My house can be compared to a computer graveyard. Over the years I’ve owned a number of PC compatible machines. While I’ve stripped most of them for usable parts: RAM, hard drives and so on, I do have a couple of complete machines. I kept my first PC – a 486 SX – less for nostalgia and more for money. It cost me $2,500 back in the day. All of my other computers put together didn’t cost me that much. I can’t just let it go.
I have my first computer – a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III – set up in my office closet (yes, I’m a closet TRS-80 user). My second computer – a Color Computer 2 – is down in the basement on a shelf in its original box. I also have two old laptops. I kept my laptop running Windows 95 because it is the only machine that will run certain apps. And I have my TRS-80 Model 100 on a prominent place on my bookshelf along with my TRS-80 related books. They’re all about the same size; it appeals to my technical feng shui.
All of these machines could probably be emulated by my current home computer. I have a number of virtual machines I use for work development. Supposedly, you can load up other operating systems besides Windows: Linux and even DOS. Virtual TRS-80’s are available on the Internet in many flavors from the original Model I through the early Tandy machines that I sold when I worked at Radio Shack.
I can understand the appeal and – eventually when the hardware finally dies – I might go that route. However, emulation only goes so far. I can run the programs; I can see a (similar) interface on the screen. But it lacks the true input and output and what made the machines themselves important or intriguing. My TRS-80, for example, had its own key for the [@] symbol (ironically, this was before e-mail addresses had “@” in them). While they may be able to run programs, they wouldn’t be able to run them off the original floppy disks or the cassettes that I have. There is no cartridge interface available for the emulated Color Computer.
Ultimately I feel there is still room for growth when the original hardware still exists. A quarter century on, there is new and exciting hardware being developed for the TRS-80 Model 100. Without the special characteristics, the quirkiness and – yes – the limitations of the hardware, there would be no need for this kind of creativity. Emulation is – at best – static.