gam 1 CADTIVITY (Matt Barton) Liberation, emulation per abandonware


CIH I (M Ls | tt Bar

Bridges over trou bled waters Initialization sequence in GNU/Linux (Steven Goodwin) The process of booting your PC, from power to prompt

Interview with Roberto Vacca (Gianluca Pignalberi) Gianluca interviews Roberto Vaca, the Italian engineer, who is known as a futurologist because of his sharp

forecasts and provisional models Towards a free matter Replacing proprietary Free software and Working together and economy (Part 2) anti-virus software Latin America (David Sugar) sharing code with TLA (Terry Hancock) (Robin Monks) The challenge is often (Carle Cantavalli) The passing of the shade Using ClamWin Free political rather than TLA as your Version tree mechanic Antivirus to replace technical Control System proprietary anti-virus software | ISSN 1746-8752 COVER BY 08 WWW.OREATENET ERA t 9771746 875009


Graphic, Web, Life design


Issue 8, October 2005

EDITORIAL Let's take care of our memory 7 POWER UP

Degunking Linux by Roderick W Smith 8 by Martin C Brown

Randal Schwartz's Perls of Wisdom

by Randal L Schwartz 10 by Martin C Brown

Interview with Roberto Vacca 12 by Gianluca Pignalberi

Gianluca interviews Roberto Vacca, the Italian engineer, who is known as a "futurologist" because of his sharp forecasts and provisional models


Games in captivity 15 by Matt Barton

Liberation, emulation, and abandonware

Emulation 23 by Matt Barton Bridges over troubled waters

USER SPACE Replacing proprietary anti-virus soft- ware 31 by Robin Monks

Using ClamWin Free Antivirus to replace proprietary anti-virus software


Working together and sharing code with TLA 35 by Carlo Contavalli

TLA as your Version Control System

Initialization sequence in GNU/Linux 42

by Steven Goodwin

The process of booting your PC, from power to prompt


Disaster relief and free software 49 by Aaron E. Klemm

Commercial software distribution and development in perspective

Towards a free matter economy (Part 2) 53 by Terry Hancock

The passing of the shade tree mechanic

Free software and Latin America 63 by David Sugar The challenge is often political rather than technical

4 Free Software Magazine Issue 8, October 2005

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t was late at night in Sydney. I was at John Paul's house—the man behind MySource (http:// We hadn't seen each other for years, and we had spent the whole day helping his parents move house, so we did what old friends do: we talked about anything and everything. The conversation somehow turned to neural damage and freak accidents (our backs must have hurt). I remembered something someone (Dave Guard”) told me years earlier, and decided to contribute to the never- ending spread of useless information (typical of the human race): “Well, I heard about this guy who got a chunk of wood shot through his skull, and he was sort-of fine afterwards. The chunk of wood went right through his brain, and was stuck in his head... Can you imagine the doctors in the ER?”. We laughed. Then, he asked “I’ve heard that story too! Didn’t it happen to someone from England?” In the pre-internet world, the conversation would have ended there, in uncertainty and doubt. If we really wanted to know, we could have called up some neurosurgeons in the morning and asked them to give us some medical references, but I don’t think we would have bothered. However in the post-internet world, we looked at each other in silence for a couple of seconds thinking of how we could find out more, and we both came up with one meaningful word: “Google”. Finding information on Linux in Google is quite simple. Finding out about people who have had chunks of wood lodged in their heads, however, is tricky to say the least. In the end, we managed to find a few “reliable” bits of info (and discovered that we had both been wrong), but it was a big struggle. This episode raised a question in my mind: has the web effectively become the world’s memory? And has Google become the way of fetching anything from this memory? If the answer to these questions is “yes”, then there are some issues that should be considered. The first one is: what about things that happened before the web existed? In general, particularly after blogging began, current affairs events are thoroughly talked about and discussed. But anything that happened in prehistory (in this case, anything that occurred before 1999) is published on the web as reported, second hand information. If the web is the new memory of the world, it is a very selective memory and only recent events are remembered vividly. The rest is old news and isn't easily accessible. The web can also be poisoned (contents-wise) quite easily. Anyone can go about publishing anything on web, and then give it relevance artificially by using various tricks. Blatantly false information is mixed with more accurate facts and no one can decide what's accurate and what's not. Ironically, human brains create "false memories" as well (ask Google if you don't believe me!). What about the information that very few, perhaps disadvantaged, people care about? This is a more stringent issue. While looking for information about Linux is quite easy, if you look for the best coffee shop in Nicaragua, you might be out of luck. You don't have to be that obscure to find holes in the web-memory. I have tried searching on animal health, for example, and it was more tedious than you can imagine... These are quite common questions and I could have raised even more intriguing questions. The internet (as well as search engines), however, somehow seems to be evolving quite well in order to deal with all of those problems. The one problem that I consider “scary” is: what if the interface to this enormous wealth of information, Google, disappeared? Or what if it became a “pay-per-use” service? Or what if it became less "ethical" and more selective about the results it gives? In this case, this enormous wealth of information, the web, the world's memory, could become inaccessible, and therefore completely useless. Though just now, this outcome seems very unlikely. However, companies do change their policies—especially when they are short of cash... They sometimes collapse, or are bought by another company. If Google's stock price became $1 tomorrow, the obvious alternative to it might be... Microsoft's MSN. How encouraging. If it’s true that the web is becoming the world's memory, regardless of its problems, then I feel that we, the creators and owners of this immense wealth of information, ought to have a free (free as in freedom) way of accessing it. A way that doesn't depend on the health or ethical decisions of a particular company (Google, Microsoft, or whatever). A way that doesn't require a rack of 400 servers (and growing) or immense amounts of bandwidth in order to index what's there and process it. Unfortunately, nobody has come up with a solution yet. However, any ideas are most definitely welcome.

Copyright information © 2005 Tony Mobily Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Free Software Magazine Issue 8, October 2005

EDITOR IN CHIEF Tony Mobily (t .mobiiye)

TECHNICAL EDITORS Clare James (c. james@) Pancrazio De Mauro (p.demauroe)

EDITORS Anna Dymitr Hawkes (a.aymitrhawkes@) Dave Guard (a. guarae)

ADVERTISING AND SALES Stephen Wetzel (s.wetze1@)


Gianluca Pignalberi (IATEX class and magazine generation) (g.pignalberié) Gian Maria Ricci (RTF to XML con- verter using VBA) (gm. ricci@)


Alan Sprecacenere (Web, cover and ad- vertising design) (a.sprecacenere@) Tony Mobily, Alan Sprecacenere (Magazine design)

Gianluca Pignalberi,


Matt Barton, Martin C Brown, Carlo Contavalli, Steven Goodwin, Terry Hancock, Aaron E. Klemm, Robin Monks, Gianluca Pignalberi, David Sugar.

THIS PROJECT EXISTS THANKS TO Donald E. Knuth, Leslie Lamport, People at TEX Users Group TUG (http: //

listed tactable by email.

Every person is con- Please just add tO the person’s

username in parentheses.

For copyright information about the contents of Free Software Magazine, please see the section “Copyright information” at the end of each article.

Degunking Einux by,Roderick

Over the course of a typical computer’s lifetime you will probably create all sorts of files, temporarily install soft- ware and generate lots of information and data that you don’t really want to keep. Unfortunately, computers tend to have a terrible habit of keeping these files and information about. In De- gunking Linux by Roderick W Smith you’ll find hints on how to clean and, as the title suggests, degunk your Linux installation to help free up disk space, CPU time and help optimize your machine. You’d be amazed how much of a difference degunking your machine can make. Not only do you get more disk space but you also have the potential to speed up your machine and make it more stable.

There’s a 12-step program of degunking as well as a list of degunking methods that you can perform in 15 minutes

The contents

Degunking Linux is split into four main sections and is spread over 12 chapters. The first section looks at basic degunking techniques such as sorting your files, settings and other infor- mation. There are lots of good tips in this section, including theories behind some of the techniques such as deleting unused accounts, identifying unused files and sorting out your hardware and drivers. This is mostly an overview section covering the fun- damental techniques and pointers to other parts of the book for more information.

The secons section gets into the basics of sorting user data; your old files, desktop environments and settings for applications that you no longer use. The aim here is to help identify and then delete settings, options and files you don’t use. It includes “dot” files from your home directory, removing old desktop patterns and pictures and so on. The guide covers both Gnome and KDE en- vironments and goes as deep as configuring browser settings like caches and JavaScript/Java files and settings.

Removing system components—including managing software and packages, deleting accounts, software performance and pro- cess management—feature in the third section. This is best of the

sections as it provides an overall guide that will help improve per- formance for all users. Package management, for example, will help to remove drivers and applications that you have installed on your machine but which you don’t use. Even with a “minimal” installation of most Linux distributions you'll often end up with tools and utilities you don't want. Others might have been super- seded by other applications; for example Gentoo installs nano as the default text editor, but some will prefer vim or emacs and will no longer need nano.

The final section goes much deeper into your system and network to not only degunk existing systems but also to try and prevent your system getting gunked up with information you don't need. For example, there are step by step guides on how to set up, iden- tify and configure the drivers required by your system and to keep it up-to-date, removing the older drivers when they are no longer required. There are also many tips on protecting yourself through the use of virus checking, web proxies (to help remove web sites you don't need) and filtering your email for SPAM.

Who's this book for?

I think it is fair to say that the book was targeted at desktop users and those who use Linux regularly as their main OS. The book approaches many of the tasks from the perspective of someone who probably isn't that aware of what goes on behind the scenes and what sort of an effect this could have their machine. However, even with this approach there's lots that can be used by administrators to help degunk their servers and there's no reason why the information and tips given can't be employed by admin- istrators to be applied to their user desktops and systems, or even to form the basis of a guide for users.


The best feature of the book is actually a little section at the start of the title, beginning from the inside front cover, which provides some quick, time-based tips for degunking. There's a 12-step pro- gram of degunking as well as a list of degunking methods that you can perform in increments of 15 minutes, 30 minutes, one hour, three hours and half a day. Even following the tips in the 15- minute section will provide some benefit. So if you've got "free" time, there's a section with steps you can take to help degunk your machine. In each case you get a simple description and the page number where the relevant details are covered.

8 Free Software Magazine Issue 8, October 2005


It’s nice to see that it’s not just cleaning and deleting being cov- ered by the book, but also complete techniques for managing your machine, such as backing up critical files and how leaving some of the elements (user accounts, unknown software) on your com- puter can be a security risk.

There are many places where Roderick covers a particular ele- ment that doesn’t strike you as an obvious source of problems, but when given a little thought highlight a potential area of issue. For example, he covers the organization of mailboxes and aliases that might be enabled—or in some cases required—on your ma- chine. This is just one example of how detailed and exhaustive Roderick has covered the material.

Overall there’s good coverage here for both repairing and clean- ing your system and for all the preventative maintenance required to keep your machine comparatively gunk free.


There are a couple of places where I would have liked a little bit depth. For example, although viruses are mentioned there isn’t any coverage of a virus tool, like ClamAV, which I would have considered a required tool. I would also like to have seen cover- age of a CD distribution like Knoppix that can make some of the procedures covered (like the Virus checking) much easier.

Tech Questions? We

Feel like roadkill on the Information Superhighway?

edioues about your coanpeter, ihe Internet, the peegrüm yore wre, or even just the ceimenct- cial applicsiion you're stuck working wiih every ^ das? You've bred searching the Internet for solu- tions, Wall Mise ree You've asked people virsaus mailing Tests, just to be flared or ares with "rtf!" You've Dried toch support at Mocrosalt, Apple, Adobe or Macro, qus Lo he oven belme by their cel und here vou are, still pushed, still stuck, and still having to enderne your comgqubing environment rather than enjev il

However, these are only minor niggles and don't detract from the excellent coverage and material in the rest of the book.

In short Title Degunking Linux Author Roderick W Smith Publisher Paraglyph Press ISBN 1-933097-04-3 Year 2005 Pages 332 CD included No Mark 9

Copyright information

(c) 2005 Martin C Brown This article is made available under the ‘“Attribution- NonCommercial-NoDerivs" Creative Commons License

2.0 available from nd/2.0/.

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Randal Schwartz's Perls of

Wisdom by Randal L Schwartz

Ask for some key figures in the world of Perl and it won’t be long before the name Randal L Schwartz appears. Ran- dal has, at one time or another, been a trainer of Perl, the Pumpking (respon- sible for managing the development of Perl), as well as a prolific writer and speaker on Perl techniques and mate- rials. In Perls of Wisdom (Apress) he gathers together many of his talks and articles into a single book, expanding, correcting and extending them as necessary.

Randal Schwartz's

Randal knows Perl so well there are some absolute gems here on how to solve specific problems using techniques and algorithms that are far from obvious, but just as effective

The contents

There are only five chapters in this book (spread over 343 pages), but each chapter is made up of a number of specific examples. In each case, the example is based on an article, column or email/Usenet post that Randal has used to cover a specific issue. You get coverage of the problem, a detailed example (including line-numbered source code) and a step-by-step guide of the solu- tion and how it works. These are not snippets of potential code. Nor are they just an explanation of the code itself, you get full details on the methodologies used and how they can be adapted or changed to best suit your own needs and applications.

This is the best collection of real-world Perl knowledge available in a single book

Because each example is an article that has previously been pub- lished, Randal also takes the opportunity to provide some com- mentary on how he might have done things differently and even provides a few corrections and updates in places. Having been previously published, he’s also had the opportunity to debug the examples and the code so you end up with some very clear and coherent samples.

The content is varied. The five chapter headings: Advanced Perl Techniques, Test Searching and Editing, HTML and XML Pro- cessing, CGI Programming and Webmaster Tools, don’t remotely give the content the credit it deserves. There are some amazing samples here, from the basics of object programming right up to load balancing scripts and web cookie tools.

There are examples covered are so good that I think they should be required reading for any Perl programmer. The aforemen- tioned object introduction for example would go a long way to helping many Perl programmers make better use of the class sys- tem built into Perl. “Discovering Incomprehensible Documenta- tion” should be an application fitted to the output of every man page generated by Perl programmers, although I sadly doubt it will address all of the issues we regularly experience when trying to understand the documentation included with certain modules I wont mention.

Other examples provide more useful tools that we should all be exploiting. There’s an automatic meta-indexing tool (for web pages) that could be the key part of many website searching tools and the calendar sample could the form the basis of an excellent web-based diary application.

All of these examples are provided with such finesse and style that it can be difficult to appreciate that you are actually read- ing a guide to writing code for one of the most popular, easy to use and on so many occasions confusing programming languages available.

Who’s this book for?

Perl programmers, pure and simple. If you program in Perl, read this book. I don’t care what you think you already know, read it anyway. Even if you could have guessed at Randal’s solution, his prose and relaxed style is incredible easy and enjoyable to read. If I were to recommend the book to any other group of people it would be writers, just to give them an example of how to write examples and code in a way that makes it useful and easy to un- derstand.


Quite possibly this is the best condensation of real-world Perl knowledge available in a single book. It far exceeds the infor- mation and examples provided in any cookbook, or even the titles

10 Free Software Magazine Issue 8, October 2005

from O’Reilly in terms of actually addressing common user needs and problems. Because the book is based, mostly, on real reader requests and problems that Randal himself has faced it goes much further than the usual example-led approaches.

Furthermore, because Randal knows Perl so well, there are some absolute gems here on how to solve specific problems using tech- niques and algorithms that are far from obvious, but just as effec- tive. The book not only answers your queries, it also shows you elements of Perl that you’d forgotten, or simply didn’t realize ex- isted, and in such a way that it’s easy to see how you could adapt it.


The content ends far too quickly. I eagerly await "More Perls of Wisdom”.

In short Title Perls of Wisdom Author Randal L Schwartz Publisher Apress ISBN 1-59059-323-5 Year 2005 Pages 348 CD included No Mark 10

Copyright information

© 2005 Martin C Brown This article is made available under the “Attribution- NonCommercial-NoDerivs" Creative Commons License

2.0 available from nd/2.0/.


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oberto Vacca is a Doctor of Computer Science and an electrical engineer. He is very well

known in Italy because of his forecasts, math-

ematical and provisional models, his books (which he sells through his site ( and articles. Since his forecasts, as well as his points of view, are always very sharp and are so clearly expressed, I decided to talk with

him about his activity and free software world.

Prof. Vacca, you’re well known for your predictions, including foreseeing events like: the fall of the Soviet Union, and the Italian blackout in 2003. Since you don’t have a crystal ball, can you explain to our readers what knowledge helps you in foreseeing such important events?

We learn from history that empires, cultures, and organisa- tions are created, sometimes they prosper and grow—they flourish and then fall. Other processes too go through phases and downgrading is always lurching behind us. Experience, knowledge of socio-economic mechanisms and imagination are great helps for producing plausible forecasts.

Your predictions seem to be very much non-numerical

(unlike, for example, the weather forecasts, where math- ematical models are used to do *a probable prediction"). Some might even think you’re just guessing! How do you determine the probability of errors in such predictions?

I produce both qualitative and numerical forecasts. I could imagine in 1979 the downfall of the USSR on the basis of common sense. I use mathematical models to forecast (of- ten very precisely) deterministic processes—like epidemics (deaths due to cancer or AIDS) or increase in car numbers in a given country. I can’t define the probability of errors: sometimes I succeed in forecasting these numbers 15 years in advance with an error of just a few percent. Sometimes unexpected factors crop up and I am off by 50% or more.

You build mathematical models and apply them to your forecasts. Do you use computers to aid in model con- struction, or do you use computers to check the quality of the models or to perform simulations?

I have developed a number of proprietary mathematical models and software packages. I use them to work out sys- tem analysis studies for my customers.

Do you prefer using proprietary or free software and why?

I use Word and Excel for simple accounting chores. For math analysis, modelling etc. I produce my own soft- ware—which incorporates quite a number of sophisticated


12 Free Software Magazine Issue 8, October 2005


Roberto Vacca, the Italian expert who forecasts events by modelling

mathematical formulas and software tools

The free software model is, roughly speaking, the fol- lowing: a person, or a group of people need specific soft- ware, they don’t want to use proprietary software and start designing their own tool. The resulting program and source code are freely available, so that other users can use, debug, add features, and improve on the code’s quality. How do you believe this working model is good for designing software? And how, in your opinion, could it be useful in other fields, not necessarily related to com- puter science?

Free software is OK, but I don’t have time to document the software I produce so it can be used by others. I have only very few and occasional collaborators. So I have to take care of a lot of menial chores—and I just manage to survive in the turmoil of a very personal, extremely messy filing system. So I don’t have time for niceties.

What’s your opinion on software patents? How do you believe adopting them could be an advantage, or disad- vantage, for developer communities?

I don’t feel strongly about software patents one way or the other. I don’t feel strongly even about copyright. For years I have published books printed by publishers (about 35 of them). I wonder whether they were very scrupulous about my royalties. For 6 years now I have been offering my books (in English and Italian) online. I give for free the first chap- ter of each book and the contents—if you like it, you give the data of your credit card to the secure server of my bank and you download the book in .pdf. You print, bind it (in

parchment if you so prefer) and read it. Of course you can print more copies and give them away or sell them—if you are successful, it means I am VERY popular, so: good luck (mazeltov!)—but I warn you (tongue in cheek) that l’Il pros- ecute you.

What do you foresee for the future of free software? What advice would you give to the free software com- munity?

I think free software is the future. The advice is: inno- vate—innovate and devise crafty ways for achieving stan- dardisation (which, very forcibly, Microsoft has done) with- out, at the same time, cornering the market and building an obstreperous fortune founded on software which is too heavy, cumbersome, unsafe to the extent of voiding the pos- itive impacts and uses of innovative, faster hardware. Above all: do away with the barbaric use of icons and go back to the precise, effective, retrievable reliance on alphanumeric representations and coding.

Innovate and devise crafty ways for achieving standardisation

I believe Roberto Vacca’s interesting point of view could help the free software community build a future even better than its members are currently building. Conversely, his answers will hopefully be the starting point of a new thread of discussion.

Copyright information

© 2005 Gianluca Pignalberi This article is made available under the "Attribution- NonCommercial-NoDerivs" Creative Commons License

2.0 available from nc-nd/2.0/.

About the author

Free Software Magazine Issue 8, October 2005 13

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or those of us who grew up in the 80s, playing games in arcades or on our computers and game

consoles was a major part of our childhoods, and we often have the nostalgic desire to replay those beloved titles. Others not only want to play, but have ded- icated their scholarly attention to the study and preserva- tion of videogame history. Sometimes companies who own the copyright to these games are able to repackage them and make them available on the shelf; there are countless "Games in a Stick" mini-consoles and plenty of “Arcade Classic" compilations for the PC and modern consoles. Un- fortunately, only the most popular and well-known classic games from the biggest companies are available. Sure you can play Ms. Pac-Man, but what if you're looking for Paul Norman's Forbidden Forest or Bill Hogue's Miner 2049er?

While many such games are impossible to find at stores, em- ulation enthusiasts have made them available for download from the web. Unfortunately, downloading games from an "Abandonware" site might mean breaking the law. Thank- fully, people like Matt Matthews of Liberated Games are leading the effort to legitimize "ROM collecting" by con-

8 Ø

tacting abandonware authors and copyright holders, asking them to release their games and source code under public licenses. This is an important effort with significant cul- tural and historical connections and major implications for future game research. This article will offer reasons why preserving older games is important, why having access to the source code is just as important as having the games themselves, and finally, why we need to do all of this legally instead of relying on abandonware sites.

Who cares about old games?

Many people may find it odd or even laughable that some people care about preserving old, “obsolete” videogames. Why should we care if future generations of gamers are able to play out-of-production games and experience work- ing with antiquated computer systems? More specifi- cally, aren’t games simply a useless diversion anyway? While many people may agree that preserving Casablanca or Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a culturally significant task, taking pains to ensure that future generations will have access to Robotron and Zookeeper may seem silly. Videogames have long been a “subclass” of entertainment; something that kids do rather than what they’re “supposed to”, namely, their homework or playing outside. Another problem is that too many gamers view game development as a Strictly linear process, with the “best” games available on the shelf today and past games as inferior or primitive in comparison. All of these factors add up to the preju-

Free Software Magazine Issue 8, October 2005 15


dice that someone dedicating herself to the serious study of videogames is wasting time and resources. However, there are historical, cultural, and scientific reasons to care about classic games and study them with the same devotion that old books and movies receive by venerated college profes- sors.

Those of us involved with the burgeoning field of game studies don’t hold the view that games are simply too frivolous to be worth taking seriously. For one thing, games are an important part of our cultural history. Students in 2050 will need to know about Space Invaders and Pacman if they hope to understand the America of the early 80s, just as anyone studying the 60s will need to know about rock and roll music. One should never refuse to take something seriously just because people find it enjoyable. Videogames have become a fundamental activity for a great number of people, and ignoring them is also ignoring an important chunk of our culture.

There are other good reasons to study videogames. Many games are “deep” and have a similar emotional impact on us that great movies and books do. While many, if not most games are “me-too” rehashes of familiar formulas and gimmicks, other games explore more exciting territory. Nick Montfort identifies some games of literary weight in a brief essay named Literary Games (http://nickm. com/writing/essays/literary games.html),

but one need not look hard to find games of cultural merit. Certainly anyone who has experienced Floyd's sacrifice in Infocom's Planetfall or April's confrontation with her stepfather in Fun Com's The Longest Journey is aware that games can affect us as strongly as other mediums of expression. The Fall Out series gave us a vivid portrayal of civilization after a nuclear disaster, and Janet Murray has even argued in her book Hamlet on the Holodeck that Tetris is a "perfect enactment of the overtasked lives of Americans in the 1990s". Matt Matthews, host of Liberated Games, argues that Missile Command is culturally significant. When Missile Command came along,” says Matthews, "the idea of the end of the world coming in a hail of nuclear missiles was on a lot of people's minds. To see that acted out on a screen, to be in a position to try to fend this off for apparently helpless cities, to know that no matter what you did, there was no end to it—the fact that you could not avoid this fate once the missiles were launched is a political message." The point is that games can teach us valuable

The Colecovision. Pic via Wikipedia.

lessons, albeit in a vastly different way than older, more respected media have done.

We could go on like this for quite a while if it were nec- essary. However, if we can agree that games are culturally significant, then we are likely to agree that they are worth serious study and effort to preserve them. Though some people would argue that studying any history or literature is a waste of time, I wouldn't expect a reader of Free Soft- ware Magazine to share such a dismal view. So, I'll move on to the more immediate issue at hand: namely, how we can access these older games, either for fun or study.

As anyone who has ever played a videogame knows, it is a very different experience reading about a game or see- ing someone playing one than experiencing it for oneself. Videogaming, just like any gaming, is clearly a participatory medium that derives a great deal of its popularity from the special demands it makes on players. Unfortunately, play- ing older games can represent a significant technical chal- lenge. While it's easy enough to buy a PlayStation 2 and plenty of games, finding a working Atari 2600 or an Apple II, much less games for such systems, is not. Some of us have dedicated ourselves to scouring flea markets and yard sales and preserving old games, systems, and accessories in well-kept private collections. While these collections may have cultural as well as monetary value, they are not likely to benefit many people besides the collectors who cherish them. Again, merely seeing a Colecovision in a museum is one thing and playing one is something else entirely.

Other people are not only motivated to collect classic games and hardware, but to ensure that other people are given the opportunity to experience them. One common means of achieving this end is separating the software from the hardware for which it is designed. The next step is to create an "emulator" program capable of synthesizing the original hardware. Such programs are plentiful and available for a variety of platforms. It is even quite common to find older system emulators for modern game consoles. A recent

Slashdot posting (

16 Free Software Magazine Issue 8, October 2005

FOCUS\&tid= 203\&tid=207\&tid=233) identified the plethora of emulation software already available for Sony’s new

handheld game console, the PSP, and Sega’s Dreamcast is the platform of choice for a thriving community of emulation and homebrew enthusiasts.

Abandonware, emulation, and ROMs

A great many, if not most, of the games we enjoyed as chil- dren and young adults are freely available for download on- line. Sites like Back to the Roots, Home of the Underdogs, and Abandonia provide downloads to countless games for PCs and game consoles that are no longer being sold. Thou- sands (if not tens of thousands) of arcade games are avail- able in a variety of ways (including DVD mail order) for use in the well-known MAME emulator, and a cottage in- dustry has grown up to provide hardware. Devices like the Xgaming’s X-Arcade allow modern gamers to experience the feel of classic hardware. Never before in history has it been so easy to accurately emulate so many classic games on a modern PC.

Seeing a Colecovision in a museum is one thing, playing one something else entirely

Still, even though emulation has seen significant technolog- ical progress, it remains quite illegal. The problem is that in all but a few cases, the copyright, patent, and trademark holders of these classic games and systems have not granted their permission for these downloads and are not being com- pensated for them. Even though most sites that host aban- donware are non-profit and committed to selflessly serving communities of classic game and system enthusiasts, their activities clearly constitute copyright infringement.

The attitude of most of these sites is that they will keep a game available for download as long as they do not receive a specific request from a copyright holder that they take them down. Not many copyright holders bother to do this, and others give their blessing. The majority are probably un- aware of the whole enterprise. Some abandonware authors have retained their copyright and are more than willing to release their games and code under a public license (or even

dedicate them to the public domain) when they learn of any interest whatsoever in their creations. Others may not re- alize what is going on until their games have been down- loaded thousands or millions of times; then they may feel that they have lost a great potential for revenue.

That some old games still hold significant value ought to be obvious to anyone. This is certainly the case with games like Frogger, Galaga, Super Mario Bros., and Ms. Pacman; these games have often been repackaged and made avail- able in a variety of compilations for modern PC and con- soles. However, why should anyone buy these often expen- sive compilations if they can get them for free? Neverthe- less, unless we’re willing to break the law, we need to pay the price for these versions, since they are either being sold by the copyright holders or someone who has licensed those rights from them. Illegal downloads of classic games may seem harmless, but any attempt we make to justify doing so ends up sounding like the shoplifters who claim they steal because the store charges outlandish prices. As supporters of free software, we acknowledge the right of programmers to release “non-free” software and earn a profit doing so, even if we celebrate those who privilege freedom.

What I think we’d all like to see is more classic games be- ing re-released under a public license so that no one has to break the law. We'd like to have the copyright holders blessing to distribute their software. However, there are a few points worth stressing here. One is very important: the original author of a game may or may not be the holder of the copyright. As