Bringing Uthernet To MAME | 2020-09-01

Ah, so the shaggy dog story that keeps giving me material for blog posts. This story started with just trying to get some kind of Apple // series emulator working with a network connection.

I subsequently found some stability and disk emulation issues in GSPort, but also discovered that MAME didn’t have Uthernet support. I hacked it together enough to use Spectrum and discover that, on MAME, the P key doesn’t work in Spectrum terminals! I’ve since found this phenomenon doesn’t happen on GSPort or GSPlus, but MAME tends to try to go for an incredibly faithful-to-hardware emulation environment, so I, perhaps irrationally, trust it from a stability standpoint a bit more.

Also, I’m never one to miss a chance to buff up a hack into a real open source feature, so that’s exactly what I did. The MAME dev team is incredibly welcome to enthusiastic outsiders, it turns out. I really like them and I’m glad they supported the work as thoroughly as they did. I hope to find some other fun stuff to contribute to the project.

So, I can’t use the P key in terminals, but I caaaaaan use Spectrum Internet Suite to get a browser, and with that, I can view my own blog.

My own website as viewed from an Apple

This felt like a real win, except for three things. The first is that, on an Apple IIGS without an accelerator (MAME doesn’t support IIGS accelerators, and I’m not running it unthrottled), loading even a basic webpage is very slow. The second is that there doesn’t appear to be much (or any) support for images, so there’s no benefit relative to using a text-based browser. The third…see those garbled characters at the bottom? Yeah, the web practically runs on UTF-8 now. Much like what I remembered about SSL becoming the de facto default, retrocomputers are from an era when the world was fractured into multiple character sets (and there certainly weren’t emoji).

Really, though, that’s all been part of the point of this project. Things like Unicode are now things I’ve grown used to, but I remember the late 1990s before it was common enough to be considered default. In fact, I worked on a webmail project back at that time, and I did spend a lot of time fielding questions about emails encoded in character sets other than ASCII. It’s going to be interesting when I start getting HTML emails to my retrocomputing email account!