(c) 2008 by Darek Mihocka, founder, Emulators.com.
February 29 2008
Happy Leap Day, that rare day we celebrate once every four years, and thankfully not yet a gift-giving or card-giving holiday. Interesting things happen to me on February 29th. Back in 1984, then Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau took his famous "walk in the snow" after which he announced he was stepping down. That same day during that same blizzard which covered Ontario and crippled rush traffic across Toronto, I was avoiding the busses and instead walking home from school (yes, in two feet of snow, no, not barefoot). As it happened I walked by an exhibit of the then "new" Apple Macintosh, seeing and touching that machine for the first time that day. A year before the world was to see the Atari ST or the Commodore Amiga, I was blown away by the Mac's sharp monochrome graphics, one-button mouse, and 128 kilobytes of RAM. Primitive today, sure, but it was a leap of technology not unlike an iPhone is today.
Eight years later on Leap Day 1992, a month before I was to demo the emulator people said would be impossible to write at a Toronto Atari Federation user group meeting, my early Gemulator finally sprang to life and rendered for the first time an emulated Atari ST GEM desktop on my Intel 486 based PC. I had been grunting away at some day job at Microsoft at the time, but at night in my spare time I was piecing together of what would later become SoftMac and the current Gemulator 2008, as well as learning the optimization tricks of microprocessors that most software developers are too ignorant to bother with. I'll touch back on 1992 shortly.
Eight years again later in 2000 and devoting my full time to those projects, I celebrated Leap Day in Germany by wrapping up my exhibit of the freshly released "SoftMac 2000" Macintosh emulator at the Hannover CeBIT computer fair. This was the first of a series of overseas computer shows I booked that year to promote my vision of running any software on any computer using emulation, and which eventually got the product noticed and distributed as far away as Japan. That same day, Tuesday Feb 29th 2000, one of the greatest rock bands of all time AC/DC released a pretty decent studio album. After exactly an eight year break, rumor has it (via the Buzzsaw channel on Sirius radio) that they go back into the studio tomorrow! See, very interesting things do happen on Leap Day.
And so we come now to be at Leap Day 2008 and many interesting things are happening again. In February decided to split from rainy cold Seattle winter and take a little road trip down to Los Angeles to see a great live band you might have heard of, Iron Maiden. Excellent concert by the way, with more U.S. dates now added. My little concert trip however turned into a 15-day 6500 kilometer drive across the western states, a sort of "walk in the snow 2008" that substituted the snow with Arizona sun and California beaches. One of my first tasks was to drive to Santa Clara to Intel's headquarters in California and submit my resume. I was not holding my breath, as I had applied at Intel before and not gotten hired.
Then Iron Maiden played on the 19th, the lunar eclipse happens on the 20th, and ever since then it has been one big giant cosmological alignment of the planets. All sorts of people (not just readers of this blog, but people as in big companies) seem to be "getting" the topics and concepts that I have been blasting about on this blog for the past few months.
First, to my surprise and delight, Toshiba rolled over and handed HD to Sony's BluRay format. Hooray, no more idiotic format war! This is not just a victory against HD-DVD co-backer Microsoft (who should not have chosen sides in the first place), but a long overdue win for Sony whose previous formats such as Betamax, Minidisc, and MemoryStick failed to catch on. 10 million Sony Playstation 3 owners "chose wisely" and we can now enjoy our Netflix movies on BluRay for a long time to come.
Another pleasant surprise very relevant to emulators.com visitors is the recent news of the acquisition of innotek's VirtualBox emulator by Sun Microsystems (http://www.sun.com/aboutsun/pr/2008-02/sunflash.20080212.1.xml). You've all heard of VMware of course, but unless you read my posting a few months ago you might not have been aware of VirtualBox, a PC emulator by a small German company that bases its technology on the open source QEMU project, which itself has ties to the Bochs project that I like to work with. Sun seems to "get" open source. Sun has already open sourced a number of its main technologies (http://blogs.zdnet.com/Gardner/?p=2291), such as Solaris and Java. And now Sun is putting its financial might behind an open source competitor to VMware.
Sun's move is great news for those of use who want to see "anything run on anything". VirtualBox, just as Bochs and SoftMac and Gemulator, isn't married to the gimmicky "VT-x" or "AMD-V" hardware virtualization that products from VMware, Microsoft, and XenSource are now intimately based upon. And those companies - VMware, Microsoft, and XenSource - should rightfully be worried that their products are heading down the hardware dead-end road that I warn of. What good is Microsoft's new "Hyper-V" technology in Windows Server 2008 for example, if maybe 1% of the existing PC desktops and servers out there can even make use of it? Virtual machines which are based on software binary translation - Bochs, VirtualBox, Gemulator, SoftMac - are far more portable to older PC hardware that lacks today's "latest and greatest" x86 features, to non-x86 architectures, and most importantly, to the kind of hardware that hundreds of millions of new PC users in the developing world with be using.
In fact, I wonder if the news from Sun was reason for Microsoft's sudden embrace of interoperability just a few days later (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/presskits/interoperability/default.mspx?tapm=A47S11G06). Now take this announcement with a grain of salt, a huuuuuuge grain of salt, because we've heard this nonsense from Microsoft before way back going into the 1990's and more recently with the Gentoo and Novell SuSe stuff. Microsoft tends to make these kind of announcements when there is a big fine hovering over their head, so I guess it comes as no surprise that just two days ago, the European Union slapped Microsoft with another billion dollar fine (http://bigtech.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2008/02/27/europes-not-finished-with-microsoft-yet/). Oh dear, I do hope they can still afford to buy Yahoo!!
News flash! Microsoft still panicking it seems. Just minutes ago, Microsoft has announced a price cut on Windows Vista (http://news.moneycentral.msn.com/ticker/article.aspx?symbol=US:MSFT&feed=AP&date=20080229&id=8262017). Every version must go, red Vista, green Vista, chicken Vista, even yellow Vista! Considering that a multi-user family pack of Mac OS X Leopard sells for half the price of a single license of Windows Vista Ultimate Edition, this price cut is long overdue and still not enough to really be on par with the reality of 2008.
Perhaps on this Leap Day 2008 Microsoft will make a resolution to itself to truly "get" interoperability and give users what they are asking for, which would have mean a commitment to the following:
That brings me to my third pleasant surprise. After looking all over California's computer stores for the ASUS EEE PC (http://eeepc.asus.com/us/guide.htm) I finally ordered it online from Amazon.com. Incredibly it shipped right away and already arrived before I was even back from my road trip. Although technically a little more pricey (there is not a second unit that gets sent to a starving child somewhere), the ASUS EEE is a solid mini-notebook that gives the OLPC XO a good run for its money. I discuss the EEE machine in more detail in my posting today to my other blog, Darek's Secrets. And yes, the ASUS EEE PC does Windows, but you buy it with a pre-loaded Linux installation.
In looking for the EEE, I stumbled upon another sweet surprise at one computer store in Los Angeles - signs of affordable 28-inch LCD monitors. Not too long ago, 24-inch LCD monitors featuring 1920x1200 screen resolution sold for over $1000. Apple and Dell of course offer 30-inch models with 2560x1600 resolution for close to $2000. What I saw at a Best Buy in Los Angeles was some new no-name brand LCD monitor with 28-inch screen 1920x1200 resolution, and with 15-pin VGA and HDMI inputs. No DVI, no S-VHS, no component inputs, this is strictly a high definition computer monitor. I am kicking myself for not picking it up, because in driving up the west coast I failed to see it at other stores, including stops at several Fry's Electronics. Five years ago Dell started using 15-inch 1920x1200 LCD panels in their laptops, which at the time were very pricey. These new monitors are almost twice they size at the same resolution, which means they are using a large pixel pitch, and thus cheaper to produce that the smaller panels. (I think, I am guessing, but I assume a 100 dot-per-inch LCD is less expensive to manufacture than a 133 or 150 DPI panel, right?)
If anything, with the death of HD-DVD and now everyone having even more reason to buy the HDMI enabled Sony Playstation 3, I can see the $600 28-inch HDMI monitor being a very nice inexpensive screen to pair with a game console or to use as a second high definition television in a small bedroom for example. I see the well known brand Viewsonic is now also introducing 28-inch LCD monitors, but at a much higher price. I believe that the monitor that I saw is this one (http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=8553326&type=product&id=1188561324689), which appears to still be in "limited availability". Doh!
Finally, my biggest surprise this week is, no, no job offer from Intel yet, sigh, but rather a sign that Intel is finally ready to truly "leap ahead" and listen to the pro-binary translation guys like me. This just in my email Inbox, I just received word of the inaugural Workshop on Architectural and Microarchitectural Support for Binary Translation (http://amas-bt.cs.virginia.edu/), or as I am going to call it, the "It's About Freaking Time That Binary Translation Gets Taken Seriously Again Workshop". I have been very critical of both AMD and Intel for pushing what I feel are half-baked hardware virtualization implementations that in common cases can be slower and potentially less secure than good old binary translation based emulation and virtualization. The fact that this workshop is being organized by Intel is a good sign, because it tells me that Intel is willing to listen and get input from people like me as to how best tune microprocessors for binary translation, exactly the concepts I blogged about here a few months ago. If you have been reading the past 15 postings of this blog, you know that I advocate avoiding, even ripping out, all the complex messy hardware virtualization and hardware memory management and simply stripping down the hardware to just what is needed to run a simple binary translation based virtual machine; "The Transmeta Concept" for the mainstream PC as I think of it. Does this conference now mean that Intel too "gets it"? :-)
What do I expect to see in four years for Leap Day 2012?
Gemulator 2008 Beta 3 and the Lost Video Of Doom, er, Demo
Next Monday I will posting updated releases of Gemulator 2008 Beta 3, and its sister emulator, SoftMac 2008 Beta 3. The Beta 3 releases are tied to the impending update of Windows, that being Windows Vista Service Pack 1 on the client side, and Windows Server 2008 on the server side. Third party developers such as myself already have the bits, but until they're officially released and available on stores and online, I'll wait to post my comments about them until next month as I mentioned last time.
Gemulator 2008 Beta 3 now also has more seamless support for loading the Atari ST "TOS ROM clone" called EmuTOS (http://sourceforge.net/projects/emutos), which was recently updated to version 0.8.3 and which I now find to be complete enough to serve as a functional TOS replacement for most Atari ST software. Check back on Monday to download it and try out your old Atari ST software now without the need for real TOS ROMs.
Speaking of Gemulator, I recently dug up and watched a 16 year old Gemulator Demo videotape that my friend Danny and I produced back in early 1992 to promote (what was then) the launch of Gemulator 1.0. I think I had copied (by hand, one by one!) about 200 of the video tapes and distributed them around to Atari user groups and dealers in the summer of 1992. I am curious to hear if anyone reading this has one of these lost Gemulator Demo tapes, let me know.
The 30-minute tape is very funny to watch, bringing back all sorts of memories about the tiny little one bedroom apartment it was shot in, how I had computer equipment taken apart and scattered all over (well, that aspect of my life is still true today!), and how a couple of 25-year old newbie Microsoft hires were able to produce a pretty neat demo video that even had an original score composed and performed by Danny. Not to mention of course the very fast 68000 emulator written entirely in software on a primitive Gateway 2000 MS-DOS 486 machine; technology that 16 years ago already debunked many of the lies and myths which are being perpetrated today about virtualization. If you wonder why I have such a seething resentment over Vanderpool and Pacifica hardware virtualization, it's because I know what was already possible 16 years ago purely in software. As soon as I figure out how best to transfer the VHS tape to a nice quality MPEG file, I will post the video to YouTube and let you see for yourself. And as I said, perhaps Intel's new conference on binary translation is a sign that they get it too now.
Until then please keep those comments and ideas coming by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply click on one of the voting links below to send your comments.
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