Alan Hensel's Game of Life Applet, 1999 http://www.ibiblio.org/lifepatterns/ This applet was created over ten years ago, but it is still a classic. Even though the internet and processing speeds were significantly slower at the time, it is still a powerful piece of software. [Pros] Time Tested interface, Easy to create new cells even while the simulation is running [Cons] A bit older so it doesn't have some of the features of the new ones [The Bottom Line] This is a good place to start. It has some pre-defined patterns and some flexibility in defining the rules. The interface is simple. This software has been around for more than a decade, but it still has a great interface and a lot of useful features such as the following:
- Drawing in new life while the simulation is running
- Changing the Speed and Zoom levels
- Loading different patterns.
- Changing the rules of the game.
Golly http://golly.sourceforge.net/ Golly is the most powerful life simulator that we found, with updates as recently as last year. It allows an infinite board, changes in the rules of the game, and comes with some standard patterns. [Pros] Very powerful, and very fast. Contains an immense library. [Cons] Sometimes the interaction is not as intuitive as it could be, some learning curve. [The bottom line] This is not the place to start, but it is the version to use if you are looking for raw power. Students who have already mastered the game of life on other simulations and want to perform more complex experiments should use this tool. Golly is a desktop application so it must be downloaded before it can be run. Golly seems to be the ultimate power tool for game of life simulators. It can handle populations of over half a billion cells — and probably more. It slowed down quite a bit at that number, of course, but it was still clipping along at more than one generation per second. Golly must be using a very efficient compression algorithm, since those large worlds can be saved in files that are much smaller than might be expected. For smaller worlds, Golly had no problems running at least 200 generations per second on a mid-range laptop. Golly also allows you to make your own life rules. The interface for doing this is a bit technical, but once you learn the details there are many possibilities. Go to control,Set Rule to access this feature. It is recommended that you read the directions in order to learn the meaning of each rule encoding. The library of pre-made patterns is also very impressive. It's very easy to import these patterns from the sidebar, and to copy and paste sections of your world. You can also rotate patterns and fill sections with random noise. The map can also be zoomed out as far as you'd like, which allows you to see the entirety of an arbitrarily large world. My only complaint is that the scroll-zoom feature works in the opposite direction than does Google Earth and most online map applications making it counter-intuitive. But overall, this simulator has the best pattern library and interface that we have seen.
ConwayLife.com http://conwaylife.com/ This is a recently-developed online community created around the game of life. It includes a wiki and a forum in addition to a simulator. [Pros] The wiki explains a lot of what's going on, Speedup and Slowdown of simulation very clear, lots of patterns to choose from, online community + forums [Cons] Limited Zoom abilities/Drag and drop makes engineering new life hard [The Bottom Line] If you're finished exploring life for yourself and you want to connect with others who are Life enthusiasts, this is the place to go. The applet itself is very impressive, but it's not as powerful as Golly nor as usable as Alan Hensel's Life Applet. What makes this site impressive is its sharing technology. The wiki is very thorough in detailing all the different life patterns, and the forum remains active as of 2010. With something like this, just a couple of active users can make a community come to “life” as questions are answered and discoveries are documented. With Golly you can run patters, but on ConwayLife.com you can read about patterns, ask questions about them, and even share your own discoveries. Math is too often seen as a solitary activity and there aren't many resources online to help people share information to make discoveries. ConwayLife does this well, and hopefully that is going to be a part of a larger trend in mathematics education and research.