Taking the Apple II online with Uthernet

April 21st, 2011 10:51 AM
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Ever since I set up my Apple II in my cubicle, I've wanted to put the classic computer on the workplace network. I've never had an Apple II with broadband Internet access, and it seemed the best way to demonstrate the machine's usefulness in a modern work environment.

Doing so would require some additional hardware, which Sean Fahey of A2Central.com generously sold to me at KansasFest 2010: an Uthernet card, a somewhat hard-to-find Ethernet expansion card for the Apple II. I installed it as soon as I returned home from that event but encountered some challenges with configuring the card, the software, and more. The fault lied not in the stars: it had been too long since I'd added new hardware to my Apple II, and I'd forgotten some basic steps. It occurred to me later what else to try, but I never got around to making a second attempt.

I was recently motivated to do so after talking shop with Peter Neubauer during the Open Apple podcast. He informed me that the Uthernet significantly improved his floppy transfer rate using ADTPro. I've been working on a floppy preservation project for months and decided that some up-front investment in getting my Uthernet working would pay off in the long run.

Courtesy ADTPro developer David Schmidt's excellent configuration walkthrough, I was able to get my machine online in no time flat. My first attempt at connecting my Apple II and MacBook directly failed, but putting it on the network was almost effortless. The speed improvement of transferring disk images over Ethernet compared to serial isn't as jaw-dropping as I'd hoped, but Peter was right that it is significant and thus well worth my time to have set up — and also gave me the experience necessary to get Marinetti, the TCP/IP stack for the IIGS, working.

But putting an Apple II on the Internet isn't just about being efficient; it's also about being cool. The Uthernet has made available a range of applications, allowing me to do things with the Apple II that during its heyday I'd never have dreamed possible. What should I do with this machine next? As far as Internet-enabled, non-commercial programs go, I can think of four, off the top of my head:

  • • SAM2 email client
  • • SAFE2 FTP client
  • • SNAP news reader
  • • Samurai IRC client

The first three are, unsurprisingly, the brain children of Spectrum developer and telecommunications genius Ewen Wannop, while the last is courtesy Ninjaforce. Additional TCP/IP utilities are also available from Ryan Suenaga, though these NDAs seem primarily designed to complement an existing telecom suite.

How do you recommend an Apple II best be put to use at Computerworld?

Every office needs an Apple II

June 14th, 2010 1:31 PM
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1 comment.

Ever since I moved out of my parents' house in 1997, I've not had space for a proper Apple II setup. I'd left behind two Apple IIGS computers in the basement: one from which my father ran the family business, another leftover from when I ran a dial-up BBS (1993–1997). In December 2008, I finally rescued the latter from years of inactivity when I installed it in my office cubicle.


It was a great relief, though not a surprise, to find that everything still worked fine after 11 years. Only two things failed me, both memory-based. The first was the ROM 01's inbuilt battery, which stores various settings in the BRAM. But I had previously installed Bill Tudor's BRAM.Checker, which stores the contents of BRAM to the hard drive on shutdown and restores them on startup, so it wasn't a big deal. Nonetheless, it was cheap enough to buy a battery pack from ReactiveMicro.com at KansasFest 2009.

The other failing was my own memory. For more than a decade, I had relied on emulators — first Bernie ][ the Rescue, then Sweet16. I've now been reminded that computing on the metal is a very different experience. I was soon asking myself and others many basic questions: to ensure my revived machine is still good, how do I run a self-diagnostic test at boot time? (Hold down Open-Apple and Option.) What does it mean that the test returned "0C000003 GS Diagnostic Self-Test error/ Sound Test: Data register failed"? (It means I have a ZipGS accelerator card installed.) All sorts of little things, I had to relearn — though strangely enough, I danced around ProTERM's various keyboard shortcuts for several minutes before realizing I had no reason to remember these esoteric commands.

It was also vaguely embarrassing to boot up a machine that represented my teen philosophies. The startup splash screen made it clear that no IBMs were allowed, and the mouse pointer was replaced by an ominous skull. What I saw in the 1990s as amusing frivolities, I see in 2010 as a waste of resources.

The first new acquisition I made for my computer was from RetroFloppy, run by David Schmidt, creator of ADTPro. The combination of hardware and software he provided allowed me to create disk images on my Mac of the Q-Drive from which I'd run my BBS. As Jason Scott would say, I don't know what among this data needs to be preserved, but it's better to make backups now, lest it not be available later when I decide it is worth preserving.

My IIGS hasn't seen a ton of use since its initial corporate installation. I sometimes spend lunch break playing Lode Runner or trying out old copies of Scholastic's Microzine. I want to put it on the corporate network, but the Uthernet card sells as quickly as they're produced. (I can't wait to see the look on the helpdesk tech's faces when they get that support ticket!) An easy way to transfer individual files between the Apple II and my MacBook would also be handy; to that end, I am an eager future customer of Rich Dreher's CFFA3000 model of his historically popular IDE/CompactFlash interface card. I'm also awaiting the delivery of a ROM 03 machine — my first of that model, and my first Apple II purchase in eighteen years — that will serve as a backup (or maybe even a replacement) to my primary machine.

My Apple II was to be the subject of a Computerworld.com video, as I teased on the A2Unplugged podcast last year. We shot a half-hour of footage and winnowed it down to about 12 minutes, which was the longest video we'd ever produced in-house. Unfortunately, we never found the appropriate context in which to launch the video, and a few months later, its producer was laid off. We found the raw footage on his workplace hard drive, but the final cut was never found.

The bright side is that I now have a cubicle that sports three generations of Apple computers: an Apple-1, an Apple II, and a MacBook Pro. I still get some amused looks from my co-workers — unfortunately, nothing quite as delighted as this gentleman was with his surprise retrocomputer: