Many Mac users will already be familiar with Rosetta, the driver layer on Mactels which lets them run old, PowerPC versions of their software without having to recompile or reobtain new universal binaries.

However, I was doing some reading into more 'universal' processor translation software, and a browse of The Icon Bar led me to a reference of QEMU, "an open source processor emulator". It's still pretty much in beta status (the Windows version is still in alpha), but it already supports x86, ARM, SPARC, PowerPC and MIPS translation for both user AND system emulation as the Target PC (the one being emulated), and it can run on x86 (32- and 64-bit), PowerPC and ARM/S390/Alpha/Sparc32 (testing... Think VERY alpha), with more in development. All the info is on the project's status page.

However unfinished it might be in its current state, this software is very cool indeed! Imagine being able to run not only old games or software on your brand new machine, you could also run a whole different OS, natively, along with all the associated benefits of doing so... I can see that there was great wisdom in those people who hacked OSX into functionality on x86 boxes (and subsequently, Apple developing its Boot Camp software). To do all this, but over a variety of OSes and core CPU languages - effectively making your computer language-agnostic! - is what QEMU is trying to do. It's quite an achievement that they've gotten to where they already, and I fully applaud their efforts.

Anyway, this is the perfect piece of software for those who enjoy testing new apps and 'living on the edge' as such - a rough and ready program which isn't at all finished, might fall over on you and royally mess up your computer, but already shows great promise based on what it can do. Personally, I like a little danger in my computer (because it's all usually so boring and predictable!)

For more information, and to download, head over to the QEMU site (where you'll also find versions for Windows, OSX and OpenSolaris, along with emulation examples and disk images).

And, as a postscript, here's something I bet you never knew: the BBC once compiled a massive encyclopedic database of the United Kingdom, and a social record of life in the 1980s; it was entitled the BBC Domesday project. It was distributed on laserdisc, ran on a BBC Master system in a Philips SCSI (SCSI!) laserdisc player, and was extremely cumbersome. Nevertheless, the project holds a soft spot in many peoples' hearts (including mine), because it was a sign of just how clever people could be to make this whole thing come together, even with the limited technology available in the 1980s. Read more about it on The Icon Bar.

The BBC Master system evolved into the Archimedes Acorn platform, and their machines were gorgeous bits of kit. Acorn are now a PC OEM, with the same logo (and a rebranding), but it's just not the same. Acorn computers used to be ubiquitous throughout UK primary and secondary schools, but they set their price points too high and mismanaged their marketing strategy, and that, combined with the upsurge in DOS-based machines made them sink under the waves. I love Acorns, my first computer was an Acorn A3000, and they were incredibly ahead of their time components-wise (RISC chips, OS held on-chip but with user variables stored on hard drives in the more expensive models, and in the last RISC PCs Acorn built before being sold due to financial problems, you could even emulate an x86 processor and run Windows 95!)

The BBC Domesday is the perfect candidate project for native-mode emulation - to be able to resurrect the data and have it available for all to access, which is easy enough to do once you've extracted all of the raw data and recompiled it, but to see it - the drive, the software, everything - running in a BBC Master system emulation, functioning as it would have done natively - has long been a dream of mine. Hopefully one day I'll get that chance.


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