Tag-Archive for ◊ Mark Twain ◊

13 Jan 2014 Centossa – The Apple II That Never Was

I have seen a few reviews of my Sophistication & Simplicity book appear on Amazon.com, and I appreciate the kind words that have been posted so far. Interestingly, one of the commenters marked the book down because of the chapters about peripherals, etc, that were interspersed with the story of the various models of the Apple II; he felt that it interrupted the flow of the story. Not sure how that could be resolved without a major redesign of the book, but to each his own…

The other comment by this reviewer was that the book did not make comments about a computer called the Apple IIsi, and he had wanted to learn more about this model of Apple II. Therefore, I thought I’d write here to address this question.

The “Apple IIsi” is one of the more obscure parts of the Apple II story. The only existing picture and description of which I am aware is a single photo and short description in the 1997 book AppleDesign: The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group, created by Paul Kunkel and Rick English. According to the book description, the authors were granted access to information about Apple’s products and prototypes. Part of the Amazon listing for this out-of-print book specifically states that it “covers all the goods made and sold by Apple, and also discusses concepts for products that never made it to production” (emphasis mine). As you read the following discussion, keep that last part in mind.

I own a copy of this book (although I am currently unable to locate it in the disarray that my basement currently displays), and can state that it does not include every product made by Apple (even Jonathan Zufi’s new book Iconic does not try to include a picture of every single thing Apple built and sold). As I recall, the photo and minimal caption that accompanied the Apple IIsi in this book was the only mention of anything related to the Apple II series.

I have elected to hold off on putting a picture here until I can locate my own copy of the AppleDesign book. The only photo I can find on the Internet on a web site, Stories of Apple.net. The picture on that web site, taken from the book, appears to be the sole image that exists of this “Apple IIsi”.

So, what is this mysterious Apple II of which so little has been said? According to the Stories of Apple.net web site, Jean-Louis Gassée took over as head of R&D at Apple after Steve Jobs left the company in September 1985.  In 1988, Gassée is supposed to have planned the industrial design of a successor to the Apple IIGS, and utilized Ken Wood and Robert Brunner of the Palo Alto studio Lunar Design to bring it about. (Wood and Brunner were later involved in the design of the first PowerBook in 1990.)

According to the AppleDesign book, this Apple IIsi project was code-named “Centossa”. From the photo, it has the same shape as the Apple IIGS, but has a shorter “shelf” on the front. Cut into the front right is a slot for a 3.5 inch disk drive, much like the position of the disk drive on all models of the Macintosh in that era.

What was going on with the Apple II during the time when Gassée took over R&D? Recall that the Apple IIGS was originally released in the latter part of 1986. Two years later, 1988, would have been a reasonable time for an update to the physical design of the IIGS. The year 1988 saw the release of the revised memory expansion Apple IIc and IIc Plus, the Apple II SCSI Rev C card, and Apple IIGS System Software 3.2 and 4.0.  In August of the following year, the ROM 03 Apple IIGS was announced. Hardware updates beyond the ROM 03 motherboard improvements would have been appropriate, and certainly it was within Apple’s power to release a IIGS with a built-in 3.5 inch drive.

One of the important things to remember about this Centossa project was that it almost certainly never got beyond the discussion stage. It was discussed on the podcast Open Apple, episode #7 in August 2011, when hosts Ken Gagne and Mike Maginnis contacted Apple II hardware expert Tony Diaz to specifically ask about the Apple IIsi. He confirmed that the picture in the AppleDesign book likely represented no more than a wooden prototype to show what the product could look like. There was no real Centossa or Apple IIsi beyond being an external design on paper that made it to a physical model.

One of the problems with the design that Gassée’s team produced was the location of the disk slot on the right. Look at this photo of the Mark Twain version of the Apple IIGS that was nearly announced in September 1991 (and which was dramatically closer to a real product than Centossa ever was):

Mark Twain, front

Mark Twain, front – Photo credit: Tony Diaz

In this version, the disk slot was on the left side of the computer. This location makes far more sense than it would to put it on the right side, where it would block access to some of the slots on the motherboard. On the Mark Twain, the 3.5-inch disk drive sat on top of a SCSI hard drive, and a redesigned power supply sat in the back, all on the left side. Even with this redesign, a couple of the classic IIGS slots had been removed, in order to make it all fit. This Centossa design would have made it necessary to put both the power supply and disk drive on the right, to keep slots accessible. Perhaps from an industrial design stand point this was an acceptable change, but it was a radical adjustment for the Apple II family, which (aside from the IIc) had always had its power supply on the left).

Also, the product name “Apple IIsi” is problematic. It is strongly suggested that the Mark Twain computer, had it been released, would have been called the Apple IIGS Plus. That name makes perfect sense. Using IIsi as a moniker would not work at all, unless the computer that was being visualized was completely different from a IIGS. And if that was the plan, why make the computer otherwise look like a IIGS?

When I learned that the Apple IIsi shown in AppleDesign was no more than a mockup and never even made it to the prototype stage, I decided it was unnecessary to include anything about it in my book. After all, since it never really existed, what could I say about it? Where would it fit in the Apple II story? There would be little more than a line or two about it …

… and here I’ve gone on for over one thousand words discussing it. Well, who knows? If there ever is a second edition to Sophistication & Simplicity, perhaps I’ll add these above speculations. And perhaps if someone who worked at Apple in the late 1980s who knows the story wants to contact me, I can put down more than just speculation. Anyone know the email address for Gassée?


(Check at 35:20 in the video)

23 Sep 2012 The Apple II Guide and Mark Twain

Back in the late 1980s, Apple II developers and users were dissatisfied with the amount of attention that Apple as a company was devoting to the Apple II. Despite its position as the real breadwinner for the company (the Macintosh was still struggling to support itself), the Apple II was not getting much corporate love or resources. Attendees to the first KansasFest (Apple II Developer’s Conference) in 1989 made a point of letting Apple know of this disparity. And Apple promised to make things better.

It happened to some extent, but not to the extent that the Apple II community wanted. One of the things that did appear in the year after KansasFest 1989 was a publication from Apple (yes, they were $19.95, but many were given away for free) that specifically told anyone interested in the Apple II what that computer could do. The Apple II Guide first appeared in the fall of 1990, and provided information about the Apple II for users new and old. It had a historical timeline, explained the basics of the currently selling models (Apple IIe, Apple IIc Plus, and Apple IIGS), discussed productivity tools such as AppleWorks, hypermedia (featuring HyperCard IIGS), and the Video Overlay Card. It further discussed Apple II and Macintosh data exchange, troubleshooting, customer support, dealers (with a nation-wide listing of authorized Apple dealers in every state in the U.S.), talked about ProDOS and GS/OS 5.0, listed user groups and popular software, and even featured popular books, periodicals, and online services that could be used as Apple II resources. It also included capsule stories about how people who had Apple II computers were using them for business, education, and home use.

Apple II Guide 1990

Notice on the cover photo the various bits of Apple II paraphernalia and history that is displayed. We have a Woz-signature Apple IIGS, a photo of an Apple-1, a photo of kids using an Apple II (again, the focus on education that Apple had in their corporate mindset at the time), a copy of a button from the Apple II Forever event that launched the Apple IIc back in 1984, and a button from Apple’s “Kids Can’t Wait” program, in which they donated computers to schools.

And Apple did not stop at this. They created an updated volume of The Apple II Guide for 1992. It contained similar information with appropriate updates (it mentioned some of the features of GS/OS System 6.0, for example). Take a look at the cover of the 1992 edition:

Apple II Guide 1992

Again, a symbolic grouping of various Apple II items. Crayons and coffee for school and home use of the Apple II; a picture of the Apple IIe Emulator card for the Macintosh LC (pictured at the top of the photo), a window with a flower (not sure of the significance of that item), a Platinum Apple IIe, and paperclips and calendar pages (possibly a business reference, but rather weak). And on the right upper side, a model of the Roman numeral “II”, next to a book with the name “Mark Twain” on it, with an old-style school desk on top of that. And most of the world would look at that as just another scholastic reference.

Those in the know, however, were aware of the reference. It was at the September 1991 Apple User Group satellite conference that plans had originally been in place to announce an upgrade for the Apple IIGS, a model that, like the Macintosh, would come with a built-in 3.5 inch floppy drive, as well as a built-in SCSI hard disk (since System 6 ran best from a large capacity drive). Code-named Mark Twain (from his famous quote, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”), this product was pulled from the satellite meeting at the last minute, based on an executive decision. It was not until prototypes of the Mark Twain began to show up in 1996 that the details of this project were better understood (since Apple “does not comment on unreleased products”).

What is also interesting, with regard to The Apple II Guide, is a photograph that Mike Westerfield and Jim Pittman came across in 1996 when they got to look at the prototype and associated materials that had been included with it. The photo is almost identical to the one that appeared on the cover of the 1992 edition, with the exception of the upper right:

Apple II Guide 1990 original picture

Photo credit: Mike Westerfield (his scan of the original photo)

So, had the Apple IIGS Plus (my guess at its product name) been released, this photo would have been used for the cover of the 1992 edition of The Apple II Guide. How would have the Apple II History turned out differently?