Laine Nooney and Apple History

This entire web site is focused on preserving and telling the story of microcomputers, focused with insane depth on the Apple II. I’ve been telling it for 20 plus years, and have a book about it. So I know what I know quite well, and if any of you who have taken the time to either read the story on this web site or in the book also know what I know.

But I always enjoy learning more about the era of the Apple II and its competition and getting new information or new points of view. The Open Apple podcast, which focuses on news and interviews about the Apple II is often a source of stories that expand my knowledge, and episode #49 for July 2015 is a particularly fascinating listen. They have an extended conversation with Laine Nooney, a person who is way too young to have been involved with the Apple II when it was new and exciting. Her research for a dissertation brought her to look into Online Systems / Sierra Online, as well as with other software companies of the day, and the conversation they have drifts over into the impact of the computer on homes and families, and what she has learned about it.

When I think I know so much that there is not much more to learn, a gem like this interview comes along, and I realize levels of computer history that go beyond my extremely specific area of knowledge. It is well worth a listen.

Addendum: Here is a link to Nooney’s research on Sierra Online, as much as she has made publicly available at this time. Read it.

Changes Coming

The Apple II History web site is undergoing some changes in the near future, not only a change in appearance, but also a change as far as how to get these posts when I put them up.

If you are using an RSS reader to get these posts, change the feed address from “” to “”. If you do not make the change, you will not see further updates in messages.

Thank you for your continued interest in this web site!

Elsewhere on the web…

Two podcasts caught my attention and enjoyment recently. There are a number of podcasts I enjoy, but these two were particularly interesting, from an Apple II history point of view.

First of all, Welcome to Macintosh (yes, I know, whaaaaaat?) done by Mark Bramhill is a podcast primarily about more modern Mac issues. But episode #3 “Trip to alphaSyntauri” from April 2, 2015, is all about the famous synthesizer made to work with the Mountain Hardware Sound Card for the original Apple II. The episode gives the history of how a keyboard synthesizer was built to use with this card, and became one of the first inexpensive synthesizers available to the public.

The podcast is well done, and actually sounds like something I would hear as a segment on a National Public Radio program.

The second podcast is from ANTIC, The Atari 8-Bit Podcast. I never had an Atari computer to play with, but this podcast makes me feel like I should have. The hosts do an amazing job of getting interviews with luminaries in the Atari world, and what I hear is usually interesting, despite the lack of Apple II connection. Episode 29 features David Cramer of the Western Design Center, which is still to this day manufacturing and selling the venerable 6502, 65c02, and 65816 microprocessors. The discussion does involve the Apple II and IIGS to some extent, and well worth a listen.

BASIC is Golden

One of the first things I did when I first had access to an Apple II Plus back in 1981 was to enter programs in Applesoft BASIC, typed from a listing in Nibble magazine. With time and the help of technical info I learned from All About Applesoft from Call-A.P.P.L.E. I learned how to play with this programming language on a deeper level. I was eventually able to redo a program for printing labels for IV meds at the hospital where I was training, and used that wonderful “&” extension to add assembly language routines to simplify parts of the program.

Though I had originally learned FORTRAN in college, I was able to extend this knowledge to BASIC, and had a lot of fun doing so. And it is all thanks to the original creation of this language fifty years ago (as of June of this year), I and all of the others who dove headlong into the microcomputer revolution had a way of creating programs.

When I heard of this golden anniversary, I was inspired to come up again with a parody song. Sorry that these songs are based on such an old pop tune, but hey, it was what I heard when I was in high school. Thanks Microsoft (for what became Applesoft), Apple (for selling the Apple II), and Steve Wozniak (for designing the Apple II, and incorporating his own BASIC into it)!

How many of these keywords did you use when you wrote programs in Applesoft??


Me and You and Our Apple II
by Steven Weyhrich

(parody of Lobo’s, “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo“, from 1971)

I remember to this day
DIMensioning an array
And how it worked through the loop
Using FOR and NEXT
Dynamic RAM made that hardware go
The Woz design ensured that’s so
Oh how I wish I was
Back at the prompt again

Me and you and our Apple II
Me and you and our Apple II
How I wished I could find some FRE mem …

I managed variables and all
And created hi-res shapes
For a game that would win
That contract job, it gave me work
And then they paid me for what it was worth
Another box of disks and
Back at the prompt again

Me and you and our Apple II
Me and you and our Apple II
How I’d love to replay that great game

I’ll never forget that day
I saw that Mac with its cute display
The clicks and its icons
Were fascinatin’ to my brain
And though its been thirty years or so
That old II’s bugging me to go
I’ve gotta boot it up and get
Back to the prompt again

Me and you and our Apple II
Me and you and our Apple II
How I wished I could find some FRE mem …

Me and you and our Apple II
Me and you and our Apple II
How I’d love to replay that great game

Me and you and our Apple II
Me and you and our Apple II
How I wished I could find some FRE mem …

Point To Point

At a recent gathering to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Macintosh, a video recording was taken of a conversation between Dan Kottke, Rod Holt, and Steve Wozniak discussing the preparation of the original Apple II prototype. In the video, Kottke expresses his surprise that Holt, a photographer, never took any pictures of the Apple II prototypes, and neither did Steve Jobs.  There are apparently no photos of the Apple II during its design process.

Woz also clarifies that his prototyping method in those days was to use point-to-point soldering, rather than the more commonly used wire-wrapping technique. In the latter part of the video, he discusses how he put the pieces together and soldered them, on both the Apple-1 and the Apple II.

Macintosh Forever? Uh-oh…

<snarky mode enabled> Jason Snell, writing for MacWorld today about the 30th anniversary of the launch of the original 128K Macintosh, gave a quote by Phil Schiller. He said:

“There is a super-important role [for the Mac] that will always be,” Schiller said. “We don’t see an end to that role. There’s a role for the Mac as far as our eye can see. A role in conjunction with smartphones and tablets, that allows you to make the choice of what you want to use. Our view is, the Mac keeps going forever, because the differences it brings are really valuable.” (emphasis mine)

Based on our past experience with the Apple II, I would give the Mac just a few more years before it is gone. “Apple II Forever” was the theme at the launch of the Apple IIc in April 1984, and forever lasted only nine years before they pulled the plug.

Macintosh forever
Making life better and better
Macintosh forever and ever
Bringing the rainbow to you
Macintosh forever!

<snarky mode disabled>

Actually, I don’t want that to happen, because I use my MacBook Pro on a daily basis, and want to continue to do so. But I just couldn’t help but make that connection to an old nit to pick.

Breaking News

Breaking-NewsjpgAfter further conversations with my publisher, we have decided it will be acceptable to leave the current Apple II History content on the site as it is. The caveat is that there is some material in the book that has been updated or expanded from what has been on the web site, and the content here will not be similarly updated for the time being.

So, for those who were concerned about the loss of the primary content on this web site as it has been for the past 15 years, this is a big win!


In the process of announcing my book, I made mention about this web site that I guess was unclear. I have had some concerned emails sent my way asking about it, and so I decided that I had better explain what I meant.

When this Apple II History web site first went online, all it consisted of were the various chapters of the original History as it was posted on GEnie back in 1991 and 1992. Then I added some links to other web sites (remember those? no one seems to do that any more!), and then I added in my Song Parodies, and then some pictures I found, and then some more articles. And then when I moved it to WordPress, I started including blog posts about topics that interested me.

So what I ended up with was The History as the core of the site, and then all of this other stuff that I’ve created or collected after I wrote The History. With time, I think The History part makes up about 50 or 60 percent of the entire content hosted here.  Oh, and I added some material to The History as I learned more that filled in gaps, or corrected mistakes, or whatnot.

clarificationThen I decided to make The History into a print book. I looked for and found a publisher who was willing to take the risk to make this into a real book (thank you Variant Press), and we entered into negotiations about the book. And one of the stipulations of our agreement was that when The Book came out, The History content would be taken off the web site.

What that means is I am not taking down the Apple II History web site. What I am doing (at least for the present) is I will be taking the various chapters of The History off the web site. Everything else (the pictures in the Museum, and the Song Parodies, and the other add-on material) will remain in place as it has been. I’m also working on a redesign of the web site that will look a bit more modern than this current WordPress theme.

And who knows? If the book does well enough I may be able to convince the publisher to let me restore at least the current History as it stands. But rest assured, the rest of the Apple II History site will still be here for as long as I am around.

Micro-design Can Give Mega-results

I’ve had the opportunity in the past couple of weeks to listen to two podcasts in which game designers were interviewed. (I recommend you listen, also – ANTIC, The Atari 8-Bit Podcast #4 has an interview with Chris Crawford, who wrote games for the Atari 2600, Commodore PET, and Atari 400/800; No Quarter classic arcade podcast #52 has an interview with Brian Collin, who helped create the arcade game Rampage.) It brought back to mind similar stories like the making of Wolfenstein 3D for the Apple IIGS. In all of these situations the programmers had a limited space in which to do their work. They were limited in graphics abilities or limited in memory, or both, and yet they managed to create (or duplicate) games that were considered to be state-of-the-art in their day.

It brings to mind the problem on modern computers with what has been called “bloatware” – code that is large, takes up a lot of space in memory or storage or both, and often does only a little more than its predecessors.

The advantage of the small memory footprint and simpler processors in the micros of the 1970s and 1980s is that it was necessary to write compact, efficient code. The graphics had specific limitations that had to be honored. These programmers had to come up with tricks to get around those limitations, to push the boundaries to achieve the desired effect.

The programmers mentioned in the above three examples sometimes had to buck the accepted knowledge that said what they wanted to do was not possible. Brian Collin overcame memory limitations on Rampage by re-using the graphics layout for one of his monsters to create another one. Eric Shepherd had to almost re-invent how the graphics of Wolfenstein 3D were implemented in the Apple IIGS, in order to make it work. And Chris Crawford, like all who made games for the Atari 2600, had a tiny memory footprint in which to put the game itself as well as its graphics.

This limitation did not only apply to games. AppleWorks’ creator Rupert Lissner created memory management techniques that made a 64K or 128K computer and made it look like a much larger computer.

With modern computers, the programmer has exponentially more power available in which to implement his vision. The advantage is the ability to create things that could not happen in a classic microcomputer or game system. The disadvantage can be wasted resources and processor cycles. The programmer does not necessarily have to be efficient; he has a lot of space in which to work, and the operating system can take up the slack.

I have always maintained that Apple’s neglect of the Apple II platform actually resulted in the hardware being pushed to its full limits in ways that would not have been possible if they had taken the proper approach and evolved it, rather than continuing to invent successors. I admire and applaud the programmers who found their way around the limitations of the Apple II and were able to bend it to their will.