Apple cart... (column) John J. Anderson.
I had the opportunity recently to attend the International Apple Core user's group conference in Santa Clara, CA. Apple footed the bill for attendance by representatives of over 90 user's groups in the U.S. and Canada. The IAC has a membership of over 80,000, all tole, in some 4000 independent groups. I met representatives from as far away as West Germany and Australia. IIe or not IIe
The reason for the three day party at the Marriott Hotel was to introduce the fold to the IIe, and the IIe into the fold. Apple personnel who were part of the development of the IIe were on hand to discus the machine, highlight to differences between it and the older Apple, and provide insight into its improvements.
It is to Apple's credit that they reached out to the user's group level in the introduction of the IIe. "We recognize the contribution that user's groups have made to the success of our products, particularly the Apple II," said Paul Dali, general manager of the Personal Computer Systems Division, who was also the lead-off speaker. "Apple's growth can be attributed, in part, to the increase in the number of Apple user group members over the last few years. We want to continue this relationship by personally presenting the Apple IIe to our users."
Would that other microcomputer manufacturers were likewise to acknowledge the importance of the user's group as an indispensable support system. Not to mention spending over $100,000 merely to introduce its new machine to members of those groups. Apple user's groups may have their complaints about Apple (and believe me, they do), but undeniably, Apple is providing tangible support.
Phil Roybal, communications manager now headed to an appointment as head of Apple Europe, gave a zealous overview of the computer age. Roybal is an inspiring and riveting speaker, nearly religious in his fervor. I had to fight the urge to shout "amen." Roybal reminded the group that the first Apple IIs, those groundbreaking "bicycles of the mind," as he called them, were delivered on May 10, 1977. It is rather dizzying to think how quickly the personal computer revolution has come upon us.
After 13 revisions to the Apple II, the IIe has arrived on the scene. It is priced below a comparably configured Apple II, and includes 64K, upper-and lowercase, and a selectric-style (as opposed to Teletype) keyboard standard. The system will accept a low-cost 80-column card, and is being introduced around the world with a variety of local-language keyboard. Danny Goodman made a first examination of the IIe in the March issue of Creative Computing.
It is Walt Broedner, IIe logic designer, who can be largely credited with lowering the chip count from 110 ICs in the original Apple, to 31 in the IIe. Two new LSI circuits replace approximately 80 separate circuits used in the earlier models. This feat lowers costs and increases reliability substantially, and is the single most impressive feature of the apple IIe. The measured mean time between failures on the IIe is over 20,000 hours.
Broedner told the story of the LSI chips to the assembled hackers as follows:
"The Apple IIe project was started back in 1978, when I was working at Synertec. Woz, Jobs, and some other people at Apple were looking at possible competition from TI and Atari. They realized the need for a custom LSI design that would make the Apple II cheaper. They approached Synertec, and that's how I met Woz and Jobs.
"I soon after became a resident Synertec employee at Apple, and found out really quickly that it was nice working there. Woz was busy designing the disk controller at the time, and even though my desk was right outside his office, I hardly ever got a chance to see him. We would discuss the architecture of the new Apple machine a few minutes in the morning and a maybe a few minutes in the afternoon, if I could catch him.
"We were finally able to define a system, and I got approval from Woz to go ahead with it. So I went back to Synertec and started to design a breadboard. It was a humongous thing--it had over 400 ICs, if you can believe it--and this was for only one of the two chips that would be part of the system. The project was code-named Annie, for Apple Annie, I guess.
"Annie was going to be totally NTSC compatible, by the way. We got the breadboard system running, and it was impressive to see. It did flicker, though, as all interlace systems do.
"We were more than halfway through with the drawings for the LSI chips by this time, when the project got shelved. TI and Atari hadn't materialized, and Woz had been very successful with the disk controller. At that point Apple decided that it would be better to try for a jump in the state of the art, than to introduce another Apple II. And that is how the Apple III was born.
"I almost had a heart attack then. After sticking with Synertec for another six months, I joined Apple, and went to work on the III. Meanwhile, some executives at Apple still felt that a cost reduction on the II was a good thing, and started doing an off-the-shelf type reduction. Woz had a lot to do with that--the project was called Alice, after Woz's wife, I believe. An engineer named Earl Smith took over the project, which then was named Diana, after his mother. This was essentially an Apple II, done with off-the-shelf components. It was starting by then to look a bit like a IIe. It had upper-and lowercase, and the language card was included.
"With my IC background, I knew there were better ways to reduce the chip count than just with off-the-shelf components. The problem with customizing, as everybody in the industry knows, is that turn-around is very long. I pushed a bit to see if I could be allowed to conduct a bit of research on customizing the Apple II, and got the OK to do a study on gate arrays. But gate arrays were overkill. The Apple doesn't have that much logic. The way to go was with customs.
"The idea of customs finally went over at Apple, for a number of reasons. First of all, apple could own the chips, and retain all rights to them. Since Apple would own the masks, it could have the chips produced by more than one house. And since the IIe was a 6502-based machine, the custom chips could remain compatible as peripherals of the 6502.
"To that end we designed a new breadboard. We generated all the logic that we knew was going to be resident on the IOU and MMU custom chips, and simulated it with TTL components. We were able, therefore, to build an operational machine, plus or minus any special features, all the way through development of the IIe. That way it was always more than just a blueprint. It was a working model.
"The turnaround on the customs was only about 24 weeks. Adam came first, that was the MMU, and to everybody's surprise, it worked. We knew that Eve, the IOU, couldn't work, because the MMU had. Two weeks later, we were surprised again, because the IOU, which was much more complicated, worked too.
"At the time, we were working for 100% compatibility with the Apple II. Since the Apple IIe is really a different machine, that was a tall order. And not soon after, I discovered a bug in the MMU. This led to the revision B Apple IIe. In a way I was lucky to find this bug, because in fixing it I discovered how to generate double density hi-res.
"I decided to integrate into the IIe all of the functionality that was needed to support inexpensive 80-column capability. That is how the auxiliary slot was born. In fact, on an earlier model there were two slots: a 50-pin test slot, and a 30-pin 80-column slot. It became obvious that most of the signals were duplicated on the two slots, so we merged them into one 60-pin auxiliary slot. The slot can give you 80 columns, or another 64K plus 80 columns, and it also facilitates testing of IIes on the assembly line. Testing computers is a complicated affair. The more signals you can offer a tester, the easier it is to diagnose a board. That was a very important function that we gave to the auxiliary slot."
Broedner has begun his own company, Video-7, that is producing the first third-party auxiliary slot board for the Apple IIe. Beside being an 80-column card, the board provides color RGC output. "In the future all computer video output will be RGB," says Broedner. "And the Apple IIe will be among those to produce it." The introduction of the Video-7 80-Column Card caused a lot of interest at the conference. There on a IIe, alongside conventional NTSC color video, was clean, crisp and colorful RGB video. For more information, contact Video-7, 14550 Pike Rd., Saratoga, CA 95070.
Rich Auricchio, IIe firmware developer, had his to say about his own involvement in the IIe project:
"I've been with Apple since 1979, and I was the unfortunate soul selected to do the firmware for the Apple IIe. I got out of college in 1973 with a B.A. in computer science, and when I got into the software business, people didn't know I was for real. I was working with people who were science teachers, psychology majors, and ex-disk jockeys--it was rather strange. They asked things like 'You went to college to learn this stuff?'"
"I worked on mainframes for several years, and had no idea at the time that I was going to end up in the Disneyland of computing. I met Woz and Jobs in 1976, at the PC Festival in New Jersey, where I used to live. They were hawking the Apple I at the time, for $666. In 1977 I read Woz's article on the Apple II, the one that is now just about required reading for all Apple hackers. Two months later I bought an Apple II with the serial number 183. I went into the only computerland in the country at the time, which was in Morristown, NJ, and saw the machine doing graphics. There was no documentation, but no mirrors or wires running under the table, so I put down my $1700 for a 16K machine.
"It was a Rev.0 board: there was only four-color hi-res, without red and blue; there were no cooling vents in the thing; it didn't reset when you powered on, as it had an old monitor ROM; and I stuck with cassette for almost a year. I didn't even get a reference manual with it. They gave you about 20 pages of Xeroxed documentation.
"I wanted a listing of the monitor ROM, so I wrote to Apple, I got a handwritten thing back from (Mike) Markkula, with the listing. I began hacking in earnest. I disassembled Integer Basic, while waiting for a disk drive. I wrote to Apple again and asked them if they had a disassembly of Integer. They laughed and said no, Woz had assembled it by hand and typed it in directly in hex. Woz was like that--he would go to a party and type in 5K of Basic just to show somebody a little game program. That was Woz. The guy was a real believer.
"I ended up mailing them (Apple) a listing of Integer Basic as I saw it, with a lot of comments as to what I though it did. This led to a correspondence, and finally a job...
"Well the Apple IIe came along as Walt said. And the important thing as we saw it was that its first name had to be II. That's one of the reasons why we couldn't go crazy with some of the weird apple III stuff. So we got our hotshots going on the project. Around August 1981, the first IIe wire-wraps landed on my desk. 'Okay, write firmware,' they said. Each wire-wrap had its own flavor keyboard--we were experimenting with them. None was interchangeable with IIs, IIIs, or each other. If you screwed up one of those babies, you had to build another one from scratch.
"So that's when it started, around August of 1981. As for when it will be finished, well, soon, I hope. The minute you go to ROM, of course, things get changed. We know that well. And I nearly went off the deep end in the process.
"One simple thing that helped was naming the machines. A friend of mine at an adjacent desk had a couple of these little cut-outs from a box of Crackerjacks or something. I stuck two of them on our prototypes, and they became Flash and Superman. And suddenly, we were able to name them to each other. We could say things like 'the Flash has a problem,' and 'Superman doesn't,' and thereby tell one emulator from another. It was a breakthrough.
"Back when we had the emulators, I was able to hit 94,000 on Galaxian. That was one of the things that kep my mind lubricated while I was working on software. I could go into the lab and get on one of the wire-wraps and run Galaxian. I had to make sure that the game I/O worked, and the color graphics were there, you see. So I tested these things periodically, and came out with welts on my fingers from this phase of the work.
"In December of '81, the real IOU and MMU arrived. We couldn't believe it--actually we were surprised that they worked. We paid tribute to the great god at Synertec."
Soon after Rick spoke, a blackout, probably caused by the atrocious weather California endured throughout my entire visit, marred the festivities, and fortunately was the only mishap at the conference. It lasted about two and a half hours, and obliterated IIe product manager Sue Berman's time at the rostrum. She made a brave go of it, however.
That evening the entire group was ferried to Fisherman's Wharf for dinner, drinks, and to meet Lisa, Apple's new high-end entry. Look for a review of this remarkable machine in the pages of Creative soon.
My usually astute reporter's mind becomes as foggy as San Francisco Bay when I attempt to recall the events that followed. I do remember being herded with the others (you could recognize our group--we were the ones wearing straw hats with Apple logos on them), into some sort of cabaret on Green Street: Club Fugazi, it was called, and that's about the last hard fact I remember. The Guinness Stout I had been drinking and the extremely bizarre floor show then combined to cause my amnesia. The Queen of England was there, I remember, carrying a purse six feet long and wearing a box of Imperial Margarine on her head. Perhaps I should discontinue this train of thought.
The next morning, the somewhat haggard hack troops assembled quietly and without much esprit. That is until the sight of 40 fully-configured IIe began to perk them up. Apparently not even several hangovers could dilute the enthusiasm these folks felt for the hardware.
That kind of loyalty can be found only in a die-hard user's group. It certainly bodes well for Apple to cultivate that loyalty, now and for the future. And the International Apple Core should be proud of the company it supports; Apple has set a fine precedent by supporting the IAC in this manner. I heard complaints about Apple during my time in Santa Clara, but none pertaining to the IIe Conference itself. It was a gracious and thoughtful christening for the new machine.