You Can Relive the Good Old Days With macintosh.js

We now have Macintosh.js, a JavaScript developed Electron app that emulates Mac OS 8 to a fault.

The 90s weren’t the best of times for Apple. Microsoft was eating up their market in the personal computer business, internal politics tore the company apart, and the AIM alliance with IBM and Motorola to compete against Windows-based PCs ended up being more trouble than it was worth.

Then, at the tail-end of the 1990s, the company took a turn for the better, the kind of riveted story that would make a Hollywood script. After losing millions of dollars trying to find a niche market, Apple bought Steve Jobs’s NeXT and brought their Golden Boy back into the fold.

Apple was mere weeks away from bankruptcy when Jobs came back. And then, as if by a miracle, 1997 became a great success with their “Think Different” ad campaign and the release of Mac OS 8.

Mac OS 8 was a massive and overdue overhaul to their basic operating system, integrating much-needed user-friendly functionalities as well as some under-the-hood changes that made the operating system a competitor to Windows 95, the reigning king at that time.

Now, thanks to the hard work of Felix Rieserberg, we have Macintosh.js, a JavaScript developed Electron app that emulates Mac OS 8 to a fault. An apt reminder of what JavaScript can accomplish, and why JavaScript development services are in such high demand.

It’s not the first one, but it’s one of the best

Other developers have made similar emulators in the past. PCE.js, for example, is a JavaScript browser-based emulator that runs Mac OS 7. And all of them are a pretty accurate window to “how things were back then.” Unfortunately, most of them are just that, windows, a look-see to the 90s, but not much else.

What sets Macintosh.js apart is the ability to quickly transfer files between the app and your computer, so, if for any reason, you have any old Mac OS software lying around the house you can turn it into an image and run it with the emulator. It’s as easy as copying the files into a folder and launching the emulator again.

According to the author, he was able to include demo versions of games such as Oregon Trail, Duke Nukem 3D, Civilization II, Alley 19 Bowling, Damage Incorporated, and Dungeons & Dragons thanks to “an old MacWorld Demo CD from 1997”.

He also included demo versions of Photoshop 3, Premiere 4, Illustrator 5.5, StuffIt Expander, the Apple Web Page Construction Kit, as well as a few more apps. He does jokingly state that since it’s built with JavaScript one should set their expectations low. But I don’t know what else one could ask from a ready to go emulator like this one.

It even includes Internet Explorer and Netscape! Unfortunately, you won’t be doing any web browsing with the emulator. The “World-wide-web” was a very different place back then, and technology from that time can’t handle modern-day web pages. Still, you can play around with it if you are inclined.

It’s just a toy… or not?

In Felix’s own words, Macintosh.js is just a toy, not something you would use to do any serious work. And he does have a point — I can’t see myself doing anything with Macintosh.js that I couldn’t do better with modern-day software.

Having said that, I wouldn’t call it a toy or a nostalgia trip. It’s true that as I booted Oregon Trail I was having flashbacks of spending hours with my friends sitting around a computer playing it in midsummer while other kids played soccer on the street, so the nostalgia is there.

But there is also the matter of preserving history. Unlike art, literature, and movies, technology has a habit of always looking forward to the next best thing and we rarely think twice about leaving behind our past in the process.

Much like emulators and videogames, projects like Macintosh.js preserve those memories in an interactive format. Yes, we are all well aware that emulation is a tricky subject when you take copyright into account. But, how many pieces of software have been lost in time because of our lack of commitment to preserving the history of software?

For example, Bungie, the developer best known for the Destiny and Halo franchises, began their career as devoted Mac OS developers, with games like Pathway into darkness and Marathon. Revolutionary at the time, the mechanics in these games laid down the foundation for what Halo was to become.

Modders and retro game enthusiasts have kept games like Marathon from falling into oblivion thanks to their passion. Macintosh.js is, in my mind, a way to preserve not just games, but the experience of using an operating system and the software of the time.

Mac OS 8 might not have been as popular as OS X, but it sold well over 1.2 million copies in its first two weeks, and it was the saving grace that Apple needed to stay afloat. It was a well-loved operating system by the Mac fanbase and a reminder of what the aesthetics of software development were back in the 90s.

Macintosh.js is available for Windows, iOS, and Linux systems.

I’m a tech writer, IT enthusiast, and business development manager living in Miami.

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