lets you move the mouse outside the Wnidows 3.11 box.

  • Sorry, I had to remove the link as I’m not 100% sure that distributing Windows 3.11 is legal. It might be old but I’m pretty sure Microsoft did not (though I think it should) release it as freeware.