Forty-five years after the launch of the Apple II PC, the technical industry is likely to move away from several key principles that have brought Apple and the PC mainstream. We spoke with industry leaders Tim Sweeney, John Romero and Steve Wozniak about what Apple II did right – and what we can learn from it today.
Apple II: A computer for everyone
The Apple II, released in June 1977, sparked a wave as an easy-to-use computer aimed at the average person. The original model included a MOS 6502 CPU running at 1 MHz, a text resolution of 40 × 24 characters, color graphics, composite video output, a cassette storage interface and eight internal expansion slots. It was originally sold in variable configurations from $ 1,298 with 4K RAM to $ 2,638 for 48K RAM (that’s about $ 6,223 to $ 12,647 adjusted to today’s dollars).
In 1978, Apple released a 5.25 ″ floppy drive for the Apple II, which could store 143 KB per disk, and the launch of VisiCalc in 1979 made the Apple II an essential purchase for small businesses. Also, thanks to the efforts of Steve Jobs, it gained a strong position in education, and the computer labs of primary schools in the United States were often full of Apple II computers, which represented them for a generation. Over time, Apple released at least 8 Apple II models and continued to support them until 1993 – for 16 years.
Like the previous Apple I, the Apple II integrated a “terminal” with keyboard and video output directly into the computer itself, so there was no need for a separate teletype or CRT terminal interface. As a result, the entire Apple II system was more compact and less expensive than other complete PC systems at the time, although many computers soon followed the same integrated I / O pattern.
RELATED: What are teletypes and why were they used with computers?
How Legends Began
The Apple II has been famous since the 1970s, but a lot has changed in the technology industry since then. And so we thought: Is there anything that the Apple II has done well that computers have recently lost sight of? To get some answers, we spoke with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (whom we interviewed on our own). We also asked two legendary game developers who started their software development careers on the Apple II.
Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, programmed applications and games on the Apple II before founding Epic in 1991. “My first Apple II was a gift from my brother Steve Sweeney, namely my dad, but I was a real audience,” says Sweeney. “Compared to the Commodore 64 and Ataris at the time, it was a clean computing device.” No sprite acceleration, no graphics processor. You did everything yourself and you learned everything. “
Similarly, Doom and Quake co-creator John Romero developed many games for the Apple II before co-founding id Software in 1991, making a name for itself in the industry. “When my parents finally bought an Apple II + in April 1982,” says Romero, “my life was permanently set up the way I spent every waking moment, years learning all I could about the computer, and produced dozens of games, many of which were published. “
Here are some things he thinks Apple II did right – and what we should do today. We corresponded by e-mail and their answers were slightly modified due to formatting.
“The best teaching tool in the world”
When it came to software development on the Apple II, both John Romero and Tim Sweeney agreed that Woz’s machine had greatly simplified and made programming accessible. “The Apple II was so attractive because it was small, easy to program, and had incredibly easy access to memory,” says Romero. “The monitor program allowed you to view and change the memory, so I really had to learn what the computer was at the byte level. I could enter the machine code and symbol language and see the results. It was the best teaching tool in the world. “
With Apple II, you were ready to jump into programming the moment you turned it on. Tim Sweeney remembers how easy it is to get right into the action. “Apple II was launched at the request of BASIC and you could write the code immediately,” says Sweeney. “The manuals documented everything, even the machine language and the ROM. Every child with a computer from that time grew up as a programmer, because it was right there and so easy. “
With today’s PCs and Macs, you initially have to face a lengthy startup process, and subsequent programming is a mystery to the average user. The computer owner usually has to go out of his way with special knowledge to obtain the tools necessary to program a modern machine. But with the Apple II, everything was built in and it was easy enough for one person to understand the whole system. “Apple II is understandable,” Steve Wozniak told us. “One person can see the design of the Apple II.”
Romero sees the Apple II program as a feature that is lacking today: “One of the best things about the Apple II was its availability for learning and programming. The immediate ability to encrypt by simply turning on your computer is unprecedented. You can’t do that today. There are some great emulators or systems you can use today, such as Pico8, that create a mini-console environment that makes it fun and easy to learn, but nothing beats the power of the Apple II – state-of-the-art. a machine that you could start coding within a second of turning it on. “
Sweeney agrees with Romero, and he has provided some potential solutions for today’s machines: “[One thing lost today] is the role that Apple II and other early computers played in teaching everyone to program by booting into the leading programming language of the time, ”says Sweeney. “Windows should set a programming prompt to press one keystroke.” Fortnite should give you a programming prompt at the touch of a key and we’ll do it over time. We need to start a new era where programming is easy and everyone is a programmer again. ”
Some of this philosophy of easy programming lives on in the ongoing development of the Raspberry Pi project, which is now more than ten years old. Its creator, Even Upton, saw that programming skills in modern college students were declining, and he also wanted easy access to hardware control like the classic 1980s machines. But the Raspberry Pi is an exception these days. You can’t just turn on, say, an iPhone and start programming – then share the result freely with the world, which brings us to another point.
You owned and controlled it
Digital rights management (DRM) is a prominent part of today’s computer-powered devices, from smartphones to tractors. It’s a way for manufacturers to lock down a product so that it can’t run unauthorized software, and it’s the exact opposite of the open ethos that Steve Wozniak carried when designing his early computers.
Similarly, some manufacturers, such as Apple, today have worked to make their products difficult to physically open and operate by unauthorized personnel without a license. These restrictions make some people feel that they don’t actually own the products they bought because they can’t use them freely (or even fix them) the way they want.
In contrast, the Apple II contained an open architecture that called for the development of additional hardware in the form of small plug-in cards. If you wanted to go inside, you could just lift the lid on the top of the case. And Apple has also allowed anyone to develop and distribute software for the Apple II. This openness created a large ecosystem around the machine relatively quickly and maintained the platform for 16 years.
This philosophy strongly influenced the work of Tim Sweeney, who built games with free and open editing tools from ZZT in 1991.[The Apple II] was an amazingly open and discoverable system that defined the ethos of computers as tools that work for users, ”says Sweeney. “The history of companies from id Software to Epic Games begins with the Apple II in the 1980s,” says Sweeney. “We’ve made our games and engines available to users so they can customize and build on them, because Apple II has opened up our computer work.”
Some modern platforms, such as the iPhone, only allow licensed developers to create software for the platform. iPhone also prevents owners from installing unlicensed software on their devices. This has led to criticism from industry veterans such as Sweeney, whose company is in the middle of an open platform battle, including a recent lawsuit with Apple over charges in the App Store. “Woz has shown that user freedom and company profits can coexist,” says Sweeney. “Now, ironically, we are losing it because of the malicious, spirited development of Apple itself, and we must fight to preserve our legitimate freedoms.”
Whether Apple’s current trajectory toward closed systems is truly malevolent, or is it just a natural extension of the desire to make as much money as possible (which Epic also wants to be fair), is a value judgment beyond that part. But the fact that closed computer systems have allowed repressive governments to spy on and persecute their people, something most Americans would probably agree with, is a bad thing. The spirit of freedom and openness of the Apple II seems to be compatible with traditional American values of freedom in a way that is not necessarily reflected in today’s closed architectures and DRM-locked application stores.
When we asked Steve Wozniak (who didn’t know Sweeney’s comments) what we could learn from the Apple II, which modern platforms had forgotten, he gave a brief answer that emphasized the openness of the Apple II: “You, the user, had it under control. An open ethos is as important to him today as it was in 1977, when he designed the Apple II. And because more aspects of society depend on DRM-locked services, following the spirit of Woz can ensure that America remains free and open for the future. .