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Thread started by Dave Winer on Thursday, November 22, 2012.

How I ran ThinkTank/1987 in Chrome

A really interesting combination of technologies, old and new...

1. An app written in JavaScript running embedded in a web page, viewed in Chrome.

2. Running on a Mac with 2GB of RAM and four terabytes of disk storage.

3. That emulates an IBM PC running the original ROM BIOS.

All this was put together by Jeff Par, whose blog is hashable.org.

I heard about it from Dan Bricklin, who along with Bob Frankston, wrote Visicalc. I've known both these guys since 1979 believe it or not. Somehow they had gotten Visicalc to run in this emulator. I nearly shit my pants when I saw it.

A picture named oldFord.gifOf course I knew how to use Visicalc then and still do. I was able to put together a simple spreadsheet. It worked.

Then of course I wondered if ThinkTank from that era would work. So I contacted Jeff, asked if he would be interested in trying it. I uploaded a Thinktank disk image to a folder on Amazon S3, then put together a list of files in the outliner I use in 2012, and saved it as a blog post on scripting.com.

He took the files, did something magical with them, and now there's a menu item on his emulator page that offers to load an image of that disk into this virtual PC. So I fiddled with the commands a bit, got it to run. There was a little difficulty in getting the F10 function key to go to the browser, since some Apple system software was grabbing it. That was easily done in the keyboard section of the system settings app on the Mac.

I have a ref card of the commands in ThinkTank, but I didn't need them, because I still remember how it worked. I slaved over this UI many years ago. It would be hard for me to forget how to do this.

Dan asked if I would do a video showing how it works. I will (and will link it in here). I imagine that years from now people will watch the video even if the emulator doesn't still run. Maybe it will. Back then I kind of hoped it would be possible to run this sofware 25 years later. What a thrill that it turns out it does, and in such a widely accessible way.

If you're studying the evolution of user interface, being able to look at this time capsule could be pretty useful. This software running on 1980s hardware, is interesting in the same way it would be interesting to drive a car from the early 20th century. You can see ideas that would later take hold and blossom once machines had more capacity and could be easily networked, and we better understood how people work with the new technology.

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