Category Archives: Musings

Belated Birthday Wishes, Apple IIGS!

I suppose it’s appropriate that my birthday wishes to the IIGS are a month late. It was released in September 1986 but I didn’t own one until 1999 — nearly seven years after Apple discontinued it. My feelings about the machine, like my memories, are a bit distant and confused. In 1985, Commodore introduced to great fanfare the Amiga and all of my “Commie-loving” – that was an insult back in the day. The Soviet Union was still a thing that existed and might destroy the world at any given moment – “Commode-ore” friends went wild, wasting exactly zero minutes tracking down me and my “crApple” II buddies (see what we did there? With the crap and the Commodore and the… yeah… hey, it was funny to us) to rub our faces in it and wave around their copies of the premiere edition of AmigaWorld magazine as they mocked us: “Can your crApple II do this?” “How do you like them Lo-Res Graphics now, rainbow boy?” “Warriors, come out to pl…”

Wait. Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite as, “Lord of the Flies,” as all that but they did have a point and damn, did those animations put out by the “Bernie” chip look smooth. (Or was it “Denise”? I can never keep all those chips straight.) Our clever jabs about no slots, cheap plastic build and god-awful keyboards lost a bit of their sting that sad day. Not to mention the pathetic load times on that disk drive of theirs. Yeesh… Anyway, we took it all in stride. We knew it wouldn’t be long before Apple came roaring back to reward the faithful fanboys for our devotion and knock the socks off everyone with the latest machine. Of course they would. Rumors of a new II had been popping up in A+ and Nibble magazine for months now that it would be amazing and better yet, the great and powerful Woz himself was said to have designed it… or worked on it… or guided development. Whatever, it would be nothing short of miraculous and then we could tell those Commie and Atari fanboys what was what. In the meantime, we had to content ourselves with daydreams and whiled away the hours coming up with lists of what the new specs might be – all of them much improved over the Amiga, naturally. One of our artistically inclined friends even came up with sets of drawings based on what we’d read, visualizing what the “IIx,” as it was still dubbed, might look like, hoping it would come soon. And come it did, eventually and what we got was… well…

Back then, when I wasn’t at band camp, I whiled away the long California summer hours in the local Egghead discount software store, drooling over the shelves of Apple titles, all neatly wrapped in shiny cellophane and carefully arranged, their price tags a reminder that I couldn’t afford any of them but I guess it was enough to be close to them or something. I would hang out and try to chat up the retail employees about the latest game rumors or tips I’d picked up in the new issue of Computist and generally make a nuisance of myself until they gave me something to do, just to shut me up. At first, I would help out setting up demo computers or test out the newest titles for them and I would carefully interject thoughtful corrections and details into any conversation a salesman might be having with a potential customer. All of this for free, mind you. Hey, the salesmen were busy and I knew they didn’t always have time to learn every little detail and I was happy to point out their mistakes to the customers.

Can’t imagine why that would have been … what was the word Tony used? Oh yeah – “infuriating.” “Snot-nosed punk,” was also mentioned in passing.

Shortly thereafter I was shifted to the help out in the stock room, re-wrapping the boxes after everyone had made pirated copies of the latest games, and unpacking UPS crates as they came in from the software companies. So when the set of boxes emblazoned with the rainbow Apple logo showed up one day, I got to help unload them from the truck. My heart was pounding – this was it! Had to be! Of course, everyone else wanted to see as well, crowding around as the thing was unpacked. I was pushed to the side and they kicked me out of the store promptly at closing so I didn’t get to see as they set it up after hours. The next morning, I rushed back to make sure I would be first in line when the place opened up. My father, mostly curious what all my excitement was about, tagged along.

And there it was! At last! Sitting on the demo desk, running through some animations and playing sounds that I’d never heard from a computer before: rich, full chords of music; loud, realistic blasts of a cannon as an action game segment was displayed. And the graphics? Gorgeous! Lickable, even! I was enthralled and made sure to approach with the appropriate amount of reverence and respect. ‘G’ and ‘S’ stood for graphics and sound, and boy did it ever live up to the letters. I marveled over the new case design, oddly familiar yet new and beautiful and fresh. I wanted one so badly, I could taste it. Apple really got it right and I was going to make sure the C-64 sucking, ST-owning jerks I called friends were going hear about it. They’d regret ever doubting Apple. Or me.

My father was… less than impressed. He’d been looking over the little sales data chart Egghead was handing out and his eyes kept going back and forth between the machine and the list, brow furrowed. Hours later, after he finally managed to drag me away (much to the relief and joy of the Egghead staff) as I was chattering effusively at the local IHOP while we ate our eggs and pancakes, and making vague threats about the end of the Commodore and Atari empires in the very near future, he stayed quiet.

“So when can we get one?” I finally dared to ask. “I bet if you call them today, we could have it here by next week.”

Without looking up and in one single, horrible moment, he killed off my little dreams. “We’re not getting one.”

I was dumbstruck. How could he even suggest this heresy? “What? Did you see that computer? It’s amazing! And it’ll run all the software we already have-”

He shook his head and then laid it all out for me: “It’s a dead-end. It’s too much like the Mac, and it’s in color and sounds better.”

“So that’s good, right?”

“No. Think about it. Apple is all about Macintosh right now. It’s slow, monochrome, no expansion possibilities, no software for it, overpriced and still not selling well. Then along comes this other machine: color, seven slots, supports all your Apple II software. Just a better machine. No way they’re going to support something that’s better if it doesn’t say ‘Macintosh’ on it. Probably why they used the slow processor, too. ‘6502 compatibility’ my ass. Put a 68000 in there and there’s no reason to buy a Macintosh. Sorry, I’m not getting stuck with a machine that I can’t buy software for because – you mark my words on this – they’re not going to advertise it, not going to release anything and it’ll be dead in a year.” He went on a bit but I’d stopped listening.

I was devastated. And he was right, mostly. The IIGS managed to hang on through a couple of revisions and minor upgrades, and lasted until the end of 1992, well beyond my father’s predicted short lifespan. It even got a GUI shell called GS/OS that looked a whole lot like the Macintosh Finder. But company support for the platform was anemic at best. Apple ran few print and TV ads that even mentioned the IIGS by name and pushed it at elementary schools, where they were set up to run as fast Apple IIe’s. Very little software was written to take advantage of the new capabilities and in the end, my Commodore and Atari friends got the last laugh as it never ran faster than a pathetic 2.8 MHz (at least without an expensive, third-party accelerator board), well behind the other 68000-powered computers in its class, the Amiga and the ST.

There was another upgrade in the works, one that got far into development and maybe even close to release, known as the “ROM 4” or “Mark Twain” to torment the loyal fanboys and girls with what might have been. Pictures of the few existing prototypes can be found on the web. The 6502 was decades old by then and it would be unfair not to give credit to Western Design Center for squeezing every last drop out of potential out of the architecture with the 65C816, the heart of the IIGS, but by then its limits were a well-known end point around which there was no easy getting. Apple’s only interest in the II at that point was as a revenue stream to continue propping up the slow-selling Macintosh line, it’s hypocritical “Apple II Forever!” battle cry notwithstanding. Mac finally got color in 1987 and, perhaps coincidentally, sales began to trend upward as Apple moved away from the “toaster” design, the hallmark of the first Steve Jobs era. And once Macintosh could stand on its own two legs, that was pretty much it for the Apple II.

So, happy birthday, IIGS. I didn’t know you back then but I hear you were…. interesting.

Apple introduces the IIGS

Apple introduces the IIGS

German Apple /// ad

I found this Apple /// ad over at, a German collector’s website.  It features the familiar flow of text wrapped around a “stretched” graphic of the Apple Monitor /// hovering above the ProFile drive, which itself floats over the main /// unit.

"Apple ///. The personal computer with the new ProFile." (click for full size image.)

“Apple ///. The personal computer with the new ProFile.” (click for full size image.)

Here’s a rough translation, courtesy Google’s handy utility:

Apple ///. The personal computer with the new ProFile.

Apple’s Third Generation. No question – personal computers are becoming more popular. And the number of suppliers is large. But before you buy any personal computer should you choose to progress rather equal; Apple’s third generation.

Apple III. The most powerful personal computer on the market. It will benefit them more than you think possible. To make it easier and faster than ever to do business transactions of all kinds.

Comprehensive Software. The Apple /// are the most advanced program packages are available simultaneously.

How VisiCalc for your plans, budgets or administrative costs.

In connection with the Business Graphics software package, you can implement the developed VisiCalc with data directly in graphics, drawings, diagrams, or tables.

Mail List Manager, another program from Apple, helps you to manage up to 960 names and addresses and print them. With any accessibility – according to your wishes. Alphabetically, postal codes or own search terms.

Take added Apple Writer /// software and a printer – and you have a complete text system. With 90% of the performance of the specific word processing computer. Incidentally, almost all programs of the Apple II also run on the Apple ///.

Integrated Data Processing. Exclusive to the Apple /// is the program package ACCESS ///. This enables you to change and returned able to take data from mainframe computers.

Personal Storage. Do you want more, take ProFile it. The special Apple /// hard disk space. More than 5 million characters are stored directly. Which approximately 1200 pages of text corresponding to A4 – enough to manage the data of a middle operation.

Growing with Apple ///. We want your Apple /// according to your requirements grow. And have therefore constructed him that you can connect almost any kind of peripherals. Expandable up to 256 KBytes RAM will help you just as the powerful operating systems SOS, DOS, UCSD and CP / M. What other personal computer has already four operating systems?

Apple /// for the Software Developer. With Apple /// Pascal software developers is the right tool available: A performance operating computer language.

Full-service through the Dealer Network. Service for your Apple /// offer in Germany over 200 dealers. Visit your nearest Apple dealer. And find out for yourself what is true computer performance.

With the exception of the ACCESS /// paragraph, the translator is remarkably good.  Here’s the text in the lower right corner:

Want to know more? Then please fill out this coupon and send it to: Apple Computer Marketing GmbH, Maximilian Street 29, 8000 Munich 22nd

I am interested in:

Commercial Solutions
Software Development

And of course, Apple’s slogan:

Apple.  The Personal Computer.

Quark. Only mostly dead.

Back in 2011, it was widely reported that Quark, the legendary maker of software that at one time was the cornerstone of the desktop publishing industry, had been purchased by Los Angeles-based mergers and acquisitions firm Platinum Equity. Quark’s star had been waning for years by then, its once-sterling reputation now tarnished by a series of blunders in what appeared to be a deliberate and targeted campaign of ill will against its primary customers, Mac users in the industry.  Increasing pressure from Adobe’s encroachment into the publishing space and a CEO that couldn’t keep his mouth shut accelerated the fall, so no one was really surprised when news of the sale broke.  The common speculation was that the whatever valuable IP remained would be sold off to the highest bidder and the company dissolved.  An ignominious end to a sad story, indeed.

Quark global headquarters in downtown Denver, Colorado.

Quark global headquarters in downtown Denver, Colorado.

Sensitive as I am to such things as the suffering of others, I exploited the opportunity to write a post about some of my favorite Apple II and /// products from Quark’s early days.  And, like everyone else, I was expecting the worst for Quark.

Well, turns out they’re still in business.  As I was trying to restore some of the old articles that existed here a few years back, I did a little Googling and yep – they’re still around.  I’m not sure what they’re doing these days.  Gaining market share lost to Adobe doesn’t seem to be a priority, but Platinum Equity is content to let them keep at it.  And that’s cool – my “not so fond farewell” can wait.  Here’s the old article, with the stuff about Quark’s demise excised.

This post originally appeared on on August 9, 2011.

Those of us who have been playing around with computers for a bit longer than the average user probably remember Quark for more than just a powerful desktop publishing application. Here’s a quick look at some of the stuff they produced for my favorite 8-bit home computer, the Apple II (and III!). Don’t worry, the list is short.



Quark was an early proponent of DRM and implemented draconian copy protection schemes in their products. Catalyst was designed as a program selector to assist Apple /// users in loading their expensive business products from diskette onto their new, even more expensive hard disk systems while retaining their copy protection. They were going for the best of both worlds here, and didn’t really attain either.


An Apple /// user would first install Catalyst onto their shiny new $5,000 10 MB ProFile drive and then, through a series of convoluted steps, load various pieces of software into Catalyst. During the install, the user’s original diskettes would be disabled and permanently tied to the Catalyst diskette so that the originals would no longer boot and could only be reinstalled to the hard drive through the specific copy of Quark’s program to which they were tied. Quark whimsically referred to these lobotomized disks as, “Catalyzed”.


Have you been… uh… Catalyzed?

Additionally, if your newly enslaved applications required access to your printer, Catalyst had to be manually configured through a quick, 30-step process… Okay, maybe not so quick.



Catalyst itself was also copy protected and featured a serial number so that once “Catalyzed” your applications couldn’t be loaded by a copy with a different serial number.

You can imagine the headache you were in for if you one day decided to move to a different program selector to access your programs once they had been modified.

A version of Catalyst creatively called “Catalyst IIe” was eventually introduced for the Apple IIe and IIc.

Word Juggler


Quark’s word processor for the Apple II line was known for its ease of use, extensive feature set and simple learning curve and matched up well against AppleWriter, which served as Word Juggler’s main competition until the AppleWorks suite was released by Apple in 1984. On the Apple ///, Word Juggler was the first, and for years only, commercially available word processor.

Apple recommended Word Juggler and even sold copies directly to customers and through dealer retail shelves while its own offering, Apple Writer ///, floundered in development hell.

Word Juggler ad from InfoWorld, Nov 30, 1981

Word Juggler ad from InfoWorld, Nov 30, 1981

On your Apple II, it came with a custom set of keycaps, silk-screened with convenient command information, and a nice keyboard template of sorts, that you could align with your number keys for easy reference while working.  Fancy.


Word Juggler wasn’t immune to Quark’s copy protection efforts and customers had to install a hardware dongle in their Apple II to get the software to boot up at all. All that convenience and flare didn’t come for free, it seems.


Lurking silently in your Apple II, protecting Quark’s IP.

And that pretty much wraps it up for Quark’s 8-bit Apple software offerings. They also sold a number of minor applications, most designed to enhance Word Juggler. Lexicheck was an 8,000-word spelling checker; Terminus provided telecommunications functionality; Mail List Manager Interface also integrated with Word Juggler as did TypeFace, giving you access to typesetting equipment, should you have it.



And so we bid a not-so-fond farewell to the corporate entity known as Quark, Inc.

Perhaps Quark, Inc.’s final chapter has yet to be written…

Apple III by the Numbers

As one of the half-dozen or so Apple /// fans out there, I am often quizzed by skeptical Apple II users about the computer that has sometimes been compared to the Ford Edsel.  Usually, these grillings immediately follow a post (or occasional KansasFest presentation) in which I point out some of the obvious improvements and superior features of the /// as compared to the earlier home computer from Cupertino, and the queries inevitably include this one:

“Is the Apple /// really *that* much faster than the II?”

And the answer is simple: Yes.  Sort of.  Sometimes. Maybe.

Early reviews in trade magazines dated around the NCC ’80 introduction often mentioned that the Synertek 6502A (or later B) was advertised by Apple as “peak 2 MHz” and that more realistically, the /// tops out between 1.4 MHz and 1.8 MHz, depending on a number of factors, including the task you’re asking it to perform, how many device drivers are active, the version of SOS you’re running, etc.

(Note: SOS 1.1, which was used in the BYTE article referenced below and its predecessor, 1.0 were notorious resource hogs and ate away at precious CPU cycles and bytes of RAM even while sitting idle.  Most of the bugs, as well as the bloat, were squashed with SOS 1.3 and if you’re using a real /// at home, you really shouldn’t be messing about with those older releases… your /// tip of the day folks.  For the discussion below, SOS’s performance doesn’t factor in much until the disk tests.)

The common wisdom from the era is that in early ///’s, you could reasonably expect 1.2 MHz – 1.4 MHz and in later models with improved hardware and leaner software, around 1.6 MHz.  The reviewers are also careful to state that unlike the II, the /// was designed so that the 6502 had a handful of supporting ICs to which it could hand off tasks so even in 1980, true MHz numbers could be deceiving.  Additionally, engineers came up with a clever trick to squeeze an extra .2 MHz out of the aging CPU: if you didn’t need to interact with the /// or see what was going on (e.g., during a big sort or heavy number crunching), you could tap CTRL-5 to shut off the video signal generation circuitry.  Even cooler was the fact that certain programs such as VisiCalc were smart enough to notice this and automatically re-enable the video as soon as the operation was finished.  Neat!

One of the reasons I miss BYTE magazine (the old BYTE, like pre-1992-ish) is their extensive reviews that got way down to the metal and dug around for all the good stuff (and the bad stuff too that the companies didn’t want you to see).

September 1982 issue of BYTE.  Chock full o' geeky goodness

September 1982 issue of BYTE. Chock full o’ hobbyist goodness.

When Apple launched the re-introduction PR blitz for the /// in late 1981/early 1982, BYTE took another look at the “newly revised” business computer.  Apple had been touting the improved horsepower beneath the 26 lb. pressed-aluminum RFI chassis and how much better it was at number crunching, sorts and other functions the pinstripe Wall Street crowd would love, even two years after its release.  As part of the review in the September 1982 issue of BYTE, author Robin Moore decided to run the numbers and see how much spin was really coming from Apple.

Remember that when the /// was initially released in 1980, the IBM PC was still months away from retail shelves, so there wasn’t an interesting comparison to be done.  Revisiting the /// in-depth like this was really beneficial because Apple considered the PC its primary competition on the business desktop.  And Moore helpfully included Apple II numbers for us fanboys too!

Something else to keep in mind before we dive in: by the time this review was published, the /// was approaching its third birthday and had come down in price somewhat, but was still much more expensive than a II stuffed with expansion cards to approximate functionality.  Apple listed a 128K /// at $3,495; 256K /// at $4,295; and a monochrome Apple Monitor /// at $320.

The /// used in these tests was a 128K model with the Synertek 6502B, a single external Disk /// Drive, and Business BASIC.  Total price: $4,115.

The IBM PC was a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088-based system with 48K base memory, a disk adapter card and one 160K internal floppy drive, a 16K memory / game adapter expansion card, a single additional floppy drive (the PC could only handle one external drive at the time), a RS-232C interface card, another 64K memory expansion card, a color graphics adapter card, and IBM Advanced BASIC.  All of these add-ons brought the PC approximately up to what was available in-built to the ///.

Welcome, IBM. Seriously.

Even with the extras you’d have to buy to match specs, the PC was still slightly cheaper, at $3,980.  On the other hand, this configuration maxed out all the expansion possibilities in the IBM; the Apple still had four free slots available to the user, plus the interface ports on the rear of the computer.

A fourth machine, a 4 MHz Z80 whose brand Moore doesn’t mention, is also given a lane in this digital derby.  This machine was tested with Microsoft MBASIC 4.51.

Moore takes a moment to note the difference in sales philosophy between the two companies.  Apple’s approach was to build in all the “good stuff” a business user might need and then charge accordingly, whereas IBM sold you a basic machine at a lower cost and let you fill it up with whatever you felt you’d need to get the job done.  Interesting that IBM’s thinking was much closer to how the Apple II was developed and marketed than Apple’s own offering.

Apple /// vs IBM PC: Price

Apple /// vs IBM PC: Price

Moore doesn’t list what he put in the II (and in fact, he may have run the tests in the ///’s Apple II Emulation mode, which obviously invalidates those results as anything but a curiosity), but he does pause to mention how differently Apple viewed its potential /// customers from the II buyers, and he does it by pointing out the documentation that ships (or rather, doesn’t) with the ///:

“Much of the technical information included in the Apple II is absent in the Apple /// package.  There is no discussion of bus structure, I/O addressing, memory usage, or screen-memory mapping.  There are no listings published for any of the system software, either in the Apple /// ROMs or on disk.  Apple does not even tell you about the monitor program in the ROMs…”

Moore goes on to check out the hardware (he really seems to like it – a man of impeccable taste, obviously…), features unique to SOS, graphics modes, INVOKABLES and other points of interest before he gets down to business and pits the machines against each other in a brutal performance deathmatch. Well, maybe not quite that dramatic… (I’ll have a link to a PDF scan of the original review at the end of this post, if you want to read the whole thing.)

Let’s take a look…

All of the benchmarks are done in the machines’ respective versions of BASIC and Moore lets us know that the ///’s 6502B is crippled right out of the gate by its own language:

The price of doing Business... BASIC.

The price of doing Business… BASIC.

He also notes that Business BASIC will likely see bigger performance gains over Applesoft with larger programs, and that the tests didn’t include the video blanking trick in the ///, costing it seconds in the final numbers.

Moore’s routines include a number of simple instruction sets, all of which seem likely to be functions commonly used by BASIC programmers: IF… THEN statements, REM execution, basic maths and variable handling, prime numbers, loops, etc.; as well as disk access times for floppies and fixed-media systems.

Moore puts the machines through their BASIC paces.

Moore puts the machines through their BASIC paces.

And… drum roll please… dah duh-duh daaaaaaah!

And the winner is...

And the winner is…

It’s clear that while the ///’s Business BASIC enjoys a slight-to-medium advantage in some (but not most) program execution areas when tested against the II running Applesoft, it’s really no contest when it faces the IBM PC and the Z80.  As expected, the II drops far back when tasked with complex math functions, but the /// still isn’t close to the other competitors.  The results are undeniable: across the board, the /// just can’t keep up.

At least in Business BASIC.

Unfortunately, Moore’s benchmarks are rather narrow in scope (in fact, it appears he didn’t test the PC or the Z80 himself, but pulled the numbers from another BYTE article).  It would have been nice to see how the /// stacks up when flexing some serious spreadsheet calculation muscle in Advanced VisiCalc (to be fair, the PC’s killer app, Lotus 1-2-3 wouldn’t be released until the year following Moore’s review), or Pascal program execution, or in a mixed BASIC and assembly environment.  Other critical testing areas such as graphics performance are absent as well.

So what’s the lesson here?

It’s something you still hear today, that “megahertz don’t matter”. And that’s true in the general sense (due to their efficient RISC architecture, both DEC’s Alpha and Motorola’s 680×0 chips for years easily outperformed similarly clocked Intel processors, for example), but a battery of focused benchmarks can give you a good overall view of where one machine is going to shine… or stumble.

Also remember that Moore’s tests don’t take into account the ~ 30% speed increase gained from disabling the ///’s video circuitry, so the gaps may be narrower than they first appear.

And finally, considering all the complex memory bank switching and other voodoo the /// system has to do behind the scenes to trick the 6502 into seamlessly accessing as much as 512K, the fact that it didn’t fall hopelessly behind the simpler, more elegant Apple II is a testament to the brilliant engineering that really is present in the ///.

On the other hand, given those same very thin apparent margins over the II (again, assuming that the Applesoft tests weren’t run in emulation) and the significant price disparity and divergent design philosophies behind the machines, it’s easy to see why the /// had a such a hard time finding a place of its own in an increasingly crowded and cut-throat marketplace.

Tomorrow, we’ll go over the rest of the article, where Moore looks at the all important disk seek/access times…

(REPOST) Beagle Bros IIGS

This article was originally published on May 1, 2012

For those who don’t follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I recently came into possession of one of Randy Brandt’s Apple IIGS’s.  According to Randy, this ROM3 was used extensively in the development of AppleWorks and many other totally awesome Beagle Bros programs, including most of the TimeOut series.  The IIGS served its time well and was eventually retired and it lived in a quiet corner of Randy’s office for nearly two decades, until he rediscovered it a couple of weeks ago and dusted it off once again.

Beagle Bros Apple IIGS

Unfortunately, the intervening years weren’t kind to this particular Apple, or more specifically, to the 3.6V battery that lives on every Apple IIGS motherboard.  As old batteries do, this one began to leak and spill its contents across the PCB.  The resulting “goo” (you can read all about the specific chemistry of battery leakage in this Google Knowledge article, if you’re interested) took out a couple of capacitors and left a nasty coating on the MC1377 RGB to composite signal converter IC.

Beagle Bros Apple IIGS - Motherboard Damage

Additionally, the leak spread to the bottom of the motherboard and pooled on the case RFI shielding.

Beagle Bros Apple IIGS - Motherboard Damage

Several of my fellow Apple hobbyists are optimistic that this repair shouldn’t be too difficult, and I tend to agree with them.  The first steps will be to remove the remaining corrosion and assess the MC1377 IC, and to replace the ruined capacitors.  I’ll probably get started this weekend – it would be a shame if an important piece of Apple II history like this couldn’t be repaired, but all things considered, it could be much worse.  I’ll keep you appraised of my progress here.

Beagle Bros Apple IIGS - Motherboard Damage

In the meantime, you can take a look at this Flickr set for more close-ups of the damage.