Saturday, December 31, 2016

Retro computing resources

From time to time I like to search on the Internet stuff related to retro and vintage computing. This time my interest was (again) resolving around a wish to try Xenix. Namely, Xenix was a Unix variant written by Microsoft that could be run on IBM PC XT with 8086 microprocessor. While searching where to download Xenix, I stumbled on a WinWorld site which has many other vintage operating systems available for download. So, a lot of stuff to try. Later, I discovered that there is also software shipped as part of a MAME ROM package. You can browse it here.

Obviously, to try them it is necessary to have an emulator. Note that virtualization solutions like QEmu, VirtualBox, VMWare and similar don't fit here because they emulate modern hardware, or they only virtualize existing hardware. So, I tried to find emulator that emulates PC XT/AT, but also emulators that would allow me to run software for other platforms. After half day search, I decided to write this post with everything I found so far.

One site with some kind of a database of a different emulators is Zophar's Domain. It isn't particularly up to date, but nevertheless it lists a lot of emulators with different categorizations so I think it's very useful. Later, I found several other similar sites:
Zophar's site helped me to find emulator for IBM PC XT/AT, namely PCE. This particular emulator emulates a lot more hardware than just IBM's, and what's more interesting is that the author already prepared different configurations for you to download and try. Specifically, there is Xenix 2.13 to download and try. Just one note, these archives are for Windows machines, so if you are - like me - on Linux, download first PCE's source, compile it and then use it instead of provided EXE files. Anyway, I tried it and it worked flawlessly.

As it turns out, there are some other IBM PC XT/AT emulators:
  • The first one is 8086tiny. It claims to be the smallest emulator there is. But, I haven't had a lot of success in trying it.
  • In case you want something that runs within a Web browser, then you'll be interested in PCjs, i.e. JavaScript emulator. Source is available here. This one seems to be actively developed at the time this post was written.
  • The MAME emulator.

And this last one is interesting enough for me to devote few paragraphs to it. MAME is emulator that emulates multiple different machines. What was interesting to me is to try several ones:
In each case I had to find appropriate ROM files. In the end, the most useful site was Emuparadise. After downloading zip files, I unpacked them into a directory named after the machine as identified in MAME itself and then started the emulation like this:
mame -rp . orao
or in case of Amstrad
mame -rp . pc1512
In each case the option -rp specifies that the current directory should be searched for rome files, while the other argument is driver/machine to be emulated. Note that ROM files will be searched for in the directory named as driver/machine. It happened in some cases that not all ROM files were present, but I managed to find them in other archives on the same site.

For the end, here are some additional interesting links I stumbled on:

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scientist, consultant, security specialist, networking guy, system administrator, philosopher ;)

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