Emulation is great. No need to dual-boot or go out and find a replacement for hardware that broke down years ago. Just fire up an emulator and you've got a whole different platform running in a convenient little window on your desktop.

Although video game emulators like ZSNES and MAME are nice, my current favorites are DOSBox and QEMU. DOSBox is a DOS emulator, kind of like DOSEMU, but more focused on games. I currently use it for exactly one thing - playing Bandit Kings of Ancient China, one of Koei's classic strategy games. This was literally the first PC game I ever bought. I got it and a copy of Tetris from a game store back around 1991 or 1992. I've since lost the copy of Tetris (which was the only program I ever bought that came with a 5.25" floppy disk), but I jealously guarded the Bandit Kings disks for years. They finally went bad a few years ago, but fortunately I had a backup of the game files, so I can still play my original copy. In fact, I even still have the instruction manual and poster that came with it. For some reason, I just never get tired of that game.

QEMU is cool for an entirely different reason. It's an open-source "process emulator" that supports full system emulation. In other words, you can use it kind of like VMWare, meaning you can install an old copy of Windows onto a file on your hard drive. This is a very handy thing to be able to do. For one thing, it allows you to use all that old Windows-only software you probably have lying around. It's also very nice for testing purposes if you're a web developer, since you will almost definitely want to test your pages in Internet Explorer. And after all, Wine is a big pain in the neck to install and configure, while installing a virtual copy of Windows is pretty simple. Also, you can have multiple QEMU disk images with different versions of Windows and Internet Explorer. I don't think you can do that with Wine.

The only problem with these programs is that they require more CPU power than I really have. My trusty 500MHz AMD K6 has served me well, but it can't really handle heavy emulation. However, QEMU does have an "accelerator" kernel module which is supposed to speed things up considerably. Unfortunately, the accelerator module is not free software and is only available in binary form. Plus it only works with the current CVS, not the any of the stable releases. Oh well. I'm compiling the CVS source now, so we'll see how it works. Hopefully I won't need it once I finally get around to upgrading my system.

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