Owning a computer is a constant battle against obsolescence. Over the years, I've invested much time and money in many systems, only to end up shelving them in the garage or selling them for next to nothing. An ideal-and often free-solution is software emulation that lets users run on their Windows PC software that was designed for other systems. I recently decided to convert my favorite classic games, written for my antiquated Atari, to run on my Windows 2000 Professional PC.
I wanted to transform my Pentium II 266MHz PC to an 8MHz Motorola 68000 processor and somehow convert and load all my Atari ST software onto Win2K. A search of the Web for an Atari ST emulator soon yielded several candidates. I checked out three: Frederic Gidouin's PaCifiST, Paul Bates' WinSTon, and Emulators' Gemulator 2000.
I opted not to try PaCifiST because the online documentation, although describing the product as a good overall emulator, indicated that it's DOS-based and I wanted a product to run on Win2K or Windows NT. Gemulator 2000 looked like a good choice because it claimed to run on Win2K and had many advanced features, such as the ability to directly read Atari ST-formatted diskettes. Additionally, Gemulator 2000 is written in assembly language, so I knew it would be fast. But because Gemulator 2000 has only an .ini file instead of a true installation procedure, I ruled it out.
I chose WinSTon 0.4 because it has a full installation procedure, supports Win2K, and is free. (To be fair, Gemulator 2000 also is free and PaCifiST is giftware, requiring a donation of anything from "a postcard to a local beer to a sci-fi video.") After going to http://www.atarist.com/winston and downloading the relatively small (approximately 700KB) .zip file that contained WinSTon's installation file, I installed WinSTon on my Win2K Pro machine. Earlier versions of WinSTon required a file containing an image of the Atari OS (aka The Operating System-TOS). Version 0.4 includes a built-in TOS image, so I didn't have to spend time locating, downloading, and configuring a TOS image to run with WinSTon.
I double-clicked the WinSTon icon and was elated to see the familiar green desktop that appears on Atari. I decided to load my favorite game, Interstel's Empire. Following the instructions in the WinSTon documentation, I obtained and used MakeDisk, a freeware utility that reads an ST floppy disk from a standard PC 3.5" floppy drive and converts it to a disk image file on the local hard disk. WinSTon uses the disk image file to load the software just as if I were loading it onto an Atari ST.
WinSTon's best feature by far is that it provides a list of more than 2500 predefined game images for the Atari ST and scans the PC for the images. If WinSTon doesn't find the images, it lets you directly download them from the Web. This feature saved me from having to manually create the disk images from my floppy disk.
The Internet is chock full of sites that contain emulators for other systems, such as Amiga, Macintosh, Commodore 64, and even game console systems, such as Sony PlayStation, Nintendo, and Sega. One major consideration with using emulation is the legality of distributing copyrighted material for use with the emulation products in the form of ROM downloads and disk images. If you have legal questions about emulation, I recommend you visit http://www.bitlaw.com, Daniel A. Tysver's excellent technology-law site.