Microsoft (Indirectly) Killed The Apple IIe

In my History editing and revision I am up to the first chapter on Languages. In reviewing additional information about Applesoft that I found, I made two discoveries that I thought were pretty interesting.

First of all: The 6502 floating-point BASIC that Apple licensed from Microsoft in 1977 was, like many products that Microsoft made in those days, marked to put the company’s name within the code. And it was done in such a way as to make it non-obvious to anyone viewing the code with a hex and ASCII dump.

With this information, I wrote an Applesoft program that will take the encoded bytes and print them out. Here is the program:

 100 REM Applesoft Easter Egg Printer
 110 REM
 120 REM The original author of Applesoft put his company name
 130 REM into the ROM, encoded from $F094-$F09D, in reverse,
 140 REM and doing an EOR with $87 (10000111).
 150 REM
 160 DATA 173,9,3,73,135,141,9,3,96,0
 170 S = 768:E = 777: REM $300-$309
 180 A = 61588:B = 61597: REM $F094-$F09D
 182 REM
 190 REM Poke EOR routine into page 3
 192 REM
 200 FOR I = S TO E: READ X: POKE I,X: NEXT I
 202 REM
 210 REM Now get each byte from $F09D to $F094,
 220 REM EOR it, and print the CHR$ of each byte.
 222 REM
 230 FOR I = B TO A STEP - 1
 240 POKE E, PEEK (I): CALL 768: PRINT CHR$ ( PEEK (E));
 250 NEXT
 260 PRINT : PRINT

If you want to just download this and run in your favorite emulator, here are disk images:

EasterEgg.po   EasterEggDOS.dsk

The second, and more interesting bit of trivia has to do with that fateful month, December 1993, when Apple removed the Apple IIe from the dealer price lists, effectively discontinuing the final surviving member of the Apple II family. Other than just spite on their part, finally killing the unloved elder brother in the Apple family, I never really considered the significance of that date. However, with my further reading on Applesoft, I believe I have a very good financial reason for Apple to have plugged the plug when they did.

I had originally believed the license contract with Microsoft for Applesoft was for ten years, and my History for years has stated such. I cannot find, however, any place that clearly identifies the contract length as ten years. However, in the chapter about MacBasic on Andy Hertzfeld’s excellent Folklore.org website, Hertzfeld says the original Applesoft license was for eight years, and was due to expire in September 1985. This is when Bill Gates of Microsoft could have asked for and demanded nearly anything that he wanted for a continuation of the Applesoft license. Apple still desperately needed this for the Apple IIe and IIc product lines, which were financially carrying the company, while the Macintosh was floundering. However, Gates did not demand money; what he wanted and got was MacBasic, which was a major disappointment to the Apple programmer for that product, Donn Denman.

My one supposition here (because I cannot find any absolute proof) is that the license for Applesoft that was renewed at this time was again for an eight year span. The consequences of this license were far-reaching. Had it not been for the relicensing of Applesoft, Apple could not have continued to sell the IIe and IIc as they were (since they had Applesoft in ROM), and retreating back to Wozniak’s Integer BASIC would have been extremely detrimental to the Apple II line, due to the large library of Applesoft-specific software available. Furthermore, there would have been no Apple IIGS if Applesoft had not been renewed.

Finally, if this second contract was indeed for eight years, that span of time ran from 1985 to … (drum roll, please) 1993. According to sales of computers documented on Jeremy Reimer’s blog on 11/2/09, the year 1993 was significant in that the sales of Apple II models was down to 30,000 for the year (it had been 100,000 the year before), and sales of the Macintosh were up to 3.3 million (2.5 million the year before), which was clearly up into the self-sustaining range.

A further renewal of Applesoft in 1993 would have likely been more expensive than the company would want to bother paying, and the decision to discontinue the IIe was an obvious business decision. Obvious now; a sad conclusion back then to an illustrious career for the Apple II.

5 Replies to “Microsoft (Indirectly) Killed The Apple IIe”

    1. Well, you have to admit it’s a pretty darn good unsubstantiated theory, better than most rumors we get about Apple these days. 🙂

      Seriously, it would be great to be able to talk to someone from Apple who was there when this happened, and find out just what did lead to the decision to terminate the Apple IIe in the end of 1993. Did they have to extend the Applesoft license in order to continue to sell the IIe card? Was it a per-unit license or a blanket one? And how long did it go for?

  1. Other systems that were in the Apple IIe’s class followed similar trajectories of production. The C64 lasted from ’82 to ’94, the ZX Spectrum from ’82 to ’92, the Tandy CoCo from ’80 to ’91. Given this, the timing of the IIe’s termination seems less remarkable – I think it was simply a matter of all those 8-bit machines reaching the end of their mainstream usefulness/sales. I doubt the Applesoft licensing term was anything more than a distant factor.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I haven’t found (or looked seriously for) timeline info on the other 8-bit platforms that you mentioned. It appears to be a valid comment on the state of computers in general in that 1992-1994 span, that as the Mac and the PC clones were gaining the ascendancy and had so many more new things they were enabled to do, it was becoming less interesting to use the older computers.

  2. Hear, hear! My family upgraded from an Apple //+ to a Laser 128EX, and it was indeed a vastly superior experience to the Apple //c machines my friends had. It was a great computer with a lot of unsung features like the variable speed CPU, and the ability to use an internal RAM disk of up to 1MB. I did the latter, and it was a godsend for working with large files or batches of files.

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