002- In 1981 it seems like 'the world' was Apple's for the taking.
What happened?! What were Apple II users saying and feeling
in the final years of the Computer Wars?
The Computer Wars Chronicles
What follows is a series of articles I originally
did for COMPUTIST
beginning in the late 80's. They chronicle the end of an era. You will find
all of the speculation, analysis, predictions, and hype one might expect in
writings which oscillate between recognition of impending reality and a crusade
to oppose it.
The pieces are, roughly, dated by Issue number.
The first article appeared
in Issue 67 in the late Summer of 1989. I'm pretty sure the last article
appeared in the Fall of 1991.
This collection was recently reprinted in Tom
Turley's A2-2000 on-line
'zine. Tom keeps insisting that old A2 writings will be of interest to 1990's
computer users. Maybe he's right. It may be entertaining to relive these
snapshots of Apple II history.
Jeff Hurlburt, 1997
ISSUE 67/ Revolution.
The Missing Upgrade
Spring has long since sprung and my predicted
"significant IIgs upgrade"
has yet to materialize. The problem, according to Western Design Center's Bill
Mensch, is not available hardware--- 65816's have been tested above 12 Mhz and
the '832 will soon be ready for prototyping--- the problem, he says, is that
Apple is not particularly interested in an upgrade, or, even, in preserving the
Unbelievable? Not at all. Neither Commodore
nor IBM were willing to
upgrade their lower priced lower profit lines; if Apple lets the II stagnate
into obsolescence, it will be following a well-worn trail. Elimination of the
II line would free the company of any remaining hacker/experimenter influence,
cure a chronic case of microprocessor schizophrenia (65xxx vs. 68xxx), and
release resources currently devoted to II series development, production, and
marketing. Finally, speculation aside, one has only to look at what the company
has done--- or, more precisely, NOT done--- to support its IIgs...
NEED: Traditionally, upgrades are forced by the competition. By fall
year, it was clear that lower prices for VGA resolution IBM clones posed a
serious threat. The II series would be in serious trouble, I reasoned, if Big
Green did not soon introduce a MAJOR IIgs upgrade. The bare bones requirement
has to be something around 8 MHz speed, with a mod to access display memory at
current "fast" speed, AND access to 640 x 480 16-color graphics. More sound
RAM, a second display block, better disk I/O, and a multi-color TEXT mode would
be nice; but, obviously, without speed and graphics parity, the IIgs isn't even
in the ball game.
Such demands are not, as some like to claim,
merely a product of users
losing out in 'my computer is better than yours' contests. For many
applications, it is now possible to define something like speed and resolution
'absolutes': there is such a thing as "not fast enough" or "not enough detail",
whatever the competition is doing. Today, no super-res word processor or
desktop publisher runs "fast enough" on the IIgs-- the user is always conscious
of trading away speed for "power"--; nor can the user obtain anything like an
accurate on-screen view of many fonts. "WYSIWYG" just isn't possible with only
200 lines of vertical resolution.
Similar considerations apply with respect to
many utility, scientific, and
entertainment applications. The worry is that continued incompatibility with
VGA-developed 'control panels', windowing setups, and artwork will slow the
release of IIgs versions; and that, increasingly, speed may become a
disqualifier. No one, in short, is talking about 'gilding the lily'; the focus
is upon such mundane concerns as decent 'productivity applications' comfort
levels and continued access to new products.
Now, as you read this, it is summer; IIgs sales
are on a double-digit
slide, and, assuming there is no last minute upgrade announcement, the II line
IS in serious trouble. Just how serious became obvious to me when a fellow IIgs
devotee, Baywoof (a.k.a. "the Boardbasher"), confessed that he was dumping his
Apple and moving to an IBM. He figures that, for the price he can still get for
his IIgs stuff, he can buy a complete VGA color '386 clone system.
I've seen his numbers; and, at worst, the difference
is probably less than
three or four hundred dollars!-- this for a three or four times speed increase,
twice the hard disk storage, faster floppy access, lower peripherals prices,
easier upgrades, larger software base, and much better graphics. (BUT, he will,
for now, have to give up IIgs-quality sound. Ha!)
Anyone still inclined to accept the pomp and
glitz of Apple group
festivals at face value need only peruse a recent "Computer Shopper". With
luck, somewhere in a few hundred pages of IBM clone ads and product reviews,
you will find Don Lancaster holding forth in the the three or four pages of
what qualifies as the "Apple" section.
"Wait!", you cry, "what about the 'New II in '89'
promised at last winter's
'Fest? or reports of a plug-in upgrade?" So far, the only evidence of a "New
II" is yet another addition to the malingering IIc series and some talk of a
"New IIgs" with in-ROM operating system smarts and on-board MIDI. As for
Apple's plug-in upgrade, this is rumored to be a bridge board to partial Mac
compatibility. That is, for a few hundred dollars, you may soon be able to turn
your IIgs into a Mac Jr.! (Gosh, wasn't it just a few months ago that IBM
carried off a Fortune Worst Marketing Blunder of the Decade Award for its PC
We have, long ago, passed the point where it
makes any sense to talk about
maintaining II series dominance in software markets. And, since schools must
select computers with an eye to what students will use at home, Apple's
much-touted education base is about to 'turn blue' as well. The question now
is: how much of the current base of users and creative talent can be held while
someone (Applied Engineering, Comlog, Laser, ?) puts together a significant,
reasonably priced upgrade?
QUALITY CONTROL and SERVICE: Our II+ ran flawlessly for nearly six years
requiring a new power supply and keyboard IC replacement. A veteran of
countless experimental mods, it continues to perform well. Our IIgs, on the
other hand, is presently on its third motherboard! (Actually, it may be the
fourth; it's hard to be sure. I do recall that one of the replacement boards
didn't do anything, except short out the power supply.)
The main problem is an apparently endless supply
of sub-spec proprietary
IC's (e.g. video and ADB controllers). So, why three (3) motherboards!? Well,
Apple does not allow its local sales/service reps to replace soldered-on IC's.
Should your ADB controller bomb (or, more likely, you finally discover that it
has been sporadically malfunctioning all along), "repair" consists of swapping
out the motherboard. If your warranty has expired, the cost is $270 plus your
As to old complaints-- a II series marketing
strategy designed to create a
toy image, high prices, slowness in releasing documentation, Mac exploitation
of II events, etc., etc.-- elaboration is hardly necessary. The record is one
of studied insult, rapacious greed, sloppiness, and dismal neglect.
Let Them Eat Cake
Does Big Green management truly wish to be
rid of the II? I doubt it. As
security against future Mac troubles, the II series has proved to be priceless
insurance. (Remember, it was the IIgs and solemn oaths to 'be true to our Two'
that turned things around in '86.) The Apple Lords appear, instead, to have
opted for the no-development-cost, string-the-user-along strategy perfected by
Commodore in dealing with its 64/128 line. Unfortunately, the IIgs is priced
against '386-class competition, not cartridge arcade machines.
In the long run, the biggest problem with this
'Mac in red, II gets fed;
Mac in black, II gets sack' philosophy may be that it makes for remarkably poor
PR. Scan through the message bases of a few local Apple BB's and what you find
is the kind of mistrust and ill will that used to be reserved for 'The Phone
There is, for some reason, a widespread perception
that Apple is perfectly
willing to sit on its hands while hefty user computing investments turn to
mush. Now, what do suppose is going to happen when many of these thousands of
II owners and former owners are asked to suggest company, school, and
university computer purchases? Somehow, Apple is managing to convert its most
valuable asset into a fatal liability. (It's not nice to skimp on your II
Anticipating that, whether by design or accident,
Apple may be angling for
a Mac-only strategy, several respected II series supporters have joined to
combat the shift and develop alternatives. In our conversation, Mensch
identified such "Working Group" participants as himself and other WDC
personnel, Tom Weishaar, Mike Westerfield, and representatives from Applied
Engineering and Comlog.
While his "preferred remedy" is to persuade
Big Green stockholders to
force II support, Mensch admits that the group is already exploring non-Apple
options. Among these, the simplest calls for third-party development of a
speed-up/graphics add-on. For an outlay "well below $500" you would retain
access to current IIgs wares and enjoy the benefits of a new, higher
performance standard. More dramatic cures call for Apple to 'spin off' an
independent II products company or even sign away II rights to one or more
When asked if a cloner (e.g. Laser) might launch
its own super IIgs,
Mensch steadfastly refused any comment. From Laser, Grant Dalke's response was
a somewhat obtuse, carefully worded observation that, if such a product
appeared to be feasible, Laser would announce it when it was ready. (Hmmmmm)
"So, are you saying that no IIgs-like product is being developed?" Answer: "No
comment". Well, the last time I got answers like these to questions like these
was back in the summer of '85 when trying to pin down Bill Mensch about a
65816-based "IIx". IF Jim Hart's rumored 7.8MHz, 640 x 400 resolution, ...
"IIgs+" actually exists, a reasonable guess is that it's sitting in Laser's
We have, it seems, reached the situation narrowly
averted only three years
ago. Hobbled by inept generalship and beset by swarms of power-packed IBM
clones, the II world is moving to an inevitable consensus: Apple has lost the
'Mandate of Heaven'; II leadership is up for grabs. I believe most users would
like to see the company rediscover its hacker/experimenter roots and become a
'serious player'; it had better. What remains of the Empire (fat, contented
Macsville) is already scheduled for plundering by hordes of '486-based
The 'bad news' is that, as the battle over
speed, graphics, disk I/O, and
other needed advances heats up; it will, for a time, become difficult to
present software designers with a 'standard II'. Clones, plug-in upgrades, and
third-party motherboards (along with firmware and operating system mods) will
add to the confusion; some established II suppliers will fold; etc., etc.. (It
ain't gonna be pretty, Pilgrim.) Indeed, once it becomes clear what
revolutionaries mean by having to "break eggs to make an omelet", more than a
few users are sure to bail out and head for the relatively peaceful IBM clone
On the positive side, just such a state of
flux is most likely to produce
fierce competition, lower prices, increased opportunities for developers, and
significant leaps in performance. One way or another, you WILL get your
upgrade. If all this sounds interesting-- even, like it might be fun-- then
hang on. You have the 'right stuff' for the II Revolution!
Note: Bill Mensch's semi-informal "IIgs Working Group" plans one or
meetings this summer. To offer comments, ideas, etc., or to otherwise 'get
involved', contact Andrew Hall at the address listed in "Vendors".
ISSUE 68/ Keep-It-Simple Upgrade.
If the best Apple can do for its II line turns
out to be a "new IIgs" with
1MB of motherboard RAM and 128K of sound RAM plus NO upgrade offer to current
IIgs owners... Well, the next "Apple Fest" could turn into the first "Apple
Frost". As to movement on the 'II manufacturers upgrade front', I have yet to
here a peep from Applied Engineering, Comlog, Western Design Center, or anyone
else in the business. (Like, where are the Japanese when you really need
So, to get things rolling, here's a specific
proposal: Since the big
problem with any worthwhile upgrade is maintaining current compatibilities
while extracting graphics control and output from the motherboard kluge, why
not put everything on a single, slot-pluggable board which also plugs into the
motherboard 65816 socket?
"Everything" includes an 8-10 MHz 65816, cache RAM,
640 x 400 (at least) x
256 colors graphics controller, an input (via a short jumper chord) from 'old
graphics' output, video output & switching circuitry, ROM's, 1MB of RAM,
duplicate sound system with 256K RAM, sound input for 'old sound' output (via
another jumper chord), and a mini-connector to drive a 'to be developed'
improved disk interface. The board amounts to a vastly improved IIgs which can,
when asked, take over the motherboard and work like the old machine-- NOT, to
be sure, so dramatic an approach as some might wish; but then, the idea is to
'keep it simple'.
ISSUE 72/ No Foolin'.
Last year's Apple II predictions were, mostly,
on-target. According to a
Reuters News Service release, II series shipments fell nearly 52%. Many new
games have not been released in a II format, some users have defected, and a
few established publications (notably dear old CALL Apple) disappeared. On the
other hand, the Great Apple Dump predicted by some, turned out to be a
'Dump-ling'; net user base probably held or increased. Most product releases
continue to include, eventually, a II version; and, several very attractive
products are available ONLY for IIe or IIgs. In Star Trek terminology, the II
series took a 'direct hit' in '89; and has come back stronger and tougher.
Which brings us to the other half of the infamous
Issue #67 commentary.
True, we do not see curls of smoke rising from Cupertino, circling vultures,
and fat barbarians bidding for the crown. We do see lower profits, dropping
stock value, and declining market share. Big Green, as in the days just prior
to its last II series 'rediscovery', needs a major, attention-getting,
marketing success. Some "industry analysts" have suggested a low-priced Mac;
but, aside from being a contradiction in terms, IF a for-real '90's technology
Cheapo Mac were offered, the first casualty would be the current
high-profit-margin Mac II. A not-for-real sub-performing Cheapo would, of
course, merely repeat IBM's PC Jr. fiasco.
In following through with release of GSOS 5.0,
Apple demonstrates that it
is not quite ready to fall on its sword. Whether Big Green has forgotten how to
wield it remains to be seen. A vast market is still wide open, ripe for
plucking by the first manufacturer able to tell a "PC" business machine from a
genuine "Home Computer". Apple used to know the difference; and, with Spring in
the air and just a bit of prompting from its II users, may be on the verge of
ISSUE 74/ (Report from the Computer Wars).
When the great wheel of the small computing
universe takes a major turn,
wobbles, and settles into a new plane, there are bound to be many users who
will doubt the evidence of their senses. ("Did the earth tremble? Did the stars
shift? WHAT happened?!") Hence, the 'last minute' decision to compress this
month's reviews and issue the "Report'".
Report from the Computer Wars
What promised just last summer to be a PC wave
has become a rolling
tsunami. One minute you're strolling down a city street, considerately stepping
over and around islands of PC hardware; the next, you're running for your life
in the shadow of a churning skyscraper-high wall of machines and circuit
boards. Something important has happened in Computerville; a milestone has been
reached. When? Sometime between last fall and this spring. What? Nothing less
than the end of Computer Wars I!
During some fifteen years of competition among
names like Altair,
Southwest Technical, Imsai, (Ohio Scientific, Tandy, Atari, Apple, Commodore,
...), it became an article of faith that the outcome would be THE dominant
computer maker. Presumably, the manufacturer of the best machines would attract
the overwhelming majority of users and that would be that.
Much to the delight of TRS-80, Apple II, and
Atari 800 makers, the
Microcomputer Club soon gave way to product-specific groups of true believers
determined to expand membership and win immortality ("II Forever!", etc.) for
their machines. It was entertaining; but, of course, it was mainly hype.
Even were users willing and able to flit from
machine to machine like
butterflies, no major manufacturer was particularly attracted to anything so
intangible as Computer Wars "victory". The corporations (believe it or not)
were aiming to maximize profits, not user numbers! Both Apple and Commodore
built up large, enthusiastic home user bases, then neglected them in favor of
the lower volume, higher profit business market. So much for "winning the
For home users, developers, software publishers--
for everyone, in fact,
with a stake in the "low end" machine-- such half-hearted support has always
been as puzzling as it is frustrating. We invest hard cash in an Apple
computer, join Apple clubs, subscribe to Apple publications, (slap Apple
stickers on binders, use an Apple key ring, ...), fill shelves with Apple
software, and buy Apple peripherals. Apple, in return, drags out development of
a IIgs operating system, pours money into its business machine, and adopts a
'dog in the manger' position which all but kills any chance of a timely third
party upgrade needed to maintain IIgs performance parity with the competition.
To be fair, Apple has behaved no worse-- indeed,
on the whole, much
better-- than other home user 'flagships'. Each new II model has preserved
broad downward compatibility; and documentation, from early manuals through the
current Addison Wesley series, has been among the best. Finally, both the IIgs
and its operating system benefitted from recent minor upgrades. It's no wonder
home users are confused. If Apple is at all concerned about its II series, why
isn't it concerned enough?
After the near brush with collapse in '85,
we reasoned that Apple (now
also "Big Green" the business machine maker) would forever regard holding onto
its II home user base as a high priority. Surely, Apple had learned its lesson.
So it had, though not the lesson we supposed.
IIgs revenues were a help in
those troubled times; but the more important contribution was an industry-wide
confidence that "Apple is back". Stock values rose, capital rolled in, the Mac
II was launched, and viola!, Apple WAS back! The lesson for Apple was clear
enough: 'everyone' still equated corporate health with II prosperity. It had
become captive to its low end, low profit product line.
There are several reasons why Apple might view
this situation with alarm.
Of these, the popular notion that a IIgs resulting from a series of forced
upgrades might impact Mac sales is probably the most over-rated. As Apple's own
marketing people have adroitly demonstrated, it is entirely possible to render
a product "business invisible". Your ads merely assert that the IIgs is a
home/school computer and that the Mac is for business. Once the systems are
bundled with appropriate software and the price tags slapped on, few IS
managers would consider filling an office with IIgs's.
No, the simplest explanation for Apple's concern
is also the one which
best fits the facts. Well before the '85 crisis, Apple had decided that costs
of its II series were beginning to outweigh rewards. Selling all of those
computers, disk drives, and printers to create a large home user base was great
fun. Customer service, support R&D, and selling upgrades to maintain it was not
nearly so profitable. Apple wished to be free to deal with its II series on its
own terms. Most certainly, the Lords of Cupertino were determined to be rid of
a situation which allowed home user complaints, doomsday editorials, or
expressions of teacher dissatisfaction to rock corporate pylons at the
By 1988, an aggressive ad campaign and expanding
Mac II sales had solved
the problem. Apple shed its "home computer maker" skin and became "Apple, the
maker of pricey, high class business computers". Whether the II line is
spun-off, sold, or merely "supported" at current low levels, one thing seems
clear. The odds are very slim that II users will ever again be an important
part of Apple's empire. Consider yourself sluffed.
IV. IBM: Grud-maker
IBM's first PC was chiefly remarkable for what
it was not. It was not a
closed-box, highly complex machine packed with proprietary hardware. Featuring
an out-of-the-Intel-manual design with slots for peripheral boards, it was
virtually Apple's II+ 'done in business grey'.
From the start, PC's simple, straightforward
profile proved both a
blessing and a curse. The blessing was that flocks of third party manufacturers
quickly began to fill the machine with performance-enhancing boards and
peripherals. The curse, from IBM's point of view, is that it proved impossible
to protect PC from hordes of grud-like cloners.
[Note: In case you missed playing "Dark Forest" or a sequel, gruds are
green, swarthy, fast-multiplying reptiles-- sort of a one-horned ninja turtle
without the shell.]
Anybody could make a "PC compatible" and, from
AT&T to one-garage assembly
shops, 'anybody' did. Worse still, as IBM moved first to the XT and then the
AT, it encountered successively more cloners taking progressively less time to
develop better copies at lower prices! When, at last, Big Blue moved to its
supposedly less clonable PS/2 platform, it was already widely understood that
the best grud AT's were at least as good as the IBM original AND cheaper.
Had the Mainframe Moguls set out purposefully
to create a dangerously
competitive computer making sub-culture, they could hardly have improved upon
the course followed. Faced with such inept meddling, the Apple Lords must have
felt a bit like the old Sorcerer watching his Apprentice chop the animated
broom into a million pieces. Naturally, by the time Big Blue ran for the hills,
the small computing landscape was knee-deep in gruds. (Even today, it is said,
Apple's Consummate Enlightened One will awaken in the dead of night, sit up
bolt straight in his bed, and scream "Why must I lose to such idiots!")
For good or ill, IBM had delivered big manufacturer
technology and the
market to go with it into the hands of countless small manufacturing free
enterprise fanatics. Here the "big names" appear on metallic stickers slapped
into square indentations thoughtfully provided by PC case manufacturers; and
you're only as good as your prices are low.
Though, in this maze of interlocking board makers,
assemblers, and sellers,
each component may come from almost anywhere, by 1988 the cloners had managed a
'stock' AT featuring VGA color. Soon there followed compatible '386 models, low
cost Ad Lib sound; and (barely months after the chip became available) the
first '486 machines were ready. Incredibly, the no-name gruds had moved beyond
mere clone-making without missing a beat.
Computer Wars I did not pick a winning manufacturer;
it did pick a
winning, standard platform: the "PC AT or compatible". Just look at unit sales,
the quantity, quality, and range of software releases, peripherals variety, and
newspaper/magazine advertising. The clincher is a pattern of plummeting prices,
increasing performance, and rapid adoption of cutting-edge technology. It all
adds up to the same thing: a 'standard computer'. Today, when you say
"computer", everyone knows you mean "PC".
As of summer 1990, the 'typical PC' is an 8-16MHz
'286-based machine with
640K-1MB (zero wait state) RAM, 1.2 MB 5.25" floppy, and 40-60MB hard disk.
Featuring VGA color and Ad Lib sound, the system also includes "enhanced
keyboard", VGA monitor, and cards for serial & parallel I/O, disk controllers,
clock, and joystick ports-- all for about $1400. (33MHz '386 versions sell for
roughly $2000). If current trends persist, by late fall prices will have
Where does this leave II users? As of this
spring, IIgs users sat atop a
large, divers software base. As of summer, very little has been added. While
you can reasonably expect continued releases in such areas as utilities,
languages, and education, the outlook for productivity wares is rather poor. As
for major vendor entertainment releases, don't ask! Just take last summer's
predictions and slap on a "You are Here" sticker.
Though loyal, literally, to a fault, II users
are not likely to long
tolerate a situation which not only saddles them with sub-par performance, but
also shuts them out of the major vendor software stream. Mainly, you 'won't
take it any more' because you don't have to. Look at the economics: As a IIgs
owner you are probably looking forward to a speed/graphics upgrade and the
addition of a 40-60MB hard disk. Well, at normal Apple stuff prices (and
assuming a graphics upgrade becomes available) your planned outlay comes
painfully close to the total cost of the "typical PC AT"! This much seems
clear, by next summer many (perhaps most) II owners will also be PC users.
Doom? Gloom? The 'end of forever'? Not at all.
In fact, the gruds may have
delivered what Apple only promised: practically unlimited II continuance. One
of the ironies of the present situation is that the very forces which make
taking the PC plunge so appealing (e.g. low prices) also make dumping your IIgs
stuff unattractive. Even as the junior partner in a two-machine installation,
your IIgs is worth vastly more to you than it is likely to sell for. (Besides,
all of your records are in Appleworks files; little Suzy just started "Dungeon
Master", etc., etc..) So long as II's remain in the hands of skilled users
there will be no lack of interest in performance enhancements, peripherals, and
The gruds may be dancing in the streets, but
the biggest winner in
Computer Wars I is the computer user. Proprietary fiefdoms and
semi-monopolistic pricing are being swept away; and, for the first time, we can
look forward to a unified software base spanning home, school, and business
users. Granted, this was a conflict that ended, not with the clash of cymbals,
but the toot of a kazoo. The big name manufacturers, assorted publications, and
many others will, naturally, try to pretend that it's 'business as usual'. It
isn't. Computer Wars I is history. Computer Wars II is a whole new ball game!
ISSUE 75/ One More Time?!.
After four years of minimal 'gs support, Apple's
One has issued an inCider encyclical assuring II users of the company's
continued commitment. The letter mentioned such worthwhile achievements as an
improved operating system and the imminent II Hypercard (but neglected to
specify where the company had been committed or how long the treatment is
expected to last). Fine; but, why now?
If letters, BB postings, etc. are any indication,
many II partisans
believe the explanation is to be found in continued 'unstoppable' PC market
share advances. Supposedly, The Computer Company MUST play its 'II card' yet
one more time or face extermination.
In the best of all possible worlds, Big Green's
new Macs would sell like
hotcakes; AND a portion of the capital generated would go into a serious
II-based assault on the home/school market. (As even PC devotees will admit,
the smugly confident PC universe could stand a good scare.) In the Real World,
our experience has been that the level of attention to II user concerns is
inversely related to Mac success. Small wonder, then, that The C.E.O.'s latest
proclamation resembles less an assurance of support than a trial balloon.
(Basically: "Just in case things really get bad; what will it take to
jump-start your interest in Apple products?") Fair enough; and, it goes
without saying, any trial balloon from the First Apple Lord merits a response.
First comes THE upgrade; then, we can talk about hypercards, frame
grabbers, CD interfaces, Mac links, and other such embellishments. Our needs
are modest enough; say an 8 MHz '816 motherboard with 2 megs of main RAM, 256K
or so of sound RAM, and capabilities for 640 x 400 256-color graphics. By way
of compensation, you are encouraged to rip out the network of expensive,
glitch-prone kluges designed to promote IIe compatibility. (This should help
with costs; and, you can always market a IIe plug-in for old-II diehards.) An
in-ROM '816 BASIC would be nice; but, for now, an empty socket and a promise
Price is very important. Not only must the individual
IIgs owner be
convinced that the upgrade represents a good buy; he/she must also believe that
other IIgs owners will feel the same. So far, my polling indicates a number
somewhere around $300. Naturally, when we bring in our machines to buy the new
board, we shall wish to keep our old boards. They're no good to you anyway, and
will supply many experimenters with endless hours of fun (to say nothing of
generating countless interesting articles for Apple user publications).
A tad costly? No doubt. Stll, a few hundred
mil to reinvigorate your IIgs
base and attract new buyers is a bargain. (Like, it sure beats losing the whole
ball of wax!) In return, we'll buy your products, enlist recruits, kick stock
prices up ten or twenty points, and save dear old Apple-- one more time.
ISSUE 79/ Home Again.
Last fall the lone remaining advertiser-supported
Apple II-only monthly
announced the intention to "include Mac coverage". At the time, there seemed
little reason for comment. Unlike, say, a TI-99 bulletin board I've called, a
computer magazine can not be content with discussions of summer vacations and
fishing trips. If a publication can't find enough II products 'action' to pay
the bills, it has to find something else to talk about.
My reason for mentioning the II-to-Mac shift
now is that inCider's move is
symptomatic of maneuvering we must expect and be wary of in the post-Computer
Wars I world. Regular viewers of the weekly PBS computer-stuff show "Computer
Chronicles" have already heard the new 'party line'. Basically, it goes like
this: "For years the home computing market has been in the doldrums. Recently,
however, Apple and IBM have re-discovered the individual user! They are coming
to the rescue with powerful, low-priced products like the Mac LC and PS/1."
Okay, so what is the pay-off in being "re-discovered"?
First, the PS/1: It
is a compact, attractive, AT-compatible '286 machine which requires an optional
box to accommodate standard PC/AT peripheral cards. At $2000 for the basic
color version, PS/1 is priced near the limit of what most home buyers seem to
be willing to 'go for' in an initial purchase. It is also priced above faster
'386 no-name (a.k.a. "grud") AT's with more RAM and larger hard disks and far
above equivalent grud '286 systems.
Mac LC is an attractive, compact, Mac-compatible
68020 machine which, with
the addition of a low-cost IIe card, can run IIe software. At, roughly, $3000
for the basic color version it is priced far beyond the typical home buyer's
initial investment limit. However, as inCider noted in it's "Meet the Mac LC"
face-off with an equivalent hard disk II system, the IIgs can end up costing as
much as the base 'LC plus IIe card (assuming the IIgs purchaser makes a series
of remarkably poor buying decisions). Same-price grud competition includes a
new crop of much faster '486 AT's with more RAM and much larger hard disks.
It was, I believe, Abraham Lincoln who once
observed: "You can re-discover
some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time... "
At least "'Chronicles" avoided references to the "little people" and "unwashed
masses"; but the meaning is clear enough. Technological trickle-down has proved
out, we have been noticed by the big name manufacturers! The "doldrums", of
course, refers to THEIR home markets-- understandable, when you consider that
no major manufacturer has paid any real attention to home users for the last
five years. THE home market has been flourishing since 1989, when home buyers
began to snap up no-name VGA+AdLib PC/AT's like they were going out of style.
They were (going out of style). First came
the '286 wave; and now, as of
spring '91, higher speed '386 systems are selling for well below $2000. A good
barometer of what's hot (and what's not) is the computer advertising in your
newspaper's Sunday "Business" section. This, typically, is where all computer
stuff advertisements (with prices!) appear. I checked ours; and, believe it or
not, in five or six pages plastered with computer ads, neither the PS/1 nor the
Mac LC were listed. The word "Apple" did not appear even once! (Yes; I have, in
the past, found an 'LC ad. Prices were NOT listed.)
Today's home programmer/ game-player/ composer/
author/ educator... is
learning to shop for speed, power, and upgradability (i.e. slots!) regardless
of brand name. Any suggestion that he or she is willing to settle for PS/2-1's,
"Low Cost" Macs, or other sub-business-class machines is not merely off-target,
it is the reverse of the actual situation. Typical office applications have
little need for quality sound, large color palettes, or exceptional speed-- all
areas under continual pressure from designers of entertainment products. The
home computer MUST be a relatively 'hot', versatile performer; and, there are
all sorts of reasons why the home purchaser, in particular, aims for the 'most
machine' he or she can reasonably afford.
First, of course, he or she is buyer AND user.
Shopping for five or ten
word processor/office machines someone else will use is one thing; buying the
one YOU and family members will be using is quite another matter. Other home
user motivators include an interest in a wide range of steadily more demanding
software, peer pressure, and concern that younger family members truly have
'the power to be their best'.
In the same broadcast, "'Chronicles" notes
that home markets are becoming
more attractive because "business markets are becoming saturated". Again, we
are dealing with THEIR business markets. One can expect to sell just so many
$4000-$6000 name brand units when more powerful machines are available at half
the price. Eventually, buyers for oil corporations, universities, etc. were
bound to wise-up. (Does anyone still blow $49.95 on a box of ten
I do not doubt that IBM, Commodore, Apple,
Compaq, etc. WANT to sell piles
of machinery to home users. I do doubt that any of them knows what this market
looks like. If the big guys and their media placidly presume home computists to
be both less demanding AND less informed, it does not augur well for their home
market showdown with the gruds.
Where Are You?
You are here! Should "here" mean "primarily
a II+ (IIe, IIc, II clone)
user", then you are acutely aware of being out of the mainstream of personal
computing. (Either that, or you've been 'out' for so long that you're starting
to think you're 'in'!) Not only is very little new software coming from the
major vendors; but nothing looks as good as the super-res and VGA stuff you've
seen on other machines. You CAN upgrade the II, even to the point of adding a
VGA display; but the biggest problem isn't YOUR hardware. It's the thousands of
other 'old II' users who must be persuaded to make the same changes-- that is,
if you wish to create a recognizable 'super II' user base, develop and trade
programs, attract vendors, etc., etc..
Recommendations: Keep your II, use it, enjoy it; and, when opportunities
improve it if the costs are not too steep. Hardware experimentation is a
valuable, time-honored II owner activity. Given the rapid pace of
microprocessor and component advances, there really is no telling what you
might be able to achieve. Should you decide to sample the era of modern
store-bought personal computing, go for the best, most II-like machine you can
afford. As of Spring '91, this probably means either 1. take a risk on the
IIgs OR 2. grab a PC-owner friend and shop the local grud establishments for
a '386 PC/AT.
"Here" may be the joyful realm of PC-ville. Your
'big problems' are
deciding whether to
1. add another 2MB of RAM (to handle "Windows
3.0" stuff), and/or
2. fill that little vertical panel slot with a 1.44MB 3.5" drive, and/or
3. swap out your old 40MB drive for a 120MB unit, and/or
4. dump your old VGA card plus the non-multi-sync monitor and replace
with extended VGA equipment.
Recommendations: Yes, Yes, Maybe, Not yet. It may also be a good idea
your weekends open and your car gassed-up, just in case someone calls about
doing some shopping.
If "here" is IIgs-ville then you already know
the 'old place' isn't what
it used to be. I've lost track of the number of IIgs projects "cancelled for
lack of market interest", deceased hardware suppliers, and major vendor PR
persons who (politely) barely refrain from laughing when I ask about
"availability in IIgs format". As to national/international publications which
actually devote hundreds of column inches to II coverage on a monthly basis...;
suffice it to say you won't need base ten numerals to count them.
A sampling of local bulletin board listings
pretty well sums up what has
happened. In a printout from 1986, of 70 boards, 17 (24.3%) are listed as
"Apple" BB systems, which ties with PC for the lead. By December 1990, of 298
boards, 8 (2.7%) are "Apple" BB's. Amiga and Atari shares are even smaller;
C-64/128 (4.4%) and Mac (3%) come in a bit higher. PC's share is 81.5%.
You (we) were entirely justified in expecting
Apple to make a major II
series effort long before now-- if only to prevent nearly complete dominance of
unit sales, peripherals development, and software releases by a platform with
which no Apple product is compatible. Think back to the late '80's and you can
see that the threat of a strong, improving IIgs was the last barrier to a
no-name PC/AT sweep. When, by mid-'89, the "threat" evaporated, Amiga, Atari,
Mac, and even IBM each had good reason to be very very concerned. If they
weren't then, you can bet they are now. Mac's big watchword used to be
"Friendliness"; today it's "Connectivity". IBM, who used to believe IT decided
PC standards, dares not market the PS/1 without offering an optional expansion
box to hold AT-compatible cards!
So much for spilt milk. As they say in the
beer commercials: "Well, Pard,
(slurp) it don't get no worsen this!" 'It' could; but, evidently, it won't.
Several bright spots on the horizon point to, if anything, the beginnings of a
IIgs upturn. First, there's the Mac LC. Last Fall, according to "industry
watchers", 'LC was destined to displace IIgs and, thus, signal the inevitable
demise of the II series. Instead, as we now know, 'LC positions color Macs,
more or less permanently, OUT of IIgs territory. Big Green's Mac cards are on
the table. When Apple makes a serious low-end market play, it will be the 'IIgs
Every IIgs user is aware that most major software
vendors are not
releasing 'all of that great PC stuff' in IIgs format. Too little attention is
given to the continuing strong support from sources like Beagle Bros, Roger
Wagner, Byte Works, and MECC. Nibble and SoftDisk-GS regularly release quality
software and individual programmers continue to produce useful, innovative
Two recent product releases are especially
encouraging. Apple's GS/OS 5.04
may come on as "just another revision of old, familiar GS/OS" to IIgs owners
preoccupied with hardware needs. No problem; the 'Rule Book' says that if you
use a machine, you're supposed to carp about the operating system. Meanwhile,
PC/AT users are falling all over themselves in glee at the thought that they
may soon have something like GS/OS.
The other release is "Platinum Paint" from
Beagle Bros. It's the kind of
product that could have "mainstream users" wondering where the mainstream is.
If the IIgs is dead, at least it's attracting some very classy flies. If it's
not, what might we look forward to when the upturn REALLY gathers steam?!
Though inCider's "Meet the Mac LC'" piece made
no recommendations and was
hardly enthusiastic-- well, actually, it reads like something one might come up
with in a Mac prisoner of war camp-- even so, Roger Wagner responded with a
full-page rebuttal. One comment was especially thought provoking: "The IIgs is
the best platform with which to enter the '90's."
My first reaction was something along the lines
of "Poor RW. He's finally
blown a 'higher functions' LSI chip. How can IIgs be the 'best platform' if
it's not supported?" But that, of course is RW's point. Viewed 'in itself',
instead of "Will it be around next year?", "Is it smart buy?", etc. the IIgs
has remarkable potential. For starters, it is the ONLY platform to offer both
an abundance of expansion slots AND sophisticated firmware. It is also a
compact machine widely regarded as the best looking computer ever produced by
anyone. (Well, it never hurts to be good looking.)
Granting that IIgs is in the "Best Platform"
running; what's the problem?
Why isn't the Best Platform doing BP-type stuff? This one's easy. Just imagine
that you've switched-in a bigger power supply and crammed a 1MB model IIgs with
the best available performance enhancers. What is missing? Exactly! Until we
can either swap-out motherboards or plug in a card to obtain 'state of the
world' graphics capabilities, non of the other add-ons will be enough to spark
a full-scale IIgs swarming. Conversely, once super graphics ARE in place, all
of the other add-ons and the IIgs itself will immediately become vastly more
Recommendations: Keep, use, enjoy, and learn about your IIgs. It could
as one of the big winners in Computer Wars II. Speed-up, math co-processor, and
similar enhancements are worth a serious look, so long as you are willing to
accept the risks (i.e. future compatibility) that come with 'leading the pack'.
As to user hardware experimentation, why not?
Your Apple club's IIgs VGA
card project could be THE way to crack the graphics logjam. ("What about the
CRT monitor and 'old IIgs' super-res?" Easy. We buy multi-syncs, plug them into
your new super IIgs VGA card and 'standardize' IIgs as a dual color monitor
machine! Now, what sort of programming, flight-sim, CAD, and adventure game
software do you suppose THAT would attract!!)
ISSUE 82/ II to Two.
By now it should be clear that, for the active
computer user, access to a
PC/AT machine is a 'given'. Along with your radio, TV, and telephone, it has
become 'standard equipment'. Interestingly, it has not attracted much
experimenter interest nor anything like a fanatic user group following. Today's
generic PC/AT IS a good, solid machine and, by far, the best price/performance
personal computing value-- besides which, it continues to absorb an
overwhelming portion of major software vendor attention. It has not, however,
replaced the Apple II.
Why? Many reasons; but, to keep it short: you
can't and/or won't do "Apple
II" stuff on your PC. This especially applies to experimentation and one's
willingness to try out enhancement products from a growing list of new 'garage
shop' suppliers. Ironically, when a II user moves from II-only to "two"-- i.e.
adds a PC-- there is more enthusiasm for enhancements and, after a brief dip,
time spent using the older machine actually increases! For whatever reason, the
"endless Apple II" does seem to be on the rebound. Two computers really are
better than one.