Tag Archives: Apple II

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 6502lane.net 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.

Catalyst

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

What Apple got for $10K

I discovered Ed Tracy’s fun and informative series of articles titled “Apple and the History of Personal Computer Design” this afternoon as I was looking for something to do that I could pretend was work, should the boss’s shadowy form suddenly find itself looming in my cube entry.  It ties in with his series on computer design and is a good read.  This paragraph caught my eye:

“Though thought impressive on its introduction, the plastic of the initial Apple II case was quite crudely constructed. To fit a tiny budget and tight deadline – Jerry Manock was hired only nine weeks before the West Coast Computer Faire in April 1977 where the Apple II was introduced – reaction-injection molding was used. This process is fast and inexpensive to set up, but leaves surface irregularities. Many case parts had to be sanded to fit together properly. Moreover, the light brown paint chosen did not adhere well to the polyurethane, so that surviving cases from early production inevitably have flakes revealing the lighter colour of the plastic below. By December 1977, tooling was completed for cases made out of the more durable and smooth ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) plastic which did not require painting or finishing and could be produced in larger volume (Kunkel, 15).”

The bit about the irregular cases was particularly arresting, as I’d heard before of the unique personalities of each early Apple II and how they were so physically different, a lid from one case couldn’t be used in another because it wouldn’t fit.  I could feel my post-lunch carb crash hiding in ambush in the shrubbery just up the sidewalk, wearing a 70′s era hockey goalie mask… waiting… and I decided to stave it off for a bit by researching more on this.  Nothing like reading to help you stay awake, right?

Anyway, Jerry Manock’s own web page discusses this a bit more.  In the first paragraph under the “Manufacturing Process” section of his Apple II page (found here), Manock states:

The initial units used the Reaction Injection Molding process from wooden tooling due to the very short three month design and development schedule.  The lids were hand finished, then painted, and were non-interchangible. (sic)

There’s that non-interchangeable lid thing again.  He also mentions wooden tooling, a thing I find particularly fascinating, as I have next to no knowledge of industrial design and case manufacturing.  I’ll admit that I didn’t even know wooden tools could be used in what sounds to me like a physically punishing environment.  Stuff gets all hot and melty, and there’s chemical gooeyness usually happening. Stuff that you don’t normally associate with getting chopped up and punched full of holes, gets chopped up and punched full of holes, that sort of thing.

Were they really using wooden tools to make those Apple IIs?  Why on earth would they do that? (Spoiler alert).  Money, that’s why. (Shocking revelation, I know.)  It didn’t take Google long to lead me to the March 8, 1982 issue of InfoWorld, in the search giant’s own collection of digitally available issues.  On page 12 begins an interview of one “Steven P. Jobs”, then just 26, deigning to gift the eager tech news journal readers with some of Apple’s unique philosophies and even some company history. The piece was part of the issue’s “Special Section: Apple Computer”, which I’m sure Jobs insisted upon as a condition for allowing himself to be interviewed.  Therein, he reveals the answer to my piny mystery.

To the InfoWorld interviewers’ question, “What sort of problems did you have at the beginning?“, Jobs – his penchant for bombast and hyperbole already well-developed and on full display, even at that young age – replies,

We didn’t know much about plastics back then.  We went with the Apple II case with a molding process. We didn’t have much money to make molds. So we hired an outfit in Mountain View.  The company said it would make the molds for $10,000.  The problem was, you got wooden molds for $10,000.  Well, we introduced the Apple II and all of a sudden the orders started coming in like crazy.  The wood came off the molds and a third of the cases would stick in the mold.  We almost went broke because we couldn’t get cases.  It got so bad at one point that we decided the outfit wasn’t interested in supporting us, so we went down there and some of us kept the guy busy while the rest grabbed our mold real quick.

Apple's Steven P. Jobs

Apple’s Steven P. Jobs

So there you have it.  Steve and his wild and crazy team, pulling of one caper after the next!  A totally minor bit of Apple trivia there, but a fun afternoon spent researching Apple II case manufacturing was enough to keep me awake for a fe…d.g.hkllkhndg;lhn…

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… While visions of Reaction Injection Molding Process manufacturing danced in his head…

Happy Birthday to us!

The final issue of Ryan Suenaga’s newsletter, A2 News and Notes appeared in December 2006. His Apple II online services “dirt sheet” The Lamp! survived longer, finally disappearing after the August 2007 issue.  In my view, the demise of these scions of computing publishing marked the end of a lineage of publications dedicated to chronicling Apple II history, stretching all the way back to the forums of GEnie, CompuServe, The Source and so many other online outlets. These were places where users so like myself dialed-up, reached out and found a wide world of like-minded people who shared an intense and occasionally unreasonable love of the products of Woz’s imagination.  Places to go to find technical help with that bug you just couldn’t solve at 3 AM, or share a joke and a laugh over a moment in a door game, or complain about Apple’s treatment of the II to people who understood exactly what you meant.  The cancellation of The Lamp was the end of a certain tradition of timely news updates, reviews and information about my favorite computing platform and the people who used it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Juiced.GS.  In fact, I love it so much, I’ve written a dozen or so articles for it, and spent the better part of my free time one month converting original proofs of the first few years of its publication to a digital form, to ensure their preservation and availability to future generations of hobbyists and digital historians.  The rest of that free time was dedicated to building a spreadsheet to index the articles in those early tomes.  A web-based descendant of that catalog can now be perused here. But Juiced.GS is a quarterly publication, which means that it can’t maintain an effective focus on up-to-the-minute Apple II news.  Sure, notable items found a place in the “DumpinGS” column, but it wouldn’t make sense to try to print the many minor happenings and time-sensitive stories that still mark just how vibrant and exciting our little corner of the vintage computing hobby still is, months after they happened.

“Wait!” you cry, “Blogs like A2Central and Call-A.P.P.L.E. do exactly that!” I agree.  Believe me, there’s nothing more exciting than to see a post announcing a new run of CFFAs or Uthernet cards and rushing over to their respective digital stores to throw my dollars at them before they sell out.  But blogs are oriented to giving you the here and now, the current, the new and shiny and don’t always do a good job of making easily available a record of events as they slip further into our past.  Blogs go away, sometimes without notice, taking their histories with them into the nothing.  Databases become corrupt and entries are lost, or don’t survive a CMS upgrade.  Sites get hacked.  Sysops ragequit and delete everything.  And sometimes, their search engines just plain suck.  The information is as good as lost if it’s inaccessible.  Who has time to spend these days, clicking through page after page of blog entries trying to find something that may have happened in late 2007, or early 2008… or was it 2009?

Ryan’s newsletters were an immensely useful resource at the time of their publication, and remain so as an easily accessible, searchable historical record of that era.  And in September 2007, they were done.

It was with these thoughts that I registered open-apple.net, intending to find a collaborator and relaunch some sort of Apple II news service to provide timely information in a format that met my requirements.  I hadn’t thought much beyond this – who, how, where to get the information without just cribbing usenet posts and entries on A2Central – but I felt it needed to be done.  And if no one else was interested, I’d at least have my own record that I could reference, because as my wife will tell you, my memory is terrible.

One thought that I kept coming back to was that a podcast might fit my designs nicely and would carry on the torch of Apple II journalism in a relatively new and interesting format.  Instead of just text, I could incorporate music, interviews, soundbites – things Apple II fans could get into and enjoy.

But here’s the thing.  I’m not very interesting.  I don’t have much personality and my voice is sort of nasal and pinched.  There was no way I could do by myself what amounted to an internet radio program that anyone would want to listen to.  And so I pushed all this to the back of my mind to percolate for a while.

And that’s about when Ken reached out to me as he was compiling his list of Apple II-related domains.  We started brainstorming how an Apple II news service would be defined, and as we did, it became clear that podcasting was the future of my dream.  Details started to emerge in the flow of conversation.  Neither of us had the time to do a weekly show and back then, we were …. well, okay, I was inexperienced at the painstaking time-suck that is editing audio, so it took much longer than it does these days.  We weren’t always the lean, mean podcasting machine we are today.  The streamlined, efficient Apple II media empire that is the Open Apple podcast did indeed have humble beginnings.  We wanted a structured format because so many podcasts that go the route of open-ended conversation lose focus and listener interest.  We wanted a rotating guest chair as our third host because that’s automatically at least a few minutes of fresh material each show. (I’m lazy and I work hard to minimize the amount of creative effort I have to put into a project.)  Not all of those big ideas worked out, though.  I recall that we wanted to keep it under an hour or so.  You can see how well that worked out.

And from there, we started to assemble the pieces.  Ken recorded a Rockhurst student reading a variety of scripts and samples (to often-hilarious effect) and we had our voice-overs.  He conscripted Peter Neubauer to handle our artwork.  He found us some great music we could cut up for bumpers between segments.  He got started building the website… Hm.  Come to mention it, I don’t remember doing all that much.

Ken had been collaborating with Andy Molloy on a number of Apple II projects over the years and so it seemed a natural choice to have him join us for our first recording.  That first session was difficult and uncomfortable and after we wrapped on that cold January afternoon, I discovered that my audio track was corrupt.  And so we did it all again.  There were problems with my audio.  None of us really sounded like we were having fun.  I remember being particularly nervous, a thing you can probably detect in the way my voice gets high and I talk faster than normal.  I don’t honestly know how I sound though.  I haven’t listened to those first shows since they were published.  Frankly, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t either but they’re still out there, if you must.

The funny thing though is despite how rough that first episode sounds, the response from the community was very positive.  So much so that we decided to do another. And another. And…

And that was three years ago this month.  Our little show has continued to grow and mature and improve over the 36 months we’ve done it, right in step with the life of the community we chronicle.

This podcast has given me so many things.

The hardware geniuses continue to blow us away with new stuff that takes the Apple II to places we’d never dreamed, and they come on the show to share that with us.

Software wizards like Sheppy and the guys at Brutal Deluxe still dazzle with their creativity and we get to report on it.

When Steve Jobs died, Open Apple was “on the air” hours after I first heard the news on the radio as I was driving home from work, and we shared some very real emotional moments.

Closer to home we were able to process our common grief when a respected member of our community died an untimely death.

An attempt to get Woz to join us for an episode of Open Apple lead directly to his surprise appearance at KansasFest last year.  I got to hang out with Woz!

The past three years have been filled with so many moments like these that I’d not have been able to otherwise experience, and I will always cherish them.

Through Open Apple, I’ve made new friends and strengthened my bond with others.

There were times when my frustration and anger got the best of me and all I wanted to do was quit the hobby and push my Apple II’s off a roof top.  My commitment to Open Apple kept me coming back and allowed me to move past those dark moments.

I’ve been honored to be a part of all this and despite some behind-the-scenes tantrums and wavering by a certain host who lives in Denver, I can’t wait to see what the next three years hold for the Apple II, for its amazing community of users, hobbyists and fans, and for Open Apple.

You can find Ken’s better-written, shorter story about the rest of the story here. (Maybe I should have opened with that… Good on you if you’ve read this far.)