A team at the University of Oxford in the UK have developed a x86 PC emulator. Amazingly, it’s written in Java. Even more amazing — it works!
Web developers are prominent users of PC emulators such as VMware, Virtual PC, and VirtualBox. These software products simulate PC hardware and allow you to install another operating system within a virtual machine. Since a virtual machine is a collection of data files, it can be cloned, backed up, or restored. Virtualization is a hot topic within the corporate sector and it provides web developers with a reliable way to test multiple browsers across multiple devices. Even if ease of use and saving money were not issues, virtualization removes the need to cram your office full of hardware!
So why is JPC (the pure Java x86 PC Emulator) different to other emulators?
It is cross-platform
JPC will run on any device that supports Java; Windows, Mac, Linux, and the majority of mobile phones. It will almost certainly run on Google’s Chrome Operating System.
(Note that the iPhone is an exception. Although it has hardware support for Java, Steve Jobs has stated “Java’s not worth building in. Nobody uses Java anymore. It’s this big heavyweight ball and chain.”)
It is secure
The virtual PC runs entirely within the Java sandbox. The emulated hardware is isolated from the real machine and cannot interfere with the underlying OS.
It works in a browser
This is the killer feature. A developer can set up a virtual machine with a pre-loaded OS and software than can be accessed by any authorised user directly from any Java-enabled web browser. This has massive potential; a Chrome OS or mobile phone user could run a Windows application anywhere at any time.
Realistically, this will not happen soon. JPC provide a selection of working DOS games and Linux distributions, but full x86 and Windows compatibility is some way off. Doom is playable, you won’t play it for long.
The number of software layers makes emulation speed an issue. However, the software and hardware will improve — which makes the possibilities very interesting.
Could this technology be more disruptive to Microsoft Windows than Google’s Chrome OS?
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.