On the subject of emulators, there are two main factions. The first says that they are a good way of using all the software that you had for your previous computer when you upgrade. The second say that an emulator is a sure sign that a platform has no software. Why, they say, would you have an emulator if you could get as good or better software for your new machine? (They seem to forget that there are loads of emulators for DOS and Windows.)
I was first introduced to a useful emulator when I still had my old 386. A 386 has roughly enough power to run Sinclair Spectrum software at full speed. This was great: I could bring Bomb Jack, Manic Miner and Nebulous with me! And I could save levels and I could load complete games in a split second rather than ten minutes. The emulator was better than the real thing!
But my Amiga software just sat in the box. I had no way to bring that with me. Until now. PC’s are just about getting to the point that they are able to emulate and Amiga at full speed (and if they’re not then I can run them on my HP K box at work!).
The long and the short of it is that I’m lazy. If I can download an RPM archive of a program, I will. It’s not that Ican’t build programs — most work days I’m up to my arm-pits in C and Makfiles — it’s just that I want to use a program straight away. Okay, that makes me impatient too.
I’ve not been able to find an RPM of UAE, so I downloaded the latest stable version I tried to build it. Normally these GNU ‘configure’ scripts are straightforward: type configure; type make; and everything is ready. Configure usually goes away and finds the various bits and pieces without any trouble. The UAE configure script, however, couldn’t find my GTK library (I have the correct version according to the documentation) and it couldn’t see that I had the SVGA library, and the DGA support, which it did find and claimed to be using when I started UAE up, didn’t give full screen support.
So to summarize, I couldn’t get a nice user-interface and I couldn’t get full screen support in console or X. I wasn’t impressed.
Does it work?
It shows how long ago it is that I used a real Amiga. Like all the various kinds of memory that a PC can have (EMS, XMS, conventional, high), the Amiga has a number of different types too. I used to be able to remember all of them, what they are, what they do and why they’re there — on both the PC and Amiga — but I can’t now!
That’s to say, some of the programs that I couldn’t get working might, in fact, work fine if you can get the right combination of memory and video settings. This isn’t a criticism of UAE as such, more of the Amiga. It might be possible for the UAE team to add hints, though. (I never programmed my Amiga much, so I don’t know whether that would be possible.)
But I did have a number of successes. Workbench 1.3 seems to work fully (I’d forgotten how bad it looked), as does AmigaBasic and Deluxe Paint. With the windowed version of UAE, it is normal to have the Amiga mouse-pointer being completely independent of the X pointer. I find this annoying, but you can switch it off.
Perhaps more impressively I managed to get some games working. Arkanoid 2 works flawlessly; International Karate+ seems to work okay, albeit from the keyboard; Populous ran; as did Pacmania. However, all ran somewhat slowly. Arkanoid was fine unless the sounds was switched on. This slowed down the game, and the sound kept breaking up. Probably the worst was Pacmania, which was far too slow. The documentation does warn that some of the scrolling effects are the most processor intensive, and this is obviously the problem here.
As I mentioned before, there were a number of games that I couldn’t get working at all. Chase HQ gave me nothing more than a black screen. Rampage crashed. Paperboy didn’t work. Simulacra didn’t start. Maybe these will work if you twiddle with the memory settings?
While it’s true that the performance and sounds problem can be overcome by throwing extra hardware at it, I think it’s fair to mention that most games are unplayable on a mid-range Pentium (120). Many application are probably okay, maybe even faster than the real thing, but I can’t see why anyone would want to run Amiga productivity software on a PC. Microsoft Word or LyX would be far better than anything on an Amiga.
UAE is supposed to come with a GTK-based front-end. I never managed to get this working, so all I was left with was the command line. This left no way to switch disks — they are emulated by files on your hard-disk — after the emulator had started, and no way to edit display or sound settings without resorting to obscure command-line directives.
I get the feeling that the UAE team may have bitten off more than they can chew. The Amiga was always considered a powerful machine, and trying to squeeze it into a ‘well behaved’ operating system like Unix was always going to be difficult. (One of the best Amiga emulators, Fellow, runs under DOS which is a far better option. There’s no chance of you being preempted by another process or user and you have full control over the screen.)
Maybe I’d have been more impressed if I’d managed to get the user-interface and full-screen mode working. And maybe I’d have been more impressed if I could install Linux on my PII at work. But I wasn’t and I haven’t, so, for now, I’m going to leave UAE well alone.