How to view CD designed for IE 5.0
November 18, 2021 12:44 PM   Subscribe

This thing was created 20 years ago & I'd like to be able to view/use it.

I came across a CD published in 2001 that allows the user to view and compare 11 editions of a book published in the late 18th/early 19th century. The readme file says that Internet Explorer 5.0 is required and that it won't work on Netscape Navigator. Yeah, that long ago.

I can use Edge user agent settings on my mac to open the startup file and then click on that to open the main interface. The problem is that I can't go beyond there. Nothing I click does anything. I assume this means it wants to use some language or scripting or whatever that modern browsers don't use.

Wondering if there's anything I could do to get this to work on my mac. Is there an emulator out there? Or could I edit the files in some way to make it work?

This is a valuable work that took the creators a LOT of work to make and, while it was obviously not a great idea for them to hitch their wagon to a technology that went by the wayside, it would be nice if I could figure out a way to be able to use it.
posted by slkinsey to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you mount the CD on your Mac and actually read the filesystem (the nested folders and files)?

Chrome should at least show you the contents of some HTML files. But if it was written to use some Windows program, then you're probably SOL.

If nothing else, you might see if Jason Scott's crazy MAME project can run it.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:55 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

You can get Windows virtual machines for free for testing sites in old browsers, but it only goes back as far as Windows 7 with IE8. Might be worth trying anyway?
posted by cgg at 1:08 PM on November 18 [5 favorites]

This probably uses some sort of ActiveX component to do the interesting bit. (If there's an object or an embed tag or something like that in the source code, that'd be a dead giveaway.) Running it in newer IEs may be theoretically possible but it may not work right as things changed over the years (especially regarding security settings and stuff). ActiveX was a way to run native code in your browser, so anything recent may treat it like the terribly bad idea that is and won't let it do a whole lot without some significant jumping through hoops. (Plus, the actual control in use would be targetted to whatever the contemporary version of Windows was back in the day.) Your best bet may be to run it in a virtual machine, using a period-correct version of Windows - that'd be probably Windows 98, Windows 2000 Professional or Windows XP.

There are pre-built virtual machine images available out there for some of these. The legality of linking to them here is a question - these largely fall into the realm of abandonware (Windows XP is long out of support and 2K/98 is even further out) but they're still commercial software. But, if you do find one, they can usually be run in either Parallels or VirtualBox on a Mac; sometimes with a little finagling, sometimes with a lot of finagling. (Or, you can try sourcing a machine to run Windows 98 on, for instance, but be advised that retro computers like that are pretty far from cheap these days.) If you go this route, you can usually map the CD drive or just an image of the CD itself to the virtual machine and get to it from there. You should be very careful to not hook that into your network, though, unless you're very sure you know what you're doing with it.

This may be a long shot but you can still use IE 11 in Windows 10 too, and that's a pretty easy thing to install via Parallels or VirtualBox. You get 30 (or 90? something like that) days to use it before you activate it, so if you just want to see what the thing was or grab some screen captures of it in action, that may be good enough. I haven't used VirtualBox on a Mac in a while but I know Parallels has basically a one-click Windows 10 install image - you tell it you want a windows 10 system, it installs, and you get a desktop some time later. (Make sure you do Windows 10 though, not 11, since the new Windows 11 that just came out does not have IE in it in a way you can get to it.) This may work, but you may still have to jump through hoops and allow things and adjust security settings to make it work.

One thing to note: if you've got one of the new fancy Macs with an Apple M1 chip in it, then you will need an actual emulator; neither VirtualBox nor Parallels will do any of what I've mentioned here. Not sure what the options are in that case. There are emulators that'd work - qemu comes to mind - but I don't know of any that are relatively easy to use/polished like Parallels and (to a lesser extent) VirtualBox are.
posted by mrg at 1:52 PM on November 18 [12 favorites]

You could search around and find an install .iso of an old windows version and then install that into a VirtualBox VM. I don't really know which Windows came with each browser. You could also probably find the browser itself out there and probably run it under WINE. Like wenestvedt said, it depends on if there's some special Windows application stuff.

I'd also just mount the CD and look through the files on it and try to make some sense. It might just be one giant app and blob of data that just needs old Explorer to start it up. It might also just be some HTML like app in front of 11 directories of data each with a different version of the book. So you might be able to do it the hard way.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:56 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

Concur with @mrg: it probably used some ActiveX Object on the page and that's why it's IE only.

You may be able to extract the content and view it directly, but you need to browse the CD directly, and then only if you can find the directory of the books and what format they're in.

Else, run a virtual machine loaded with... Windows XP.
posted by kschang at 12:19 AM on November 19

I think XP required registration / activation, and something about 30-day trials. Windows 98 SE was still supported then, it came with IE 5.0, and I'd reach for it first, as a virtual machine. WinWorld has the Win 98 downloads, and here's a walkthrough for installing it in Virtualbox which looks decent if unwieldy at a glance.

I think you could have that virtual Windows see the CD drive, but I'd copy it to an image / ISO file, which the Disk Utility app can do. Then the unwieldy walkthrough has directions to "mount the Windows 98 CD or ISO image", which you could use to get the virtual Windows to see the copy of the CD.
posted by Pronoiac at 1:34 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

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