A virtual machine (VM) is a software implementation of a machine (computer) that executes programs like a real machine. a program that creates an environment that mimics that of another machine. Virtual machines usually need to have an Operating System installed within them.
With a virtualizer you create a virtual machine that you can run your old program in, from within the host machine. There are a number of free virtualizers.
DOSBox should still be your first solution for DOS and Win 3x games. For Win 9x games, try to run them natively in Windows with "Compatibility Mode" and in some cases various patches, etc. For some games, a virtualizer may be your only answer. Though I view it as a solution of last resort, it is a utility that belongs in every classic gamer's tool kit.
Final notes: There are other uses for VPC. I have successfully used VPC to install games that will not install in XP, but will run in XP. Install it in VPC, transfer the files to the host machine and find any registry entries, "Start Menu" items that need to be made or system files copied, etc. You can also use it to try things that think might be risky before you install it on your real OS. You can easily keep a backup copy of any virtual machine.
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