Recollections of Using the Original Apple II

5/27/2007 Update - date of purchase corrected.

Recently I pulled my old Apple II down out of the attic in order to build the " The Super D'Lux Shutter Tester ".  As I worked on the project,  many old memories of using this machine in the late 1970's resurfaced.   I figured I'd share some of my memories with you on this page.

That machine I used, was a rev 0 Apple II from the first year of production.  Based on a date stamped on the keyboard PCB, my Apple II was purchased in the spring of 1978.  Deciding upon an Apple II, at that time, was not an easy decision.  S-100 bus machines were the standard of the hobby.  For instance, the SOL was a well packaged contender, though a bit more expensive.  In the end, several friends and I bought Apple II's.  Mine cost somewhere north of $1400 bucks and included all of 4K of memory.  4K of memory was pretty limiting, even in those days.  I tried typing in a BASIC program on the day  I brought it home, and it wouldn't fit in memory

One of my friends bought the bare board version.  If I remember right, he had a bit of trouble getting a power supply to properly power it.  He even claimed he talked to WOZ on the phone with some questions about getting it working, which he eventually managed to do.   I still recall the power supply, bare board and keyboard all sitting, unpackaged on a shelf in his bedroom.    I imagine a lot of those Apple I's and early bare board II's never got proper cases of any kind  These days, you rarely see an Apple I  without a case of some sort.  I think some of those cases might be recent additions.

4K of memory was all I could really afford, as a bank of 16K memory chips went for something like $500 at the time I purchased my machine.  Later on, some friends and I chipped in and bought some 16K ram chips in bulk, so it cost me something like $250 for another 32K, bringing my machine up to a total of 36K memory.  Hard to imagine that you can buy 500MB for less than $75.00 these days.  That is a price/performance increase of more than 60,000 to 1, not counting inflation!  Later on, the machine was upgraded to a total of 48K, but I don't remember when that happened.   Perhaps I found some DRAMs at work, since we used the same chips in the memory boards of our mini-computers at the time.

All programs and data were saved on cassette tape.  There was a common modification to tape players, that I took advantage of.  You connected the earphone output to the speaker with a jumper wire and a resistor and you could hear what the recorder was playing, even when the earphone plug was connected to the computer.  When I pulled my machine down from the attic recently, I found I still could read 25 year old tapes on that same old tape player.   The only issue  these days,  is that the drive belt on the tape player is loose and tends to slip at times.

We played games like Breakout, StarWars, Dragon Maze, Star Trek and Hammurabi on our new machines.   I started to learn how to program in BASIC and even learned a bit of assembler.  I got a big kick out of it.  This started me on my way to being a professional computer programmer, a career that has served me fairly well over the years.

At some point, a tape version of Applesoft became available.  It must have been a big deal, because eventually I bought an Applesoft Firmware card.  Later on, we heard that Apple was going to release a floppy disk drive for their machine.    I reordered one so I could get delivery as soon as possible, and save a $100 in the preorder deal.  That single floppy drive was a wonderful enhancement, and really transformed the machine.  Those are about the only two add ons that I invested in.  I used an fairly old color TV driven by a SupRMod RF modulator.  Video quality was nothing to write home about, but it was cheap.

The same friend that bought the bare board system, eventually bought a modem.  That was a big deal in those days.  I vaguely remember him having some issues with the telephone company because he was connecting unauthorized devices to their system.  That was in the days when all phones were rented to you by the phone company, since they didn't want unauthorized equipment messing up their system.

Within a year, I had landed a part time job as a co-op software engineer for a local company called Systems Engineering Laboratories.  A full time computer science major and part time co-op programmer,  left little software energy left for the Apple II.    It got little use, until it found a home as a bookkeeping machine in my mom's business.  It ran for several years in that business until the emerging dominance of the IBM-PC caused it to be returned to my possession.  It is interesting that my knowledge of Apple II computer technology really thins out after 1978-1979, as my career in mini-computers ramped up.

The Apple II was a good, but not great machine, to learn about computers with.  I feel lucky to have purchased one so early in the companies life.   I also feel lucky to have participated in the fairly early days in the evolution of what has become a very large (and different) industry.

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