Software From The 80s Running In Your Browser
Software From The 80s Running In Your Browser
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Monday, 28 October 2013

The Internet Archive now enables you to experience software the way it was over thirty years ago with its newly launched Historical Software Collection. Currently this has a couple of dozen titles which you can attempt to run in one of today's web browsers.

I say attempt to run since interacting with software from the 1980s is a forgotten skill. Just have at look at the user interface of WordStar which was the most popular, and easiest-to-use word processor in its day and was ported across many platforms.

The version that's available in the emulator is on the Osborne 1 - the 1980's idea of a portable computer which I do remember working with using the CP/M operating system. If you want to know why the sample text is all in caps, it's due to not being able to remember how to specify case change.




My attempts to use VisiCalc in the browser was even more labored as it isn't software I have ever used before. But again if you compare the amount of effort need to do a simple task using it and say LibreOffice Calc you'll appreciate the advances made over the past 35 years.



The initial programs in the collection have been chosen for their historical importance. Some are first of their kind - like Visicalc, others utilize features and approaches that have been copied or recreated on many programs since, which is why there are three variants of PacMan, and two chess playing programs.




The ones I was tempted to play were Lemonade Stand, dating from 1979 when it was bundled with the Apple 2  and Elite that was published in 1984 for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron and was one of the first to used wireframe 3D graphics.




Bringing 1980s software back to life is made possible thanks to JMESS, a Javascript port of the MESS (Multi Emulator Super System console emulator, a project that is a result of 15 years of open source collaboration among historical software fans. JMESS runs in Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer and relies heavily on the Emscripten compiler project.




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