Thursday Feb 19, 2009

Atomic flashback

I just experienced a few nostalgic hours, when I tried some of the programs I wrote 25 years ago.


Prelude


Recently, I ran across an ad offering personal computers shipping with FreeDos instead of Windows. I was suprised for the minute it took me to realize that FreeDos obviously was a placeholder, to be replaced by the buyer with the operating system of his choice.


I thought about the last time I booted a computer in dos mode; i could not really remember when, but the last time I used the dos-like command line interface of windows -- that was when I tried an emulator for a computer I used to have -- an Acorn Atom. The were a few video problems, as far as I remember, and suddenly I knew I had to try it again with a plain, real, dos environment.


Virtual DOS


Anybody remember Desqview? Before tools like these existed, you had to set up a seperate pc for every program you wanted to run simultaneously.


I have VirtualBox running on my Solaris based home pc. VirtualBox supports DOS as a guest operating system, so I did not have to set up a separate machine. I just had to download FreeDos -- that was just 8 MB in size! Setting up the virtual machine and installing FreeDos was a matter of under five minutes. How long did it take to set up MS DOS 5 from two 3.5" disks? An hour?


FreeDos comes with CD ROM drivers, doskey and editor preinstalled, so I could get right off mounting the .iso I created from the virtual Tape files I created during my last emulator sessions. The emulator I use is the Acorn Atom Emulator from Wouter Ras. It emulates the computer I did write my first BASIC programs on, the Acorn Atom. While it was a pretty basic system, with only 5K of RAM, limited graphics and almost no sound, it came with a comprehensive book, including an assembler tutorial. That was important to me, as there was no other material available in Germany for that computer (the maximum number of Acorn Atom users I knew of was three). I worked myself through this book, at first skipping the chapter on assembler because it was incomprehensible to me: When I started when I was just twelve years old. But my abilities and understanding grew with every page I read and every example I tried and re-tried, and I did not even give in when quite a few of my friends got C64s from 1983 on and played fast, colourful and noisy games that made the Atom look like a pocket calculator.


Atomic Star Trek


I had to do most of the games all by myself... Of course, Star Trek was one of them. This is a sample screen shot, with my ship ("+") being under attack by a fierce Klingon ship ("1").




It was making heavy use of the BASIC extensions the 4k SUPERBASIC extension ROM by PROGRAM POWER provided.  I remember it had to be activated using LINK 44800 or LINK #AF00...


In the end it's just...


a short trip every time I go back in time. It is nice remembering these days, but there is no way I would sit down in front of that 32x16 text mode display and doing a single line of code again.


These were just "the good old days", where I knew every zero page memory location by name....





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Dirk Wriedt

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