Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The New Oldweb.today

Two days before Christmas Ilya Kreymer posted Announcing the New OldWeb.today. The old oldweb.today was released five years ago, and Ilya described the details in a guest post here. It was an important step forward in replaying preserved Web content because users could view the old Web content as it would have been rendered at the time it was published, not as rendered in a modern browser. I showed an example of the difference this made in The Internet is for Cats.

Below the fold, I look at why the new oldweb.today is an improvement on the old version, which is still available at classic.oldweb.today
Teresa Duncan CD-ROMs

The old oldweb.today used a technique that had been used before, for example to replay the Teresa Duncan CD-ROMs, and that I described in Emulation & Virtualization as Preservation Strategies. The emulators ran in the cloud, composed from Docker images of operating systems and browsers. Although the system worked well, there were practical difficulties, such as the fact that funding was needed to pay for cloud resources. The more popular the site, the more it cost to keep it running. To mitigate this, the site limited the number of simultaneous users.

The new oldweb.today uses the same idea as the Internet Archive's Emularity system. The web page loads an emulator for a computer compiled into WebAssembly, which loads an operating system image, which loads a browser, which loads the content. This is all static Web content, the execution all happens inside the visitor's browser, so no limit on simultaneous users is needed.

Netscape 4 on MacOS
Here, as an example of the new oldweb.today, is one of the U. Toronto Physics Flash Animations:
  • implemented in Flash in 2002,
  • archived by the Wayback Machine in 2007,
  • running inside Netscape Navigator 4 from around 1999,
  • running inside MacOS from around the same time,
  • running inside my version of Chromium from 2020.
The new oldweb.today allows you to choose among "old version of Macromedia Shockwave in MacOS browsers, Flash player 9 in IE5 and IE6, and the new Ruffle emulator", as used by Jason Scott for the Internet Archive's Flash collection. More emulations are planned. As Kreymer writes:
Does this cover all Flash works? Not yet, but advancements in emulation technology will continue to ensure that Flash remains accessible.
Scott has a similar caveat:
While Ruffle’s compatibility with Flash is less than 100%, it will play a very large portion of historical Flash animation in the browser, at both a smooth and accurate rate.
Taken together, these show why having a range of different emulators available to replay preserved Flash content is important.

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