The Apple II turns 35

April 16th, 2012 11:58 AM
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Filed under History, Mainstream coverage;
1 comment.

On April 16–17, 1977, the West Coast Computer Faire was held, marking the debut of the Apple II personal computer. Marked by this public unveiling, the machine turns 35 years old today, and Harry McCracken, former editor-in-chief of PCWorld and now Technologizer / TIME.com columnist, has pulled out all the stops to celebrate the occasion.

McCracken starts by looking back at the invention and inventors that shaped an industry, narrating the creation of the Apple II and the roles Woz and Jobs each played in its design. Demonstrating an intimate knowledge of the subject, McCracken acknowledges the contributions of other, oft-overlooked players, such as Mike Markkula, Rob Janoff, Jerry Manock, and Ron Holt. McCracken's written history features a complementary slideshow of 18 photos, visualizing highlights and milestones of the computer's early life, from its Apple-1 predecessor to Apple growing large enough to warrant a new office. The slideshow's last photo, as well as another from the retrospective article, are from Andy Molloy's KansasFest 2011 online album.

The occasion isn't all dry dates, names, and images. Want to actively participate in the Apple II's birthday bash? McCracken provides 14 ways to celebrate the computer's 35th anniversary:

  1. Read an epic account of its life and time
  2. Watch a so-so TV movie’s depiction of its launch
  3. Read a great first-hand report of the introduction
  4. Watch a very early ad for the Apple II
  5. Watch some later Apple II ads
  6. Buy your very own Apple II
  7. Seek Apple II support from Apple
  8. Play some Apple II games, on whatever computer you’ve got
  9. Watch a movie or TV show guest-starring the Apple II
  10. Visit the Apple II Day Spa in Arvada, Colorado
  11. Watch a 1988 TV show about the aging Apple II line
  12. Attend an Apple II conference
  13. Read classic Apple II coverage at TIME.com

Scott Miller plays Lode Runner

Scott Miller plays Lode Runner at KansasFest 2011
on the computer made famous by Technologizer.
Photo by Andy Molloy; used with permission.

Or, if you're a college student, you might celebrate by receiving a complimentary iPad 3.

Although the Apple II had more affordable and even more popular contemporaries, such as the Commodore 64, the Apple II is especially deserving of recognition. McCracken's closing statement succinctly summarizes:

… if Apple’s only computer had been the Apple I, it would be remembered today only by scholars with an arcane interest in the prehistory of the personal computer. But if the company had folded after releasing the Apple II, it would still be one of the best-known PC companies of all time. The II was — and is — that important.

Here's to 35 more!

Laboratory origins of the Apple II

August 18th, 2011 4:02 PM
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Filed under History;
1 comment.

The past week has been one of milestones: the IBM PC turned 30, just days before the Web itself turned 20. Of course, both are still whippersnappers compared to the Apple II, but it's timely to consider the birthplace of that and other innovations.

Of course, Steve Wozniak was the genius behind the Apple II, but many of the ideas found in the Apple II and other computers were devised in collaborative environments. A recent story looks at six computer labs that gave birth to the digital world. The penultimate page is dedicated to the many innovations to come out of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and how they influenced Apple's products:

These inventions culminated in 1973 with the Xerox Alto, the first GUI-driven personal computer (check out the three-button mouse!) Sadly the Alto was never sold commercially, and only 2,000 units were built — but don’t worry, its legacy lived on with the 1977 Apple II, the first mouse-and-GUI-driven home computer, and the 1984 Macintosh.

Although the Apple II did indeed have a mouse, I (as some article's readers do) think the author intended to reference the Apple Lisa. Steve Weyhrich's history of the Apple II supports that reading:

Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) develops the “Alto”, a breakthrough computer which used a pointing device called a “mouse”, a bit-mapped graphic screen, and icons to represent documents. Also, it had a 2.5 megabyte removable disk cartridge and the first implementation of Ethernet. It cost $15,000 just to build it, and only 1,200 were ever produced. This computer and the Xerox Star were the inspirations within a decade for the Lisa and the Macintosh.

Readers also take exception to a statement on the preceding page that "in 1981, IBM released the Personal Computer, the first home computer made from off-the-shelf parts". Was not the Apple II that machine? At least one reader says yes:

The Apple II was all off the shelf parts 6502 processor, 4K memory (8102 DRAM?), etc. There were no custom IC's. The only "non off the shelf" were things like the power supply, keyboard, paddles, etc. The same was true for other microcomputers sold before IBM played catch up with the 5150 (including the Altair 8800). On all of the microcomputers, (including the IBM 5150) the design, circuit board, case, keyboard, expansion slots, power supply, were custom as well as the BIOS. The IBM 5150 helped to mainstream microcomputers (outside the classroom) because "No one ever got fired for recommending IBM" — a common quote from that era.

What say you, dedicated retrocomputing enthusiasts? Did the author of this gallery do his homework, or are a few of his facts a wee bit off?