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Microcomputer Software Lives Again, This Time in Your Browser

The miracle is now so commonplace that it’s invisible: we have the ability to watch video, listen to music, and read documents right in our browsers. You might get a hankering to hear some old time radio, or classic television programs, or maybe read up some classic children’s books, you’re just a couple clicks away from having them right there, in front of you. Not so with classic software. To learn and experience older programs, you have to track down the hardware and media to run it, or download and install emulators and acquire/install cartridge or floppy images as you boot up the separate emulator program, outside of the browser. Unlike films or video or audio, it was a slower, more involved process to experience software.

Until now.

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JSMESS is a Javascript port of the MESS emulator, a mature and breathtakingly flexible computer and console emulator that has been in development for over a decade and a half by hundreds of volunteers. The MESS emulator runs in a large variety of platforms, but is now able to run embedded in most modern browsers, including Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer.

Today, the Internet Archive announces the Historical Software Archive, a collection of prominent and historically notable pieces of software, able to be run immediately in your browser.  They range from pioneering applications to obscure forgotten utilities, and from peak-of-perfection designs to industry-crashing classics.

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Turning computer history into a one-click experience bridges the gap between understanding these older programs and making them available in a universal fashion. Acquisition, for a library, is not enough – accessibility is where knowledge and lives change for the better. The JSMESS interface lets users get to the software in the quickest way possible.

We asked a number of people to look at the Historical Software section, and here were their comments:

“Bringing microcomputer software back from floppy drives and cassette tapes is an important task not just for nostalgia but so we can learn from the good work of tens of thousands of people in our not-so-distant past.   The Internet Archive’s first steps towards bringing it up in a web browser is very encouraging and we at DigiBarn look forward to working with the Archive to bring the best of that era back again.”

– Dr. Bruce Damer, Curator, DigiBarn Computer Museum

“We have come a long way in digital and software preservation – far enough along that problems of discovery and access are looming on the horizon.  It’s comforting to know that the Internet Archive is developing solutions for these problems, so that people can use the software we save.”

– Henry Lowood, Curator for History of Science & Technology Collections, Stanford University Libraries

The Internet Archive has given us a remarkable opportunity to make the past present once again through its in-browser emulation. Now enthusiasts, students, scholars, historians from all corners of the globe can quickly and easily access software that would normally require fairly sophisticated technological expertise. I expect we will soon recognize this as a crucial development in digital preservation and access.”

– Lori Emerson, Media Archaeology Lab at the University of Colorado

“Emulation in a browser means embedding digital history in the everyday experience of surfing the Web. Not as screenshots or scans, but as living history, dynamic and interactive, inviting and even seductive. I look forward to weird wormholes and portals into our past appearing everywhere.”

– Matt Kirschenbaum, Associate Director, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH)

“The team at the Internet Archive have managed not just to preserve some of the most memorable bits and bytes of the last 3 decades of personal computing, they have given us all a way to execute them in a browser.  The past is now  playable at a stable URL.”

– Doug Reside, Digital Curator for the Performing Arts, NYPL
“The Internet Archive is one of the most interesting and important new repositories for historians, curators and anyone interested in the preservation of recent culture.  The emulator is an exceptional new tool that will make possible all kinds of investigations that heretofore were limited to specialists.  It is a wonderful achievement.”
– Deborah Douglas, Director of Collections, MIT Museum

Many, many individuals have contributed to the JSMESS project. The project makes extensive use of the Emscripten compiler project, headed by Alon Zakai at Mozilla.org. JSMESS is a non-affiliated port of the MESS emulator. MESS is the result of years of effort by hundreds of contributors, a number of them anonymous, who have continued to work daily to provide the most accurate emulation of historical machinery. JSMESS and MESS are not affiliated projects. The JSMESS team includes Justin de Vesine, John Vilk, Andre D, Justin Kerk, Vitorio Miliano, and Jason Scott; countless others have contributed documentation, testing and feedback about the functioning of the project. Integration with the Internet Archive’s internals are the result of efforts by Alex Buie, Hank Bromley, Samuel Stoller and Tracey Jaquith. 

Originally posted on The Internet Archive Blog by Jason Scott.
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Written by internetarchive

October 25, 2013 at 9:48 am

Posted in News

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