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Preserving Software: Emulators

It's been a while since I wrote a post here, and even longer since I wrote about preserving software. But there's two more topics I have on my list to write about the event I attended last May. This is one of them.

One problem for preserving software is that the original hardware that the software did run on might not survive very long. Some people are still keeping some old machines like C64, Apple ][ and others running, but at some point there won't be many left as the original ones wear out or get damaged, and other hardware might not be usable at any more already at this point. And for sure, those machines are not available broadly to the public. Ideally, we'd have the hardware and recreate the full experience, e.g. how you connected the machine to your own TV in the living room and played or worked with it there - but that is pretty unlikely or at least hard to do, esp. with the hardware being less and less available, as I mentioned.

But there's one way to bring at least part of the experience to users: We can emulate the old machines and let the preserved software run within that emulator. That doesn't give us the living-room-TV experience, but there's a better chance in both preserving that way of running the old pieces of software for a long time and making the experience broadly available. Now, it's not always easy to get emulators running well, but there are a number of projects out there, and we heard about a few interesting solutions in the preserving software event at the LoC, but one was particularly appealing to us as Mozillians.



I blogged about The Internet Archive (archive.org) and Jason Scott already some time ago, and he was it that mentioned this very appealing kind of emulator called JSMESS. What hides behind that name is the multi-platform MESS emulator, cross-compiled into JavaScript via EmScripten, a project that should be well-known here at Mozilla. :)



Since the event in May, a lot of work has been flowing into JSMESS, and as Jason has blogged about, there are a thousand cartriges available now in the Historical Software Collection of The Internet Archive, and performance is pretty decent within the browser now.

With that, a whole lot of old software is available for everyone, at any time, to try and experience within their own browser!

That's a powerful way to preserve software for the current world and upcoming generations, isn't it?

Entry written by KaiRo and posted on February 27th, 2014 02:40 | Tags: history, Mozilla, preservation, software | no comments | TrackBack

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