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The Apple II Age: How the Computer Became Personal

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An engrossing origin story for the personal computer—showing how the Apple II’s software helped a machine transcend from hobbyists’ plaything to essential home appliance.
Skip the iPhone, the iPod, and the Macintosh. If you want to understand how Apple Inc. became an industry behemoth, look no further than the 1977 Apple II. Designed by the brilliant engineer Steve Wozniak and hustled into the marketplace by his Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, the Apple II became one of the most prominent personal computers of this dawning industry.
The Apple II was a versatile piece of hardware, but its most compelling story isn’t found in the feat of its engineering, the personalities of Apple’s founders, or the way it set the stage for the company’s multibillion-dollar future. Instead, historian Laine Nooney shows, what made the Apple II iconic was its software. In software, we discover the material reasons people bought computers. Not to hack, but to play. Not to code, but to calculate. Not to program, but to print. The story of personal computing in the United States is not about the evolution of hackers—it’s about the rise of everyday users.
Recounting a constellation of software creation stories, Nooney offers a new understanding of how the hobbyists’ microcomputers of the 1970s became the personal computer we know today. From iconic software products like VisiCalc and The Print Shop to historic games like Mystery House and Snooper Troops to long-forgotten disk-cracking utilities, The Apple II Age offers an unprecedented look at the people, the industry, and the money that built the microcomputing milieu—and why so much of it converged around the pioneering Apple II.

352 pages, Hardcover

Published May 9, 2023

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Laine Nooney

4 books3 followers

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Displaying 1 - 7 of 7 reviews
Profile Image for Lucas Rizoli.
75 reviews4 followers
July 7, 2023
A fresh & boundary-breaking history of early consumer computing. Frequently insightful and cutting, the book provokes thorough reconsideration of how we may understand computers and software then and today.

Nooney writes about the creation of consumer computing in the late 70's and early 80's in the US by going into the technical, economic, social, and ideological forces acting on, as well as the well- and lesser-known figures in, the establishment of consumer computer markets. Effort is made to avoid repeating the common stories, to not fall into a hagiographic focus on Jobs, Woz, Gates, etc. These differences in perspective—going into the importance of how VisiCalc was marketed and packaged—and subject—chapters on bit-by-bit copy utilities and The Print Shop—enable Nooney to break out of worn narratives about what, how, and for whom personal computing came to be.
Profile Image for Steve.
565 reviews19 followers
April 29, 2023
Looks at the history of the creation and growth of the commercial software industry in the '80s, focusing on several companies and products for the Apple ][: VisiCalc, Mysterious House Adventure, Print Shop, and Spinnaker's Learning programs. This approach changes the focus of most of these histories, from hardware of course, to software, and presents some different people than other histories do. Very good, with a lot of attention to detail. Since I was an Apple ][ guy pretty much for all but the first couple years of this history, it brought back lots of memories, and all seemed right to me. A valuable addition to these histories.
10 reviews
September 21, 2023
Overall an excellent book. The author covers the background for the development of the Apple II. I ordered an Apple II in Sept. 1978 and it arrived in December 1978. The machine had 16K of RAM and mass storage consisted of cassette tapes. The machine came with an RS232 serial card. At the time, I was an Assistant Professor at Indiana University Northwest.) I was able to dial in to a local number and communicate with the CDC computers at Indiana University Bloomington through the State University Voice Operated Network--SUVON. I did statistical analysis on the CDC computers.

Applesoft Basic was easy to learn. I already had a background in FORTRAN and some other languages. Some things omitted from the book includes a discussion of the Apple II Red Book that shipped with Apple II computers. This book had interesting details about software code that you could run on the Apple II and schematics describing the Apple II's circuitry.

Also omitted was Apple obtaining a license for the UCSD p-system which ran Pascal and FORTRAN. The p-system worked best with two disk drives. It also required a memory upgrade was required. You had to upgrade the system RAM to 48K and add a 16K memory card in one of the expansion slots on the Apple II resulting in 64K of RAM. (Ironically, the UCSD p-system was still around in 1990 and I was helping people in a lab run this software that was part of a proprietary system. The software had migrated to a newer computer and was no longer running on an Apple II.)

The author gives an excellent description of the history of VisiCalc on the Apple II. This lead to the development of Lotus 123 on the IBM PC and later to the development of other spreadsheet software.

Also covered are early computer games which were later, migrated to the IBM PC and developed further with VGA graphics and sound cards on IBM PC's.

In the late 1970's and through the 1980's many computer professionals regarded microcomputers as a fad that would eventually disappear. These types of computers never did disappear. In fact, some of the operating systems that can run on these small computers have the ability to run on computer clusters and on cloud computers.
Profile Image for Ernie.
57 reviews
July 28, 2023
I found this book frustrating. I agree with the author's market analysis and conclusions and appreciate the documentation of that part of the history. Some distracting technical nitpicks, but they don't harm the thesis.

BUT: I don't understand or appreciate her enthusiasm for dismissing the excitement around the devices themselves (see, in particular, the epilogue). Something you could own that can be different, can do new things, every time you turn it on? Just by changing the arrangement of the software bits inside? That can let you take a new approach to solving a problem that would have been previously tedious? Just because that part of the story has been told before, how is that less than thrilling? You don't need to re-document it, but I don't think you need to try to refute it either while capably exploring other aspects of the history.

To have been there early on, while this was emerging, was exciting then and is still exciting to reflect on now. She's right to ding it for (like everything else in history) being elitist, classist, racist, sexist, exclusionary... but for those privileged enough to have access it was pretty amazing. I can't imagine anything else making me stay in the classroom during lunch and after school like an Apple II did.

=== updated a few days later ===

This review bothers me, and the book bothers me, so maybe it was more effective than I gave it credit for. Again, I think the analytical work here is super solid and interesting. I think it's important to separate the overheated mythological aspects of early computing days from the real truth, and I don't want to put that part of it down. I just think a part of that truth is that these things (not just STEVE JOBS løøk!!, but also the incredibly less sexy TRS-80 stuff and everything else) were really cool. That was a legitimate part of it for a lot of people and while it doesn't get the tech to ubiquity it had a role. Would the iPhone have put a data-reliant device in the world's pockets if it didn't seem a little like magic? I don't think you can chalk it up to straight utility.
Profile Image for Steve.
986 reviews45 followers
August 29, 2023
Good history of the first “personal computers” especially the Apple II, and in particular the business development of the software industry that supported it.

Brings back a lot of memories of the early home PCs.
1 review
September 21, 2023
Provided with applications along with the history of Apple(no many Apple stories), more about applications' stories
From Business, Games, Utilities, Home and Education to describe the early stage of Apple II ecosystem and how does it make impact to Apple in the future
Profile Image for David Allatt.
645 reviews5 followers
July 28, 2023
My first computer was an Apple ][ Plus so this was an interesting walk down memory lane of my early years of computing.
Displaying 1 - 7 of 7 reviews

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