The Golden Age Of Computing

by Patrick G Horneker (phorneker)

Smartphones and tablets are slowly but surely replacing the laptops, netbooks, digital cameras, and media players we use today. From what I have seen, they are great for entertainment and social networking purposes. When it comes to productivity, these devices still leave a lot to be desired.

For example, how do you backup the data on an Android tablet? Through cloud services, of course. Even Carbonite ( provides data backup services for a monthly fee. But there is a problem that many users of these services do not think about.

What if the cloud services provider goes out of business, or otherwise gets shut down (as in the case of Megaupload). Unless you have a local copy of your data on physical medium, you are out of luck when it comes to preserving your data.

This issue alone makes me long for the days when all computing was done on local machines, all data was stored on hard drives and floppy diskettes, and printers were connected through a parallel port cable.

In those days, networking meant physical connections to another computer through Ethernet or a dialup (landline) modem connected to a serial (RS-232) cable.

The Golden Age of Computing is a new series to bring back those memories.

Through Synaptic, PCLinuxOS has the tools that enable us to relive those days, namely VirtualBox, QEMU, Bochs, and to a lesser extent WindowMaker, Lesstif, AfterStep and FVWM2.

My WindowMaker on PCLinuxOS series brought the interface used on the NeXT machine to PCLinuxOS. WindowMaker implemented only the interface, but not the complete system. For that we would need to download and build the source files that make up GNUstep, which is itself a time consuming task.

VirtualBox, QEMU and Bochs all emulate 80x86 machines. Through the FreeDOS project (, we can build a DOS machine inside PCLinuxOS.

Historical Note: FreeDOS was made possible thanks to a Caldera Systems vs Microsoft case which took place from 1996 to 2000, during which Caldera was able to prove that much of the code for CP/M was used in MS-DOS. Details of the case can be found here.

I have already showed you that with my QEMU: The Other Virtual Machine article, and there are other articles that show you how to install FreeDOS on VirtualBox.

Computing in those days was more than just DOS. It was also computing in the age of NeXT (which I have shown through WindowMaker), CP/M, Apple Macintosh (and its predecessor Lisa), IBM mainframes of the 1960s and 1970s, the Atari, Commodore, Apple II series, TRS80 and many others.

Of course, there are many video gaming systems that were around in those days, too.

Besides VirtualBox, QEMU and Bochs, PCLinuxOS has emulators in Synaptic for the following (as of this writing):[a]

  1. Dega (emulates Sega Master System/Mark III/Game Gear)
  2. DOSBOX (useful only for DOS games)
  3. DOSEMU (the first DOS emulator for UNIX systems)
  4. ep128emu (Enterprise 64/128, ZX Spectrum 48/128 and Amstrad CPC 464)
  5. Hu Go! (Emulates TurboGrafx consoles[b])
  6. Kega-fusion (another Sega Genesis and Game Gear emulator)
  7. OpenMSX (Microsoft’s attempt at a standardized operating system for first generation home computers back in the 1980s.)
  8. PearPC (Emulates PowerPC machines)
  9. SDL MAME (Emulates numerous processors developed in the 1970s and the 1980s, used mainly for emulation of arcade game machines, but could emulate several home computers as well)
  10. VICE (Emulates Commodore machines based on 6502 and 65C02 processors)
  11. e-UAE (Emulates Amiga machines, requires KickStart ROM, not included in the package).

Commodore has risen from the ashes with reincarnated Commodore 64 and Amiga machines. The new Amiga resembles Apple’s MiniMac in design. Also, Commodore has released a Debian variant called Commodore Vision. All the new Commodore (and Amiga) machines can run PCLinuxOS.

So far, I have demonstrated the NeXT system look and feel with WindowMaker, and have showed you how to install FreeDOS on QEMU.

Emulating older computer systems in terms of software is one thing. Emulating physical hardware for older computer systems is another (primarily due to legal issues regarding the hardware, and the system ROM chips), unless you actually own the physical hardware you are trying to emulate.

There are other emulators not in Synaptic that are available for downloading and installing:

Hercules ( emulates IBM System 370/390 and the 64-bit z-Series mainframes. Operating systems for the S370 and S390 emulation (created in the 1970s) are available in the public domain. With this, you can run an IBM Series 370/390 on PCLinuxOS, and is very useful as a database server. You will need to install x3270 or (from Synaptic) to access the emulator.

You can also install Slackware S/390 ( on this machine if you want to run Linux on Hercules.

MIX and MMIX are Donald Knuth’s theoretical machines normally used for teaching of assembly language[c]. You can download a version of MIX from the GNU Project website (

Another part of the Golden Age of Computing can be installed on PCLinuxOS. I am talking about the TeX/LaTeX document publishing system also developed by Donald Knuth back in the 1970s. PCLinuxOS comes with both TeTeX and Texlive. Essential parts of this system are installed automatically when you install TeXmacs, LyX, Texmaker, Kile, or Texworks from Synaptic. Other components of TeX/LaTeX can be installed from the Publishing section within Synaptic.

This system is still useful today thanks in part to the aforementioned programs in the previous paragraph, and the fact that document source files can be compiled to PostScript or directly to PDF easily.

This article is only an introduction to a new series. I have already started with installing FreeDOS on QEMU and did the WindowMaker series.

The new series will start with a continuation of FreeDOS on QEMU and Virtualbox.