Emulate the Sinclair QL home computer with Linux

Last Updated on April 27, 2023

Emulation is the practice of using a program (called an emulator) on a PC to mimic the behaviour of a home computer or a video game console, in order to play (usually retro) games on a computer.

Home computers were a class of microcomputers that entered the market in 1977 and became common during the 1980s. They were marketed to consumers as affordable and accessible computers that, for the first time, were intended for the use of a single non-technical user.

Back in the 1980s, home computers came to the forefront of teenagers’ minds. Specifically, the Amiga, ZX Spectrum, and Atari ST were extremely popular. They were hugely popular home computers targeted heavily towards games, but they also ran other types of software.

Sir Clive Sinclair, the inventor and entrepreneur who was instrumental in bringing home computers to the masses, recently passed away. Many people involved in the games industry started with one of his ZX home computers.

Following the hugely successful ZX Spectrum, Sinclair’s next venture in the home computer market was their Sinclair QL. Unlike the ZX Spectrum, the QL was targeted at the serious home user and business users. While the Spectrum was hugely successful, the QL was a commercial failure shifting a mere 150,000 units.

The machine was based on a Motorola 68008 CPU clocked at 7.5 MHz. It had 128KB of RAM and used 2 Microdrives for storage.

Linus Torvalds has declared that ownership of the QL helped him invent and develop the Linux kernel.


QL has a wonderful multi-tasking operating system called QDOS and a competent on-board SuperBASIC interpreter for anyone who wants to tinker with programming.

Patched or reengineered versions of QDOS were produced, most notably Minerva which gradually evolved into a completely rewritten operating system, offering improved speed, with multitasking SuperBASIC interpreters.

Recommended Open Source Emulators

Click image for full size

ZEsarUX (shown in the image to the left) is our favourite open source emulator for the Sinclair QL. This emulator supports a wide range of home computers. Besides supporting all the Sinclair computers, it also emulates machines like the Sam Coupe, Jupiter Ace, Amstrad CPC 464, Amstrad 4128, MSX1, Colecovision, and even the Sega Master System.

This C based emulator offers very good performance.

Performance is very good and it’s cross-platform as too. There’s official support for the Raspberry Pi single-board computers too. ROMs are included where possible.

You might also be interested in SMSQmulator, a Java based emulator of the SMSQ/E operation system, a follow-on operating system for the 68000-based Sinclair QL. Being written in Java, the emulator will work under a variety of operating systems. in a number of operating systems and platform. SMSQmulator is not a QL or QDOS emulator, so it will not run some of the early QL programs that rely on certain memory locations of the QL.

QL software

QL was not a commercial success but there was a reasonable range of programs released.  You can download a range of freeware, public domain and charity-ware software from Dilwyn Jones Sinclair QL (down). The Internet Archive also hosts a variety of software.

Home Computers
AmigaFamily of personal computers introduced by Commodore in 1985
Amstrad CPCCombined the computer, keyboard and data storage in a single unit
Atari STA popular line of personal computers from Atari Corporation
BBC MicroSeries of computers designed and built by Acorn
Commodore 64Hugely popular home computer
DragonBuilt around the Motorola MC6809E processor running at 0.89 MHz
ElectronA microcomputer sported a Synterek SY6502A CPU clocked at 2MHz
MSXA popular range particularly in Japan
OricThe underrated Oric-1 and Oric Atmos
QLBased on a Motorola 68008 CPU clocked at 7.5 MHz with 128KB of RAM
TRS-80Very early mass-produced and mass-marketed retail home computers
VIC-208-bit home computer that was released in 1980/1
ZX80Predecessor to the ZX81; ignited the UK's home computer market
ZX81Low-cost introduction to home computing notorious for its RAM pack wobble
ZX SpectrumOne of the biggest selling home computers
Best Free and Open Source SoftwareRead our complete collection of recommended free and open source software. Our curated compilation covers all categories of software.

The software collection forms part of our series of informative articles for Linux enthusiasts. There are hundreds of in-depth reviews, open source alternatives to proprietary software from large corporations like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, IBM, Cisco, Oracle, and Autodesk.

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