Quora asks: What was it like to use the Apple II?


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Social media offers the modern Apple II user multiple homes and sources of information. Popular destinations include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and even LinkedIn.

But what about Quora?

Quora is a question-and-answer website akin to Yahoo! Answers, except with a more professional bent. The interface isn't the most intuitive: finding a specific topic isn't obvious, and it's hard to tell what questions and answers are new or old. But the wealth and variety of information makes it worthwhile. Questions can be career- and advice-oriented, such as "What do you wish you would have known before you became a consultant?" or more local and factual, such as "Why did the Shaws grocery store in Fairhaven, Mass., close?" Apple history is also evident, as in an exploration of how Keynote was developed for Mac OS X.

But Quora's coverage of Apple history goes back even further. Someone recently asked, "What was it like to use the Apple ][ computer?" The question's past tense alludes not just to the capabilities of the Apple II, but to the historical context and experience of encountering it. It's a question that warrants a thoughtful response — which is exactly what Oregon resident Doug Dingus has provided, with a 1,971-word essay on the subject, complete with screenshots. Some selected excerpts:

Early on, it was all like some puzzle. You learn a few commands by rote and those commands would perform specific tasks you might want to accomplish. You can see the cursor in the screen shot above as a solid green block. A command was typed in at the top, "CATALOG" and that command would give you a listing of what your floppy disk contained. Floppy disk? Yeah, those things we used to put data onto for longer term storage or for movement between computers.

It was possible to sit down and just write a program of your choosing and then ask the computer to run, or execute it. Back then, this was considered a normal and encouraged use of the computer and many computers were sold on their ability to offer up BASIC and other language programming in ways that people could understand and that were powerful, accessible, robust too.

The sense of learning and discovery isn't much different than we experience today, though the pressure to do it is. Back then, you really had to know some stuff to get the real magic out of the machine and often that meant writing your own programs to do it. Today, the magic largely happens, but the best is still from your own programs a lot of the time.

Today, it's difficult to think about computers that aren't connected to one another for communication and information transfer. Back then, it was difficult to think of computers as connected things due to the fact that we were just beginning to develop useful networks. Most people got their computer, got software and peripherals and proceeded to use it in whatever way they found useful with each machine being a little island.

Today it all seems archaic. To those of us who were there, it's ordinary and the computers of today seem simple and futuristic. Back then it was awesome! Every little advance was a big deal. Just getting a few more colors on the screen, or a faster CPU, or a new kind of interface card was huge! First mouse seemed like some expensive luxury where today it's hard to imagine running a computer without one.

It's a great answer to a great question. What was your first experience with the Apple II? Sign up for a free Quora account to add your response to Doug's!

(John Brownlee)