First there was Elite, one of the first open-ended games and a great waste of time on just about every 8-bit machine including, of course the ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro.
There wasn't a great deal for quite some time after that. Sure there were attempts. Elite II, First Encounters and Privateer, but they all had their problems. The first two were very buggy indeed (though worth a quick look through the JJFEE re-engineering you can find at various places on the net) and Privateer was merely good with some nice videos.
A couple of years ago Christian Pinder took a crack at using the original code for Elite and translating it into C so that he could slap a modern front end on it and we could all fall in love with the game again. He pretty much succeeded with Elite: The New Kind, even enlisting Ian Bell (one of the original creators of Elite) to improve the AI on a mooted sequel Elite: The Dark Kind. He succeeded too well, though, and when someone took his code and ported it to the Palm Pilot so that he could charge money for it, David Braben (the other creator of Elite) had no choice but to get involved.
Ostensibly to protect his copyright, Braben demanded that Pinder not make his port and source code available anymore. I don't know all the facts here, but the upshot was that Pinder felt enough put out by this that he stopped work on any Elite versions and went off to perfect his martial arts skills instead.
At around this time another attempt at an old school Elite-type game was started. It was called Oolite and was available for Mac only. It sure did look pretty:
It has, at long last, been ported now to Windows. It has been for a while actually, but until recently you had to install a development enviroment in order to get it to work and had to be very careful where you put everything. No longer, though. Now Oolite comes with it's own installer. There's nothing to stop you. Hop along to this page and download the installer now, you won't regret it. It looks good, feels about right and they've added a docking buoy to make that bit of the game even easier (though the thing to remember is that on Corolis stations the docking bay always faces the center of the planet). They've also updated the basic Elite so that you can take on passengers fly different ships and do certain missions as well as the basic trading. So go! Give it a try.