Archive for the ‘Mainstream coverage’ Category

The Apple II is everywhere, as evidenced by these reports.

Dan Bricklin for President

January 20th, 2020 9:06 AM
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In a recent letter to the the Concord Monitor, the daily newspaper of Concord, New Hampshire, a reader submitted a letter about our country's upcoming presidential election. He compared two politicians, saying one was a "visionary", the first to present the ideas; but the other would be the "implementer", the one better suited to execute the ideas.

He then made an analogy using names Apple II users may recognize:

Do you know who Dan Bricklin is? Ever even heard of him? Dan Bricklin invented the spreadsheet. VisiCalc was the product that made the Apple II a viable business tool and the rest is history. Bricklin is a visionary and hero to software people like me.

But as often happens in software, first or even best doesn’t always win the game. First Lotus with 123 took the spreadsheet market and made it a real business game changer, followed by Microsoft Excel years later. Mitch Kapor (Lotus) and Bill Gates got the vision done.

This view of history rings false to me. Perhaps it's my Apple II bias, but Dan Bricklin did everything this reader says Mitch Kapor and Bill Gates did. VisiCalc was the first "killer app", demonstrating the value of personal computers and justifying their existence is offices and businesses across the country. Steve Jobs himself went on the record as saying that if it weren't for VisiCalc, there wouldn't've been an Apple Computer Inc.: "If Visicalc had been written for some other computer you'd be interviewing somebody else right now."

Did Lotus 1-2-3 improve upon VisiCalc? Certainly. According to Wikipedia, "1-2-3 quickly overtook VisiCalc, as well as Multiplan and SuperCalc, two VisiCalc competitors." But that's simply the nature of software development and evolution: any product that comes later will benefit from better hardware and development tools. Lotus 1-2-3's release in 1983 does not diminish the vision and implementation achieved by Bricklin in 1979.

As the Concord Monitor reader acknowledges, Bricklin is a hero and visionary — without whom we wouldn't have Lotus 1-2-3. Bricklin deserves credit not just for VisiCalc, but for helping the personal computer revolution succeed and for paving the way for visionaries to come.

Jimmy Grewal's Dubai collection

December 16th, 2019 10:32 PM
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There are Apple II collections all around the world — most densely in the United States, but also in Italy, Russia, the Czech Republic, and more.

Now we can add one more global destination to that list: the United Arab Emirates.

Reporter Cody Combs of The National (the UAE's premier news source) recently profiled Jimmy Grewal, a former Microsoft employee who now serves as executive director of a maritime technology company in Dubai. He's collected nearly a hundred Apple desktops, laptops, and PDAs, including an Apple-1 and eleven Apple II computers. One of them can be seen — and overlooked — in this video.

Fortunately, the article itself does not overlook our favorite Apple, mentioning:

As he points toward what first appears to be yet another Apple II, he explains why it’s different. “This is actually one of the rarest computers I have because it doesn’t have any vents,” he says, pointing out the completely solid casing in contrast to the other Apple II in the room with small gaps to allow for air flow.

Jimmy is active on Twitter and YouTube; the latter includes a video documentary of his Apple-1 restoration.

While Grewal's collection is not open to the public, he is planning for the day when these artifacts can be housed somewhere that everyone can enjoy them. On that day, add Dubai to your international retrocomputing itinerary.

The Apple II powering the Lenin Museum

December 2nd, 2019 1:50 PM
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While the Apple II enjoyed broad success in the United States, it was not widely available in many other geographic regions due to distribution and trade regulations. Russia. Instead, the USSR had the Agat, a 6502-based computer with limited compatibility with the Apple II. Any actual Apple II computers in Russia are more likely to be found in museums as part of modern exhibits about historical computers.

So imagine my surprise when Apple II recently turned up in Russia's Lenin Museum, but not as a recent addition: it's been there for decades, powering one of their long-running installations. The software is the Electrosonic System 4000 (ES4000), which was once also used at the United Kingdom's National Science and Media Museum. When the Lenin Museum's curators discovered the ES4000, they recognized its potential for their institution. But:

Soviet law barred them from trading directly with foreign companies, and Agat-7, a Soviet Apple II clone, was unlikely to do the job. It required an external card to run software made in the West, and its 60-pin slots would not fit the 50-pin cards used by the ES4000… That meant the company would need to bring their own Apple computers to the Soviet Union.

To get around Soviet regulations, the deal was signed with a specialized economic body, Technointorg, and carried over through Beech Compix, a British front for the Soviet Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Foreign staff traveled to the USSR, too—but Cascade, a Russian company, took credit for their job, seemingly to preserve the impression that Soviet technology could not be beat.

The Apple II that the museum procured 32 years ago continues to run the exhibit to this day.

A remote control for the Lenin Museum's Apple II.

Photo by Yuri Litvinenko of Atlas Obscura.

Yuri Litvinenko's story at Atlas Obscura continues to detail Apple's official efforts to penetrate the Russian market with the Macintosh. Given the failure of that initiative, this Apple II remains one of the few Apple II computers to have made its way to the USSR in the computer's original lifespan.

Buy Ken & Roberta Williams' house

November 25th, 2019 10:00 AM
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If you missed the opportunity to buy Richard Garriott's house eight years ago, another piece of Apple II gaming property is now up for sale: the reclusive Ken and Roberta Williams of Sierra On-Line are selling their mansion.

If you're a fan of Sierra On-Line's games such as Mystery House, King's Quest, and The Dark Crystal, you may even see references to it in the home's décor.

If you're interested in living at 40367 Goldside Drive in Oakhurst, California, be prepared to pony up a cool $2,310,000. It's still less than Automattic paid for Tumblr, so go ahead and buy a piece of live-in history.

(Hat tip to Peter Paltridge )

Prince of Persia turns 30

October 7th, 2019 9:00 AM
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Back in July, I blogged about Prince of Persia's pending thirtieth birthday. Well, it happened! Last Thursday, Prince of Persia turned thirty years old, having originally been published on October 3, 1989.

Several mainstream and gaming news outlets commemorated the occasion, reflecting on the Prince's place in history and how it impacted game design and development. Goomba Stomp's Patrick Murphy waxed about the game's fluid, groundbreaking rotoscoped animation:

Here was a video game character that didn’t go from standing to jumping in one frame, whose run action didn’t come off as robotic and endlessly recycled. The Prince seemed to move like a real person (or at least a beautifully drawn cartoon), with all the fluidity and momentum that living beings have.

In contrast to the game's historical significance, Forbes' Matt Gardner shared a fact that I was unaware of:

Despite great reviews, Prince of Persia sold poorly in North America; just 7,000 copies were bought in its first year. It was only when it reached Japan and Europe that it became a true hit with audiences, due to the game finding ubiquity through official ports.

That slow, international acceptance of the game reminds me of Wizardry. Bitmob once wrote of Sir-Tech's computer role-playing game:

When it first came to Japan in the eighties, Wizardry had also inspired a media blitz across print and video that left a huge impression on the RPG audience. Not only did its phenomenon reach across media channels in Japan back in the day, the series continues on with a list of spin-offs and original productions catering to a dedicated fanbase.

Both Prince of Persia and Wizardry have had spinoffs, some more successful than others. In Let's Play of Prince of Persia: Escape, the endless runner released earlier this year for mobile devices, I was lukewarm at best. PocketGamer's Cameron Bald was less reserved and more decisive, calling it "a sham product: ugly, cynical, and cruelly manipulative." Oof!

I don't remember on what platform I originally played Prince of Persia; by the time it was released in 1989, I was deep into console games, meaning I may have first played the Super Nintendo version published by Konami.

Wherever it's been popular or ported, or however successful its regions or spin-offs have been, Prince of Persia's release was a landmark in computer gaming. May it celebrate many birthdays to come — long live the Prince!

The Appleworks of Harvard, Mass.

September 16th, 2019 11:27 AM
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I've lived my entire life in Massachusetts, having often driven or cycled the roads between Boston and my hometown to visit family. One particular path to my cousin's house has always brought a smile to this Apple II user's face.

AppleWorks is many things: it's a word processor; it's an environment in which I spent twenty years building my portfolio and honing my craft; it's a legendary Apple product that Quality Computers got the rights to upgrade; it's a program from a company with a complicated history; it's compiled from source code we'll almost certainly never see.

But in the small town of Harvard, Mass., it's also a company.

Appleworks post sign

Bold move, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off.

I've driven by this sign many times — you can see it from the road on Google Maps.

For decades, I've wondered how this company has retained its name, especially given how boldly it hangs its shingle. Apple is infamously litigatious, and any company that overlaps with the computer manufacturer's industry would be susceptible to a threat to change its name, which Steve Jobs would consider no big deal.

Has the AppleWorks business held the name since before the Apple II existed? Was it a publishing company or computer repair service? If not, why would the owners name it Appleworks? Were they taking inspiration from being two towns over from Johnny Appleseed's hometown?

After years of wondering these questions, it wasn't until I sat down to write this blog post last night that I finally got the answer: Appleworks isn't a business; it's a place. It's the name of the strip mall that houses the Siam Pepper Thai Cuisine restaurant whose website gave me the clue I needed, listing its address as "Appleworks Building, Harvard, MA".

At first, this revelation felt anti-climactic — but now I'm free to drive by this building, smile, and rest easy that it's an unlikely target for Apple legal.