That old Atari eight-bit computer (like the Atari 800, XL, or XE series) you have is useful for more than just retro gaming. If you pair it with the new FujiNet network adapter and a weather program, you can get live local weather info on it. Here’s how it works!
For Atari hobbyists, the company’s eight-bit computer platform is far from dead. First introduced in 1979, the Atari Home Computer series once competed with the Apple II and the Commodore 64. Its technical flexibility has also inspired a die-hard fan base that persists to this day.
Hobbyists regularly release new software for this vintage platform, however, it’s rare to find a non-gaming application that’s actually useful. Perhaps that’s why this new Atari-powered internet weather program impressed so many when I posted images of it in action on Twitter.
Everyone wants to feel useful, and people love to make old technology useful, too. In this case, it’s possible thanks to the Atari OpenWeather client (or “Weather.xex,” in reference to the Atari binary file).
The program is the brainchild of Polish programmer, Wojciech Bociański (also known as “bocianu”). He’s been using Atari computers since 1985 and often programs his own games for them in his spare time.
Bociański said he originally created the program to test the Atari’s network capabilities. Because it’s become (unexpectedly) popular, he plans to continue updating it with new features for Atari fans.
Bociański’s program pulls live weather data about your location from OpenWeather, a service that provides the data through an API. That bit of magic alone requires lots of behind-the-scenes network data translation, which is impressive enough.
However, the most striking thing about Weather.xex is its beautiful display. It’s handsome enough to leave running all day on your vintage monitor or TV to get that retro-weather-station feel.
Weather.xex doesn’t do its job alone. As mentioned above, it also requires a network adapter called FujiNet. In 2019, Atari homebrew veterans, Joe Honold (aka “mozzwald”) and Thomas Cherryhomes, started looking for a compact way to simulate a dial-up modem on an Atari computer for tasks like calling a BBS.
They decided to create their own Wi-Fi-powered device. Other contributors came aboard and the crew added disk drive emulation, printing functionality, and the ability to simulate other Atari peripherals.
Thus, FujiNet was born!
This network adapter connects to the serial peripheral (SIO) port on an Atari eight-bit computer, and it’s quickly becoming the Swiss Army knife of the platform. FujiNet works with every model of the Atari eight-bit computer series that has at least 18K of RAM, including the 800, 1200XL, 800XL, XE Game System, 65XE, and 130XE. The 400 and 600XL won’t work without RAM upgrades.
The magic of FujiNet is in its internal ESP32 microcontroller, which is a powerful embedded computer module with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities.
With FujiNet, you can pull games directly off servers on the internet and run them on your Atari. You can also load disk images from a microSD card, simulate a printer or a cassette drive, and much more.
Developers continue to discover surprising new applications for the technology and revisions of the hardware are likely in the future.
To set up a FujiNet-powered Atari weather terminal, you, of course, need an Atari eight-bit computer. Weather.xex will run on any model with 48 K RAM and up (which excludes the Atari 400 and 600XL unless they’ve been upgraded).
If you’re starting from scratch, the Atari 800XL is a good model to get. It’s reliable, has 64 K of RAM, and is relatively easy to find on eBay. Another good option is the Atari 130XE, which includes 128 K of RAM and can run more sophisticated homebrew software.
Next, you’ll need a FujiNet adapter. It’s open-source hardware, so you can build one yourself. If you prefer, you can buy one from several vendors, including The Brewing Academy, The Vintage Computer Center, or Sell My Retro.
When you have your FujiNet adapter, plug it in to the Atari’s SIO port, and then turn on your Atari.
After the main FujiNet program loads automatically, you’ll be asked for your Wi-Fi information. After the FujiNet is connected to your network, you’ll see a list of Tiny Network File System (TNFS) servers at the top; select “fujinet.pl.”
After you’re connected to fujinet.pl, navigate to the “Networking” directory and choose “weather.xex.” Assign it to the Drive 1 slot of your FujiNet as read-only, press Option to reboot your Atari, and then weather.xex will load.
Alternatively, you can download the weather.xex binary. Copy it to a microSD card, insert it into your FujiNet adapter, and then load it from there.
When Weather.xex loads, the program will attempt to automatically determine your location based on your IP address. You can override this manually at startup by pressing Select and typing your location.
You’ll then see an overview of the current local weather. It updates every hour and at midnight, to fetch the new time and date. According to Bociański, you’ll be able to adjust the update frequency in future versions of the program. Right now, though, it would put too much strain on the free API data key the program uses.
You can also perform the following actions via the keyboard:
Overall, Weather.xex is an amazing program. However, it only scratches the surface of what’s possible with FujiNet. According to Cherryholmes, there are plans to bring the FujiNet concept to other retro computers, like the Apple II and Commodore 64.
Given enough time and effort, it’s likely vintage computer hobbyists will continue to discover new and amazing ways to make use of old machines.