An emulator for my old system today and tomorrow? Thoughts and guidelines about digital preservation by/of emulators

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Software emulators are wonderful tools to study old computer systems for different purpose from running legacy application to retrogaming. This Fosdem 2021 talk explores the context of digital preservation triggered by on-going work in a Belgian computer museum where emulators help in rediscovering old systems, maintaining/recovering knowledge on their design and sharing the experience with the audience without stressing fragile old machines.

Original story by Christophe Ponsard at Fosdem 2021. Published 2021-04-02, Originally published 2021-02-07.
This work is available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium license.

Video Copyright Christophe Ponsard / Fosdem 2021. License: Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium

This Fosdem 2021 talk aims at exploring and somehow engaging the audience about some simple questions from that perspective: where to look for emulators (MAME/MESS, specific development, javascript ports...) ? How to select one for some usage context ? And last but not least as emulators are themselves part of history: How to make sure/contribute to the sustainability of those nice piece of software on the long run ?

The talk will not provide definitive answers to the above questions but document some guidelines gathered so far from different perspectives: usage, architecture, exchange between emulated/physical word, open/closed approaches, community aspects... based on the speaker experience as user of emulators personally and at the NAM-IP computer museum but also as software engineer experienced in evaluting software maintainability, especially open source projects. It will be illustated on a practical case from the museum: the DAI "Imagination Machine" microcomputer. The ultimate long term goal could be to build a knowledge base shared across the community developping and using emulators.

Slides: FOSDEM21 retro emulation preservation V4.pdf

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