Digital obsolescence vs JavaScript emulators

Life is a Mind Bending Puzzle has an interesting post asking ‘if you have an obsolescence recovery plan for PC games?’

Thanks to emulators, games from 30 years ago can still be played on modern hardware. However he notes that:

This unusually fortunate circumstance may not persist forever though. Technology will probably move on eventually to devices that are sufficiently different in form that even emulation is no longer feasible. Many are now predicting that mobile tablet computers will replace desktops and that closed architectures will prevail over the open general purpose architecture of current desktop PCs. Emulation may no longer be possible on these devices.

I’m not sure that the death of the PC is on the cards anytime soon, but it’s a good point that alarmed me somewhat. After all, we take our digital memories and content as being permanent when in reality they’re incredibly ephemeral as anyone who’s suffered a harddisk crash without a recent backup can attest to.

Then it struck me. Atwood’s Law. Based on the Principle of Least Power from Tim Berners-Lee (the creator of the web) that

The less powerful the language, the more you can do with the data stored in that language.

This principle was part of the reasoning behind HTML to be simple and not a programming language and latterly a similar design of RDF for the sharing of data.

Jeff Atwood proposed an extension

any application that can be written in JavaScript, will eventually be written in JavaScript.

So that got me thinking, how long before the various emulators that are used today to run 30 year old games start being written in JavaScript. The web would then deliver openness to closed platforms and preserve the lifespan of games (and all sorts of other applications of course!). Seems quite apt for a theory inspired by Tim Berners-Lee.

So I googled it. Turns out that I was right in my thinking. And more so, that people are already way ahead of me (nothing new there!). A quick search has already revealed a JavaScript Commodore 64 emulator and a JavaScript SNES emulator. And a Linux emulator!

The web: continuing to deliver on Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of openness!


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