Today, the Internet provides nearly any bit of information that a new owner would require when purchasing or operating a new piece of computing technology. Not only that, but nearly anything can be purchased can be found on the Internet. But back in the early days of the personal computer revolution, there were three major sources of information: An actual computer store (if one existed nearby), a local user group, or in printed magazines. Print was and still is the primary static source of news, reviews, commentary, and advertising about hardware, software, and peripherals. The Internet remains the single most convenientway of searching out such information, but it has the limitation of being fluid and changing; the longevity of this knowledge depends on how well the owner of a web site keeps an archive that Google can find. Printed matter (or scans of printed matter) not only provide the information, but also the flavor of the era in which it was printed.
With the newness of personal computers, it fell on the local computer store to provide service and support. It was common for the new customers to come back to the store to talk with the salesman and to each other. These informal talks frequently led to the start of meetings, which led to the formation of actual user groups. To document the knowledge shared, these groups wrote and distributed newsletters. One group, the Apple Pugetsound Program Library Exchange in Seattle, went national with their “newsletter”. Another publication came out of the International Apple Core, which was actually a collaboration Apple Computer encouraged between Apple user groups.
Outside of these computer user groups, there were several print magazines that served the micro computing community in general. These publications began to run regular columns and special articles that dealt with the Apple II, while other magazines began with the purpose of serving the Apple II community exclusively. This chapter will take a look at some of the publications that reigned, even if just briefly, during the age of the Apple II. Most of the focus will be on those that were either exclusive to the Apple II or that dealt heavily with it.
One of the first national microcomputer magazines, Interface Age started out as SCCS Interface, the club newsletter for the Southern California Computer Society (SCCS). After several issues, Bob Jones, of the advertising agency McPheters, Wolfe, and Jones, offered to transform the newsletter into a magazine that was on par with professionally produced magazines. He made a profit-sharing deal with SCCS, in which that group would provide the majority of the content, and Jones would manage the publishing and marketing. The magazine was released in August 1976 with the new title Interface, and began its numbering with Volume 1, Issue 9 (due to the earlier eight issues released under the SCCS Interface title). By the following year, the title had been enlarged to Interface Age, which remained through the rest of its run. One of the columnists for Interface Age was Adam Osborne, who later became famous for his Osborne 1 computer.
As for the agreement between McPheters, Wolfe, and Jones and the SCCS: The outcome of this arrangement is unclear. A former member of the SCCS claims that Jones’ company took over the magazine when it became profitable from its advertising revenue. The contrary view is that the SCCS did not provide sufficient content and Jones on his own had to find his writers for the columns in the magazine. Ultimately, the agreement with SCCS was terminated, and the magazine continued under the Interface Age title.
The July 1976 issue of SCCS Interfaceis of particular interest because it ran one of the first advertisements for the new Apple-1 computer. It also had an article featuring the Apple-1, “Comparing Apples And Oranges”. This article identified Wozniak as the Director of Engineering and Steve Jobs as the Director of Marketing. One of his best quotes in that article was about computer clubs:
You know, most of the real creative and innovative ideas come about by communicating with these people. If we can rap about their needs, feelings and motivations, we can respond appropriately giving them what they want.
Most of the companies that started in this market are now responding to industrial needs and the hobbyist now has to yell louder than before.
This hobby market may still only be a baby, but it’s going to grow up fast like the CB market did and we plan to grow with it.
We’re here for the hobbyist to give him the best performance system that makes sense economically.
The September 1976 issue had an article by Alan Baum and Steve Wozniak, giving the source code for a 6502 disassembler. In October 1976, Steve Jobs wrote about how to interface the Apple-1 to an Southwest Technical Products Corporation PR-40 printer (using a toggle switch to switch output from the video screen to the printer), and in May 1977 Bob Bishop gave the source code listing for Apple Star Trek for the Apple-1. Wozniak also had two articles in the November 1976 issue, one about building a simple analog to digital converter, and one about floating point routines for the 6502.
One unusual innovation that was pioneered by Interface Age was a novel way to distribute software with the magazine. Although it had published source code listings from its beginning, for the reader to type in on his or her new home computer, the May 1977 issue included a flexible record that was included in the binding of the magazine. This technology had been used sporadically for years as a way to distribute inexpensive audio records of music in magazines and other media (including records attached to the back of breakfast cereal boxes). Interface Agedecided to use this technology to distribute Robert Uiterwyk’s BASIC for the 6800 processor. It was recorded at 33-1/3 RPM onto the disc using the Kansas City Cassette interface standard used on some early microcomputers. To load the program data from this “floppy ROM”, it was necessary to attach the audio-out signal from a turntable to the audio-in connector on a microcomputer, set the program to load (just as if it was coming from a cassette), and then play the record.
Compared to Wozniak’s cassette interface for the Apple-1 and Apple II, the Kansas City standard was much slower (at 300 baud) and was less reliable. Wozniak had designed his Apple-1 cassette interface to work at about 1200 baud, and also made it possible to successfully load the data even when there were minor variations in speed and tape quality (often a problem with the inexpensive cassette recorders of the 1970s). Although Interface Age put most of its focus on microcomputers other than the Apple-1 and Apple II, it did publish a few programs that worked on these computers. The May 1977 issue included Apple Star-Trek (as mentioned above) and a program for logic circuit analysis for the Apple-1. The August 1978 issue had a listing for a television pattern generator for the Apple II, and the September 1978 issue had an Apple II program on floppy ROM. This program, Automated Dress Pattern, was written in Integer BASIC by William V.R. Smith III (of Softape and Artsci) and Paul Essick, and was also distributed in that issue as a printed source listing. The program took a specific dress pattern from the McCall’s Dress Pattern Company and (with permission of McCall’s) printed the pattern outline on a 132-column grid on paper. Though it was not on the vellum-thin paper on which most sewing patterns were sold, it was a unique use of a microcomputer delivered on a unique medium.
Later issues of the magazine did not feature content about Apple products.
Robert M. Tripp got his start with computers in 1960 as an undergraduate in an unrelated field. He found the computer programming so interesting that he became a programmer in 1969, and started with the 6502 microprocessor in 1976, initially with the KIM-1 trainer sold by MOS Technology. He started a business, “The COMPUTERIST”, and sold the KIM-1 computers, as well as software and accessories for it. He started a magazine under the umbrella of his business, and named it Micro. It began publication in October of 1977, and was released on a bimonthly basis initially, going monthly in February of 1979. The first three issues were printed using his KIM-1 and he did the paste-up for the magazine on his kitchen table. He later began to use a local publishing company to create the magazine. By early 1980 the publisher name had changed to MICRO-INK, Inc.
The magazine covered the 6502 microprocessor (and later the 6809) in all the various computers that used it, including the KIM-1, the AIM-65, the C1P, the Commodore PET, the Ohio Scientific, the Atari 800, and, of course, the Apple II. It was an excellent source for machine level code for the 6502, eventually including more and more articles that applied specifically to the Apple II. Ultimately, about half of the articles in each issue dealt with the Apple II.
Many general-purpose machine language articles appeared in its pages, such as “Improved nth Precision” (code optimization for the 6502), “Precision Programming”, and “Computer Assisted Translation Of Programs From 6502 to 6809”. They also carried do-it-yourself hardware articles, such as “C1P To Epson MX-80 Printer Interface”, “PET/CBM IEEE 448 To Parallel Printer Interface”, and “Apple II Digital Storage Oscilloscope”.
Micro tended to focus each issue on a particular theme, starting out with articles that concentrated on a particular brand of computer per issue, and later expanding to topics that applied to several computers (such as printers, games, and languages). The articles presented were usually technical in nature and could be very useful for the advanced Apple programmer.
At its peak, Micro had a circulation of about 40,000, with half going to subscribers and half being shipped directly to computer dealers to sell in their stores.
Beginning with the first issue in October 1977, a unique feature of this magazine was the “Micro 6502 Bibliography”, which presented a reference to many different computer publications and the topics these magazines covered that were specifically important to programming the 6502. The cover changed in June 1980, showing a picture that made it look like it was a view from inside the computer monitor out into the room beyond, with text on the screen backwards. If there were graphics on the screen they were reversed, since the computer had the point of view. By December 1980 the logo underwent a change to a more stylized appearance that continued throughout the run of the magazine, until the last issue in October 1984, after which the magazine disappeared from the newsstands.
An important contribution to the Apple II community that came out of Micro-INK came out of an article that appeared in the August 1979 issue. William F. Lubbert, who was a professor at Dartmouth, submitted an eight-page article called “What’s Where In The Apple II” that was very popular. Tripp repeatedly urged him to make this more extensive so it could be published as a book. It took three years to get the Atlas and Gazetteer part done, which was published as a spiral-bound book. It took another three years to get the additional Guide published; this was provided as a separate booklet for those who had purchased the previous book, and as a perfect-bound book that had all three parts in it. (Tripp chose to not do the final combined book as a spiral-bound due to the much higher cost.) About 40,000 copies of What’s Where In The Apple were sold in the early 1980s, and in 2012 Tripp decided to create an iBooks version for Apple’s iPad, taking the original information and reformatting it for that modern display. (See his web site here for more information about the new book.)
This magazine began in February 1978 as a newsletter for a newly formed Apple II user group in Seattle, Washington. This group, which called itself the Apple Pugetsound Program Library Exchange (A.P.P.L.E.), began a newsletter, Call-A.P.P.L.E. Under the leadership of its founder and editor, Val J. Golding, it grew to become a full magazine by 1979, and its boundaries spread well beyond the Seattle area. As pioneers in the era of Apple II exploration and expansion, the group’s members and magazine subscribers discovered and published many hints, tips, and programming techniques necessary to the early Apple II community. Their major thrust, as with user groups today, came from assisting members in getting their systems to work. This covered anything from establishing communication between a computer and the newest low-cost printer, to the nuts and bolts of adding memory chips to get a full 48K of RAM. Call-A.P.P.L.E. also informed its readers with reviews of new software and programming languages, and entertained them with short Integer BASIC and Applesoft programs that did strange or unexpected things (in a recurring feature entitled, “So What Did You Expect?”) They also served their members by scheduling guest speakers for the group meetings, and printing a summary of the meeting in the magazine. Their early speakers included notables such as Mike Scott (president of Apple Computer), Randy Wigginton, and Steve Wozniak.
By 1980, Call-A.P.P.L.E. had become a full magazine published on slick paper, and it carried advertising by some of the new software and hardware companies. Their articles became more complex, dealing with topics such as “Moving DOS 3.3 To The Language Card“, and “Applesoft Internal Structure”, as well as various hardware or construction articles.
The year 1984 saw many changes for Call-A.P.P.L.E. The front cover had previously been white, with the title logo at the top, followed by a list of major articles. Beginning with the January issue, the cover was now graced with color artwork, and a subtitle was included under the logo: “The World’s Largest Apple User Group”. In April, Val Golding stepped down as editor, handing that position over to Kathryn Halgrimson Suther. She had been working with him on production of the magazine since he hired her back in 1980, and was best qualified for the position. And finally, in September 1984 the membership voted to change their organization to a co-operative, officially named A.P.P.L.E. Co-op, to help improve their efficiency and allow them, under Washington state law, to continue expanding services in as inexpensive a manner as possible. Previously selling software written primarily by members, they now began to carry outside software and hardware items considered useful to their members.
A.P.P.L.E. also advanced the cause of providing useful technical information to Apple II (and Lisa and Macintosh) programmers by helping with the formation of APDA (Apple Programmers And Developers Association) in September of 1987. Through a membership in this Apple-sponsored group, a programmer could obtain up-to-date tech notes and preliminary material directly from Apple, to aid in the refinement of his project. (Apple later took APDA back under its own control in December 1988).
Another change for the magazine occurred beginning in June 1988. The cover artwork was toned down, and the thrust of Call-A.P.P.L.E. changed, as it become more of a technical journal than the “hint and tip” magazine it had originally been. Again the cover listed the major features for that issue, but in a smaller typeface than in the old days. Articles were now much more complex, consistent with the increase in complexity found in the new Apple IIGS. This was also reflected in the subtitle now found under the logo on the front cover: “The Magazine For The Advanced Apple IIGS And Apple II User”. Topics covered included a series by Mike Westerfield about “Programming On The GS With APW” (he was the author of the ORCA/M assembler used in the official Apple Programmer’s Workshop on the IIGS), “NDAs 101” and “NDAs 102” (Tim Swihart writing about writing New Desk Accessories), and “A Powerful Graphics And Sound Trio” (utilities to allow use of super hi-res graphics and GS sound from Applesoft BASIC).
Even more significant in 1988 was the change in the name of the sponsoring group. In her monthly editorial in December of that year, Kathryn Suther wrote, “Sorry, Val, but the Co-op is undergoing a name change. Apple Computer, Inc., doesn’t seem to appreciate the word Apple in our name with or without the periods. Rather than having to license the name back from them, we opted to change the name of the co-op to TechAlliance, a computer cooperative.” (Fortunately, they were not apparently required by Apple to change the title of the magazine). The members felt that this name more accurately reflected what the organization was doing; support, technical journals, and access to products and information. They also laid plans for a journal aimed at Macintosh programmers, called MacTech Quarterly.
With declining Apple II sales in the late 1980s, it was becoming harder for TechAlliance to put out the type of magazine they wanted as a monthly publication. Part way through 1989, the decision was made to switch to a quarterly printing schedule to allow it to stay in print. However, with the ninth issue of that year they had to announce that they were ceasing publication. With the passing of Call-A.P.P.L.E. came the passing of an era. Val Golding wrote to A2-Central‘s Tom Weishaar about it: “The 12-year illumination of Call-A.P.P.L.E.‘s guiding light is about to be extinguished. The next issue will be the last. ‘Call’ was my baby and I loved it very much, even these last several years when I didn’t play a direct role. It is, after all, like a death in the family.” He went on to mention that he believed that their research into Applesoft internals and the use of its ampersand command made it possible for the appearance of more advanced programs earlier than would have been possible otherwise. He included a copy of his guest editorial from that final issue, reprinted in the pages of A2-Central in January 1990:
The Editor Bytes Back Val J. Golding, editor emeritus Full Circle
Perhaps I’ve lived in a private dream world all this time, where visions of ampersand faeries were real and 16K of RAM sufficed. My 1978 world where, still wrapped in swaddling clothes, the infant Call-A.P.P.L.E., with wise men guiding, exploded upon the technological night sky–its contagious fountain of knowledge spreading like a Washington wildfire, a depth and rugged determination to share never before and never again to be seen.
Volume 12, Number 1; there will be no Number 2. Words I thought would never be written blur my vision and scar the moist paper with ugly burn marks. “Our last issue”. A doorway to another dimension has closed after 12 years. It would take pages to list our accomplishments and firsts, more still for our failures. But we stood proud while others perished. And so it will be in the future, the Alliance remains to serve its members.
None of it would have been possible without those brilliant pioneering researchers and authors, far too numerous to even consider thanking individually. Virtually every Apple author writing today appeared first in these pages. It isn’t fair, however, to leave without at least expressing my gratitude to and admiration for Kathryn Halgrimson Suther, without whom we would not have survived thus far. I love you, Ms. K.
Still everything is O.K. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. “The moving finger, having writ, moves on…”
Here is the cover from that final issue:
Bill Martens had joined the Apple Pugetsound Program Library Exchange beginning back in 1981, at the age of 17. At this time the club had been in existence for just four years, and Martens helped in the office with user surveys and production of their public domain software disks. Later, he created the Pascal Anthology Disk, which sold from 1981 through the late 1980s. After 1982 he stopped working regularly with A.P.P.L.E. and went on to other positions, from running the computer labs at Washington State Community Colleges, to eventually (in 1989) working in Japan to build office infrastructures for Tokyo financial institutions. But with all of these changes, he continued to have a fondness for his Apple II roots, and beginning in 1999 Martens started to organize his collection of A.P.P.L.E. software and magazines. After retiring from his Tokyo consulting job in 2001 he continued his personal archiving project, completing his collection of the Call-A.P.P.L.E. magazine. About this time, Martens began to reestablish contact with those who had been associated with the company. He spoke with Val Golding, and then also with the former directors and those who had been involved in management of A.P.P.L.E, as well as many of the writers for the magazine. When he discussed his project with Rick Sutcliffe (who had written a column called “The Northern Spy” during the later years of Call-A.P.P.L.E.), he suggested that they get both the user group and the magazine going again. In further discussion with those he had previously contacted, Martens found their response to be quite positive. Together they decided that the time had come to bring the group back to life, and in February 2002 the new A.P.P.L.E. was born.
In the process of creating this new group, bringing back the Call-A.P.P.L.E. magazine was part of the vision. This time, rather than a printed version and the costs associated with distribution, the A.P.P.L.E. board decided to create and distribute the magazine via — what else? — the Internet, via their newly formed web site, www.callapple.org, and in the Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF), which gives greater control over the appearance of each page than would be possible with formatting as HTML code for web pages. Val Golding, now 71, agreed to participate as a director, and to write again “The Editor Still Bytes Back”, a reprise of his former editorial column. The first issue, Volume 14, No. 1, appeared online in May 2002. Its cover format was a return to the heyday of the print magazine (see the 1981 cover that is reproduced above). Future issues were available via subscription, and it was planned that articles with the Macintosh as well as with original focus of the club, the Apple II. imageIn fact, the June 2002 issue had a review of an IDE card for the Apple II, and even had a new Applesoft program for use with manipulating hi-res graphics screens. Again, as stated in Golding’s final editorial in the previous incarnation of Call-A.P.P.L.E., the group had come “full circle”.
The origin of the Apple-1 and Apple II computers came out of Steve Wozniak’s involvement in the Homebrew Computer Club, one of the earliest representations of a microcomputer user group. It is not surprising, then, that Apple continued to maintain contact with user groups that were focused on the Apple II. One of the ways this was done was with the creation of a newsletter, Contact. Each of the six issues that were released over 18 months listed user groups across the United States that focused on the Apple II Computer (the first issue also listed one Apple-1 user group, the one headed by Joe Torzewski and based in Granger, Indiana). These newsletters also had announcements from the company about new or upcoming products. For example:
- Issue 1 – New BASIC programming manual, the Apple II Communications card, and planned release of the Apple II Serial card.
- Issue 2 – Disk II and Applesoft II announced
- Issue 3 – Apple Software Bank (for contributed programs)
- Issue 4 – Apple II Serial Interface Card released,
- Issue 5 – Apple Hot Line phone number
- Issue 6 – Apple Graphics Tablet, and non-Apple products (Corvus 10 megabyte hard drive, SuperTalker card, lowercase adapter, and Selectric typewriter interface
Apple also used Contact to release patches for Cassette Applesoft, make suggestions on hardware setup (the first issue recommended developers reserve slot 7 for the first disk controller, slot 6 for the second disk controller, and slot 0 for the Applesoft BASIC ROM card), and include listings of short programs and utilities (saving Applesoft strings to cassette, converting Applesoft I to Applesoft II). To help developers, Contact listed entry points for important Monitor routines (in issue 5), and tips on how to use the Disk II appeared in Issue 4.
Issue 4 in December 1978 also was interesting as apologies were made to customers who had ordered products (Apple II computers and peripheral cards) but had not yet received themm. Even in 1978 Apple was experiencing problems in meeting customer demand!
Best Of Contact ’78 was released in early 1979, and it reprised useful information from the earlier newsletters, as well as a list of available software for the Apple II.
Around the time of the release of Issue 6 of Contact, plans were being made on a different way to get information into the hands of Apple’s customers; see the story of Apple Orchardfor more information on what came next.
SoftSide was a magazine about software for the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I, begun in October 1978 by Roger Robitaille. It had a format similar to the early issues of Nibble, with articles and program listings to enter and try out, some submitted by readers. Beginning in January 1980, SoftSide Publications started a companion magazine called AppleSeed for Apple II users. Apparently Apple Computer frowned on this use of the company name in a publication (one of the earliest examples of what became a broader practice within a few years), and the name was changed to SoftSide: Apple Edition, while the original magazine became Softside: S-80 Edition. The Apple edition was edited by Mark Pelczarski, who was also an Apple II game author and publisher.
With the August 1980 edition, SoftSide Publications decided to combine the Apple and TRS-80 editions, as well as a programmer’s magazine for the TRS-80, back into a magazine with the original title. The format of the magazine was changed from a smaller-sized digest up to a standard magazine size. This new version of SoftSide also carried content for the Atari 400 and 800 computer. After a few issues, each platform’s articles were identified in the table of contents separately: TRS-80 Side, Apple Side, and Atari Side. Starting in January 1982, the magazine added an IBM-PC Side, as well as beginning each issue with feature articles that might or might not be platform-specific. By November 1983, a Commodore Side was also added, to address Commodore 64 users.,
One problem some readers had with SoftSide during the years it was published in the smaller digest format was with their program listings, which were a copy of the printout from a dot matrix printer. The dot matrix printers of the time were not as legible as they later became; by the time it was photographed and put into the magazine, it had become a bit illegible. One reader commented, “After a short while of typing, you felt like you needed some of the ‘coke bottle bottom’ eye glasses!”
Like many computer publications of the time, SoftSide fell on hard times because of financial pressures and competition. This came during their attempt in 1983 to increase their distribution and reach a larger audience of readers. As a result, Robitaille made some efforts to reorganize the publication into a new magazine called SoftSide 2.0 (directed towards the computer user), and Code (for the programmer), with disk versions of both to be made available. Unfortunately, he was never able to get either concept fully established, and SoftSide disappeared from view.
Started around January 1980 by John Martellaro, this magazine was devoted almost entirely to Apple II software reviews. Many issues had reviews based on a theme, and would do comparisons of several products in the same category (such as word processors, assemblers, and the like), and give the products a graded rating, based on performance, ease of use, and other criteria that could make the product useful to potential customers. As such, it gained a reputation of being a type of Consumer Reports for Apple II products.
Like many other small magazines, it did not survive the economic downturn that occurred during 1984, being adversely affected by the loss of advertising revenue to newer computer magazines for the Apple II begun by major publishing houses.
Begun in his living room in January 1980 by Mike Harvey, Nibble survived longer than many Apple II magazines. His original advertisement for the magazine stated:
NIBBLE is an unusual Newsletter for Apple II owners. Each Issue will follow a major theme…such as:
* DATA BASE MANAGEMENT
* PROGRAMS FOR THE HOME
* TEXT PROCESSING
* COMPUTING FOR KIDS
* SMALL BUSINESS JOBS
* GAMES AND GRAPHICS
* PRACTICAL PASCAL
Significant programs will be in each issue, surrounded by articles which show how to USE the programming ideas in your OWN programs.
Examples of Upcoming Articles…
* Building A Numeric Keypad
* Home Credit Card Management
* LORES Shape Writing
* Designing Games That Last
* Arcade Shooting Gallery
* Random #’s in Assy. Lang.
* HIRES Weaving Design
And many many more. NIBBLE will literally “Nibble Away” at the mysteries of the Apple II to help Beginning and Advanced Programmers, Small Businessmen, and the Whole Family enjoy and USE the Apple MORE!
It costs a paltry $15.00 for 8 Issues! It will invite and publish user ideas and programs. DON’T WAIT! Send your check or money order right now, to receive the January issue! Mail to:
S.P.A.R.C. P.O. Box [number missing]
Lincoln, Mass. 01773
Software Publishing And Research Co.
Harvey worked carefully to make sure that he was not under the pressure of banks or investors, and so worked out of his own savings, running the company on a “pay as you go” basis. He printed enough of the first issue, 42 pages long in black and white, to mail to the few who responded to his ad, and the rest were sent free of charge to Apple dealers to make them aware of Nibble‘s existence. Their initial schedule was for eight issues per year, which was what he could afford to put out. By mid 1981 the magazine had grown to the point where Harvey could quit his regular job (president of a subsidiary of Exxon Enterprises) and work full-time as publisher of Nibble., His editorials over the years covered many topics that were helpful for small businesses, giving advice that would help them survive in good times and bad. He certainly took his own advice; although Nibble expanded to the point where it went to a monthly schedule (around 1984) and was printed as a square-bound magazine, by April 1991 it had to reduce back to a center-stapled format with fewer pages and less use of color. In that issue, Harvey cited problems with increased costs of paper, printing, and postage, and a recession that had resulted in decreased revenues from advertising, as well as Apple’s inconsistent support of the Apple II platform. About that same time, he changed the magazine over to being available only by subscription and eliminating newsstand sales.
Nibble’s articles covered a wide array of topics, from simple Applesoft and Integer BASIC programs, to complex assembly language applications, BASIC extensions, and games. In its prime it also included a popular series called “Disassembly Lines”, by contributing editor Sandy Mossberg, M.D. In his series, Mossberg taught some of the tricks and techniques of assembly language by taking parts of DOS 3.3, and later the BASIC.SYSTEM and PRODOS files, and “disassembling” them into readable assembly source code. This provided some insight into reasons why Apple’s system programs worked the way they did, and made it possible to either modify them to fix bugs, or to incorporate the programming techniques in other projects. Mossberg later went on to delve into the Apple IIGS toolbox (built-in ROM routines).
Nibble was a good place to learn how to write programs. Their published listings were well commented, and the tricks used by the programmers who wrote their articles were available for all to see and learn. Along with the various utilities they published were games (some that were very complicated with long tables of hex bytes to enter). They also included in later issues reviews of various commercial software products, and always made available disks containing all of the programs from a single issue of the magazine, for those who didn’t want to type in all of the code for the programs.
In April 1985 a section was added to the magazine called Nibble Mac, to cover topics of interest to Macintosh users. Later in 1985 this was split out and a separate publication (short-lived) with the same title was printed to concentrate on the Macintosh users. Nibble also helped establish the concept of copyright protection on program listings printed in magazines. This was important to Nibble, as they sold disks of their old programs to save readers the trouble of typing in the long listings.
The continued decline in market for Apple II programming-oriented magazines accelerated into 1992, and the July issue turned out to be the last one. The balance of subscriptions was filled out through A2-Central.
Starting in October 2005, Harvey made available the entire run of Nibble on either CD-ROM or DVD. Check out his web site at www.nibblemagazine.net.
In September 1979, several Apple user group leaders began to hold phone conversations about the possibility of coordination between existing groups, and ways to help new groups get started. Val Golding of A.P.P.L.E, Randy Hyde of Applesauce (from the Original Apple Corps), Dave Gordon, Ken Silverman (of The San Francisco Apple Core) and others discussed the production of a large combination publication to be prepared in time for the Fifth West Coast Computer Faire in March 1980. Also, this publication would potentially be the official voice of the proposed “super” group. The following month, these and several other user group representatives met at Apple corporate offices. Their meeting resulted in the formation of the International Apple Corps, committees to help run it, and the Apple Orchard magazine to be the voice of the organization.
The March 1980 issue of Apple Orchard was originally designed to be a collection of articles contributed by each of the clubs that were founding members, to make up just over one hundred pages of material. Also, Apple chose to contribute to this inaugural issue material that was to have been published in issue seven of Contact, Apple’s user group publication. That material was the first appearance of John Crossley’s detailed description of the internal entry points and zero page usage for Applesoft BASIC.
Initially offering subscriptions at the rate of $10 per year, the second issue appeared in the fall of 1980. This issue contained several articles submitted by Contact from Apple, focusing on the new Apple III and other topics. This issue also focused on hi-res graphics on the Apple II, and it contained three and a half pages listing all of the user groups that were affiliated with the International Apple Core.
With further issues, the Apple Orchard grew and matured. By December 1981 it started publishing quarterly; by July 1982 it was bimonthly; then nine issues per year starting June 1983; and ten issues per year by August 1983. As with a number of Apple II publications, however, it was hit by the downturn in the computer market during 1984, and the last issue came out in September 1984.
Softalk … ah, this one was special. Of all the magazines that have dealt with the Apple II since its release in 1977, none have been quite like Softalk. Their first issue in September 1980 was 32 pages, including the cover that featured Darth Vader with the title, “Apple Helps The Empire Strike Back”. This first issue opened with the following introductory remark. I reproduce it in its entirety here, because it highlights what I feel is the ideal in a computer magazine, and because the last two paragraphs are still very applicable today:
Welcome to Softalk. Whether you’re a hobbyist or a businessperson, a programmer or a nonprogrammer, Softalk is designed for you, because each of you has chosen Apple for your computer; and so did we. Softalk is a feature magazine, intended to pique the curiosity and intrigue the intellect of everyone who owns an Apple. In Softalk, you’ll find articles about people who own and use Apples, some of them famous, some merely ingenious. You’ll find articles about issues–those most pertinent within the microcomputer industry, such as piracy, and those the microcomputer is helping to solve, such as unemployment among the handicapped.
Softalk’s regular columns will strive to keep you up with what’s new in software and hardware and what’s new in the companies that make software and hardware. We’ll also try to keep you informed of how the computer is making news, both in the United States and abroad, both seriously and lightly.
Softalk is not a programming magazine. Beginning in October, our programming columns will be intended as tutorials, offering running courses on how to program. Although we believe that those of you who are seriously involved in programming will enjoy Softalk, for your programming applications we recommend that you seek out the excellent programming articles and tips in such magazines as Apple Orchard, Micro, Call-A.P.P.L.E., Creative Computing, and the many other fine magazines that address themselves to this aspect of computing.
Fun is another feature of Softalk. There will be puzzles, games, contests. The prizes won’t be huge, but they will be fun. This month, you’ll find a contest on page 2; later in the magazine lurks another puzzler.
We encourage you to patronize our advertisers. Those advertisers make it possible for you to receive Softalk. And, further, we hope you’ll support your local computer store. A healthy retail sector is crucial to our industry on every level; it is to all our benefits to help our retailers prosper.
I hope you share my enthusiasm for Apple and for the remarkable microcomputer industry, because, when you share it, you’ll find yourself looking forward to the fast-coming future with excitement and optimistic anticipation. If Softalk serves only to instill such a positive enthusiasm in you, it will be well worthwhile.
Oddly enough, Softalk owed its beginning to a television game show. Margot Tommervik was a contestant on “Password”, and with part of her winnings in late 1979 she purchased an Apple II computer. She was fascinated with the machine and what it allowed her to do. When a local computer store offered a prize for the first person to solve On-Line’s Mystery House adventure, she dove into it headlong and had it solved in twenty-four hours.
In 1977, not long after the release of the Apple II, William V.R. Smith, William Depew, and Gary Koffler had started a company named Softape to sell Apple II software on cassette. Along with their printed catalog, the company had distributed three issues of a newsletter called Softalk. When Margot discovered that this Apple II software company was located not far from where she lived, she came to visit. Out of the conversations she had with Smith and Depew, an arrangement was reached for Margot and her husband Al Tommervik to take the Softalk newsletter and make it into a glossy magazine. Contributing money from the remainder of her “Password” winnings, Margot and her husband Al agreed to do the magazine if they were allowed to determine its course and retain management control. It would be as much a magazine for Apple II enthusiasts to enjoy as a platform for software publishers to display their wares. Although it had the modest beginning of only 32 pages printed on newsprint stock, within a year there were over one hundred advertising pages in each issue. It was an ideal arrangement: The readers got a magazine that was specifically about their computer, and the software and hardware companies got a magazine with widespread distribution that could showcase their products to those readers.
Softalk carved its niche among the other Apple II magazines of the time by providing a variety of articles not available anywhere else. Whereas Nibble was best known for its games and utilities, Call-A.P.P.L.E. for its technical information, and Apple Orchard for its focus on beginners and Apple user groups, Softalk concentrated on the Apple computer industry. This included information about Apple Computer, Inc., as well as the many companies that provided software or hardware for the Apple II. A monthly series called “Exec” (taken after the DOS 3.3 disk command), profiled a company that made hardware or software for the Apple II, and gave some of the background about its products. They carried reviews of many new releases each month, and provided news on a continuing basis about the companies making those products. They also developed a monthly best-seller list for Apple II and III software, and used not the sales figures provided by the companies who marketed the programs, but rather the actual sales figures from the software and computer stores that sold them. Their reason for doing it this way was to get a more accurate picture of what was selling, not just what was shipping.
Part of the uniqueness of Softalk was due to the way it did business. Although it was a magazine that was available by mail or in computer stores (as were other computer magazines of the day), this one offered every Apple II owner a free six-month subscription as a trial! One only had to provide the serial number on the bottom of the computer, and you were in the club. And it felt like a club, almost a family, of fellow Apple II (and later, Apple III, Lisa, and Macintosh) enthusiasts. This unusual method of providing a magazine lasted even until the final issue.
As time went by, Softalk expanded its coverage to include columns that dealt with specific programming areas on the Apple II, but chose to do so in a tutorial fashion, as they promised in their introduction article. Roger Wagner started in October 1980 with a column called “Assembly Lines” that taught 6502 assembly language (he says that what he knew about 6502 assembly was only about one month ahead of what the readers were learning); Doug Carlston instructed users in the art of BASIC programming in “All About Applesoft”; Mark Pelczarski expounded on hi-res graphics techniques in “Graphically Speaking”; Taylor Pohlman (an Apple employee) wrote about the Apple III and Business BASIC in “The Third Basic”; Jim Merritt (who also worked for Apple) championed Pascal in “The Pascal Path”; Greg Tibbetts delved into Apple CP/M in “Softcard Symposium”; and Bert Kersey and Tom Weishaar deciphered DOS 3.3 and ProDOS in “DOSTalk”. Other regular features included “Fastalk” (an annotated listing and description of current and classic software), “Marketalk News” (product release announcements) and “Marketalk Reviews” (detailed product reviews), “Tradetalk” (Apple industry news), “Hardtalk” (hardware projects or information), “Storytalk” (fiction, primarily computer related), and eventually a column called “Backtalk”, which was a look back at older issues of Softalk itself (this began on the third anniversary of the magazine). One unusual column, called “Open Discussion”, was quite similar to the interaction on today’s online information services. They printed letters from readers that ranged from comments on previous articles to questions such as “How do I get Apple Writer to work with my printer?” Rather than directly answering each question, Softalk often left it to readers to send in replies with help. In its last year, Softalk did begin a column called “If Then Maybe”, which actually took some of those technical questions and used some of its consulting writers (the “Softalk Sages”) to answer them.
Each month there was a new contest, usually involving a puzzle of some sort that might or might not require the use of a computer to help solve it. The winners of the previous month’s contests were awarded a credit towards $100 worth of products advertised in Softalk. The puzzles were creative and unique. One issue asked to have various shapes in a later part of the magazine identified (some that were obvious, such as a computer monitor, some less so, such as a hand phaser from Star Trek). Another contest consisted of only lists of five character scrambled words; no clues, no instructions, no direction. One month had a crossword puzzle with very obtuse clues. One November issue featured tiny little “hi-res” turkeys scattered throughout the magazine; the goal was to correctly count all of them. Some of the contests even allowed those entering to be creative; one asked entrants to write a short paragraph that might illustrate the use of an Apple computer by a fictional or non-fictional historical figure (an example being Emperor Nero playing an adventure game in which he is trying to figure out the correct commands to get it to allow him to burn down Rome). In the case of multiple entries with correct answers, the winner of the monthly contests was selected with a random-number generator. Even if you didn’t enter the contests, they were fun to read and ponder, and some of the winning entries (when creative writing was involved) were great.
Softalk suddenly disappeared after the August 1984 issue was mailed. There was no announcement, nothing that had indicated that this was going to happen, and with its disappearance the “Golden Age” of the Apple II also passed. (By this time Softalk Publishing also had two other magazines, Softalk PC, which ran from June 1982 through August 1984, and St. Mac, for the Macintosh, which ran from February through August 1984). This ending could have been predicted by the way in which the magazine had gotten smaller and smaller in size over the previous few months, but its ending was still somewhat of a shock to the readers. One reader was reported to have said that if he had known that they were having financial problems he would have taken up a collection!
According to an article in InfoWeek from September 17, 1984, Softalk Publishing had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on August 22nd, which resulted in liquidation of the company’s assets. According to the attorney for the company, they had attempted to find other sources of financing, but it had not worked out. A quote in InfoWorld given by Al Tommervik later that year indicated that management problems were more at fault in the failure of the magazine than were market factors. However, that same article discussed the difficulties being faced by single-platform magazines in keeping those focused publications profitable.,
What led to the demise of Softalk? Several factors likely played a role. One was the explosion in the number of magazines for and about computers between 1981 and 1983. Each new magazine that appeared was yet another place where a vendor needed to consider putting advertising dollars, and for some small companies it was simply not affordable to put ads in all of them. Another factor that figured in was the introduction of the IBM PC, and the sudden need for companies to produce versions of their programs that would run on that computer. When the recession of 1982-84 arrived, the computer market began to loose steam, and small single-product companies either had to associate with larger ones or go out of business. Lower consumer spending on computer hardware and software hurt the market further, and the necessary advertising dollars were simply not available, and Softalk became, unfortunately, one of the casualties.
Perhaps another factor that contributed to the demise of Softalk was that it did not have any large publishing company backing it up; it was owned and operated by the Tommerviks and a few others in partnership, and they didn’t have the cash cushion that would allow them to pay expenses during time of slow advertising revenue. Perhaps if a major publisher had taken an interest, Softalk would have been around for more than its four short but eventful years.
At its height in December 1983, Softalk was over 400 pages long, but by its final issue in August 1984 it had shrunk down to only 128 pages. Although a next issue was in the works (according to the “previews” section in the table of contents), it never made it to the printer. Remaining subscriptions were filled out by inCider magazine, but sadly, the magic was gone.
This was something more than a newsletter, but not quite a magazine. It was edited and printed by Bob Sander-Cederlof, author of the S-C Assembler, and was written initially for support of that product. Naturally, his initial focus was on the 6502 processor, but when the earliest 65c02 chips became available in the summer of 1983, he began to include coding examples that demonstrated the uses of the new opcodes. In October of 1984 the new 65802 and 65816 processors got a similar treatment in the pages of Apple Assembly Line.
This publication included information about how to write assembly language routines for various projects, and one of Sander-Cederlof’s favorite pastimes was finding ways to squeeze the most code into the fewest bytes possible. Often he would take sections of code from Apple’s system software, and later from AppleWorks, disassemble it, and point out how it could have been coded more tightly or efficiently. He also included various products that he or others had written that were useful for other programmers, including a package of extensions for Applesoft that allowed 18 digit precision math functions.
By 1988 the Apple II market had receded to the point where renewals of Apple Assembly Line and sales of the S-C Assembler could no longer earn a living for Sander-Cederlof, and the May 1988 issue was the last one. He accepted a position working for Applied Engineering, and turned his attention to that job.
In 1993, the Apple II Programmer’s Roundtable (A2Pro) on GEnie was given permission by Sander-Cederlof to upload the complete text and source code for every issue of Apple Assembly Line that was ever produced. Matt Deatherage, chief Sysop for that roundtable, took on the laborious task of converting all of the old DOS 3.3 and hybrid DOS 3.3/ProDOS disks provided by Sander-Cederlof. Deatherage had to convert all of the old files into a format that was accessible under ProDOS, a difficult task due to its more limited file-naming system compared to DOS 3.3. Also, he had to locate and organize all of the various source files pertinent to a particular issue of the newsletter from the various disks that Sander-Cederlof had previously made available to his subscribers. After compiling all of the information, Deatherage then created individual archives for each issue and uploaded them to the A2Pro library. Before the GEnie service shut down, the libraries were fully downloaded to preserve them, but after a while there really was no place on the Internet where all of the issues were available complete with the source code listings. Sander-Cederlof eventually took over the job of hosting these archives, and the current home for the Apple Assembly Line files is on the Apple Assembly Line web site.
- Garrett, Roger, and Kaye, Bert, “Interface Age Magazine” forum, Vintage Computer.com,, 2005/01/06 and 2007/05/31, ↩
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- Levy, Steven. Hackers: Heroes Of The Computer Revolution, New York, Dell Publishing Co., Inc, 1984: 308-310.↩
- Bird, Alan, & Weishaar, Tom. “Old Timers: Two Survivors”, 1991 A2-Central Summer Conference (tapes), July 1992.↩
- Bartimo, Jim & Bergheim, Kim, “Softalk Files For Bankruptcy”, InfoWorld, Sept 17, 1984, pp. 12.↩
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- Deatherage worked as an engineer at Apple Computer from 1988 to 1994 (was closely involved in GS/OS for the Apple IIGS, as well as production and revision of Apple II technotes), and since 1996 has published two subscription-only Macintosh journals, MDJ and MWJ.↩