C64 Vintage and Virtual Hardware For Exploring The Past

C64 and virtual 1541 drive-smBack in the early 1990's when I got my first IBM PC clone I gave little thought to transferring my documents from my previous non-IBM PC clone computers, the legendary C64 and Amiga over into the new world. I'm not sure why but it didn't seem important then. As a consequence the earliest digital records that I have on my computer today date back to 1993. Today, that's of course a bit of a pity. With a bit of luck, however, a lot of disks and tapes should still be on the attic of my parents house and at some point I'll go and get them for a closer inspection. The big questions is however, how to view and eventually migrate them to the PC!? After all, even the small 3.5 inch floppy disks in C64 and Amiga format are incompatible to the old 3.5 inch floppy format used in the PC world.

So I started a little project to get a vintage C64 back up and running again and in addition I bought a little piece of hardware that emulates a 1541 floppy drive on the C64's IEC bus and stores virtual floppy images on a standard Microsoft FAT formatted SD card. The device comes in the shape, color and design of the original 1541 floppy drive but shrunk to the size of a matchbox. Beautiful engineering and the only thing that is missing is the noise the original drive made! The smallest of SD cards will suffice to get it working, because, after all, a single 5.25 inch floppy in the C64 days could only hold around 170kb of data. There's tons of virtual C64 floppy images out there but I'm sure they'll all fit on a single 2 GB SD card. The sd2iec adapter comes with a virtual floppy image explorer that runs on the C64 to select the desired floppy image to work with. The 1541 emulator box also has a button to switch from one floppy image to the next, which is handy when programs require more than a single floppy.

An example of this is and my prime use case is GEOS, the graphical user interface of the C64 of Berkeley Softworks that very much looked like the first MacOS GUI. GEOS is booted from a start disk but all applications such as GeoWrite, GeoPaint, etc. are stored on separate disks. No problem with the push button to virtually change floppies. A floppy image of GEOS and the write and paint program are available on the net and they work perfectly on the real vintage C64 and the virtual 1541 drive. To see if I can actually export my documents that I wrote with GeoWrite at the time I created a new GeoWrite file and wrote it to the virtual disk. The content of the virtual floppy can then be imported from the SD card on the PC with 'cbmconvert'. And once that step is done, individual GeoWrite documents can be converted to a text file with a GeoWrite converter program. Unfortunately, images and and formatting are lost in the process but I guess for my purposes the text is the most important part anyway and this worked with my test document. I had a look at the Geos Programmer reference guide that is available at archive.org and luckily the file format is described there in detail. So should I want more than just the text it could be a fun project to fully convert GeoWrite files and images to something readable with a PC today.

Perfect, the proof of concept works, so the next step is to get my hands on the real files in case they still exist…