I found the information about that software and hardware
It is called PILOT - Portable In-flight Landing Operations Trainer
and was used in conjunction with a Rotational Hand Controller. The software is descriped as a very high fidelity Shuttle flight model and is a rehosted version of NASA's SES - Shuttle Engineering Simulator
. In the beginning it run on a portable SPARC II compatible computer (the OS was a modified SunO/S 4.1.1 UNIX) with a 15 inch high-res. color flat panel. It was first used/tested on STS-58 in October 1993:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-58
By the way, you can see the PILOT being tested at 27:45 in the STS-58 Mission Highlights video from http://shuttlesource.com
it's very hard not to touch a stick for two weeks and then make a perfect landing.
Whilst the pilot proficiency degrades indeed, it don't think it becomes "very hard" to land the Shuttle. Shuttle pilots usually were experienced fighter pilots and they did train on the Shuttle simulator and STA for month. The PILOT helped to maintain pilot proficiency, but it wouldn't have been an issue to land the Shuttles without it. Before STS-58 the Shuttle did fly some 10-days missions without the PILOT aboard.
It's also why they take control in the HAC even when the shuttle is capable to take herself all the way to preflare all by her self. it was only done once at STS-3. resulting in a very difficult landing as the first time Jack Lousma touched the stick was only a few seconds from landing.
I think that the STS-3 landing was the funniest one in the entire program:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDvyznX1ipY
Already the Apollo Lunar Module could land on the Moon automatically by the way. But the crews always chosed the manual/semi-automatic mode. And I think it was a good choice
It is always good to fly manually. The computers are still not that much accurate as pilots are. The more wind you get the more uncapable the computer becomes to land properly. This even applies for modern Airbus aircraft. The crosswind limit for automatic approach, landing and rollout is 20 knots for the A330. But pilots do prefer to land manually anyway (and they have to mind the number of landings required to keep the validity of their licence).