Apple cart; the 16-bit Apple IIx; Apples On-Line. Owen W. Linzmayer.
It was just one year ago that Apple Computer introduced its revered Macintosh computer, and as the highly stylistic television ad with the female hammer thrower promised, saved the world from the Orwellian vision of 1984.
Indeed, Apple did change the public's perception of what a computer should be. They cast asunder the vision of a monitor perched precariously upon a clunky metal box with wires entangled like snakes in Indiana Jones's worst nightmares. Once the exclusive property of nerds with slide rules and plastic pocket protectors, computers suddenly became chic--fashionable. Cocktail party conversation centered on the attractive new computers coming out of Cupertino, and predictably the Macintosh became America's most expensive impulse purchase.
1984 is behind us now, and I suppose we al owe Apple a hearty thank you for saving us from the tyrannical Big Brother. Let us not dwell on the past, but rather, let us look toward the future and attempt to see what it holds for the computer world. Apple II, Forever?
Apple introduced two new computers in 1984, the Macintosh and the IIc. The question is "how can Apple top these two impressive acts?" While rumors abound that third-party developers have been given color versions of Mac (and that Asian knock-off firms are poised to ship $1000 Mac clones to the States), a more credible rumor is that Apple is about to give birth to a new member of the Apple II family of computers, code name: IIx.
The technology around which the IIc is built is eight years old, which equates to several generations in the fastpaced world of personal computers. Thus, it came as a surprise to industry observers when Apple announced the IIc at a lavish introduction, the theme of which was "Apple II Forever."
With the introduction of the Apple IIc, the company made it clear that the II line of computers was their bread and butter and that they had no intention of abandoning this tried and true family of machines. Unlkie Commodore, which seems to have no qualms about introducing a new, incompatible computer each year, Apple has never made a computer obsolete. Unless you count their competitors' computers that is.
Apple's next home computer must retain a high degree of compatibility with the II, while at the same time making significant strides in technology. At first this may seem like a paradox, but the key to the puzzle may be an unassuming package of etched silicon encased in a chunk of black plastic bearing the numbers 65816.
The 65816 is a 16-bit CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) version of the classic 6502 microprocessor that is at the heart of the Apple II. Stated quite simply, the 65816 is pin-and software-compatible with the 6502 when in 8-bit emulation mode, yet the toggling of the single flag bit is akin to throwing the throttle of a BMW motorcycle wide open and bursting into the realm of 16-bit processors.
Along with the greatly increased clock rate of this 8/16-bit CPU, more memory is addressable. While the 6502 can directly access only 64K bytes of memory, the 65816 has the ability to access a full 16Mb of memory. Though critics protest that with the availability of such vast expanses of memory, clean, efficient code will become a thing of the past, you cannot escape the fact that the availability of large quantities of inexpensive memory opens new doors to programmers with big ideas.
Since the 65816 can emulate the 6502, programs written for the latter require no modifications. Not content with simple compatibility, however, the engineers at Western Design Centers enhanced the 6502 instruction set, added new addressing modes and expanded interrupt handling.
In theory the 65816 is entirely pin-and software-compatible with the 6502 and could actually be used in existing systems with little or no additional support hardware. While it is unlikely that Apple will offer upgrades for the old II computers, the IIx will probably incorporate the 65816 along with the 256K memory chips that delayed the introduction of the Fat (512K) Mac.
My guess is that the IIx will come standard with 512K of RAM, with provision for generous memory upgrades.
It is Apple's contention that the Sony 3.5" disk drives like those used in the Mac will soon become the industry standard and that 5.25" floppies will fade from memory as did the 8" dinosaurs o yesteryear. Frankly, I look forward to a day when the rigid 3.5" diskettes replace their floppy ancestors. However, to maintain compatibility of format with the II line, 5.25" drives are a must for the IIx computer. What is the use of software compatibility if you can't easily load the old program disks?
It is unlikely that Apple will introduce the IIx during the first quarter of 1985. They don't want to alienate the thousands of you who received IIe's and IIc's during the holiday season. It would be my bet that the date of introduction of this mystery computer rests entirely upon the sales performance of the rest of the II line.
Apple doesn't want a repeat of the embarrassing situation that followed the introduction of the IIc: instead of the IIc cutting into the sales of the IIe, the reverse happened. Shoppers were drawn into computer showrooms by the IIc marketing, but took home IIe's when they saw the lower pricetag. Obviously the public is not as afraid of slots as Apple had anticipated, which brings me to my next point.
The slotless IIc was supposed to attract home and educational buyers with its sleek design and user-friendliness. The IIe was to be the productivity tool of professionals and more advanced computer users. Somewhere between marketing and market, the product positions blurred.
I will now crawl out on a limb and predict that the IIx will replace the IIe. The IIc will remain Apple's home computer, while the IIx fills the gap between the IIc and the Mac. Retain the slots that have given the IIe its tremendous staying power and add the increased memory capacity and faster clock of the 16-bit 65816 and you have a machine perfectly suited for business users and hardcore computerists.
So there you have it; my predictions on the next Apple computer, the IIx. To recap, it will be based upon the 16-bit 65816 central processing unit, come standard with 512K of RAM, and use a half-height 5.25" floppy disk drive--and it will have slots. As far as the design for the case, that will be dictated by the hardware used in the IIx. I suspect the IIx will look like a cross between the IIc and the IIe, but of course I may be wrong. Our On-Line Edition
If your Apple is equipped with a modem, I invite you to join the editors of Creative Computing on our very own CompuServe Special Interst Group (SIG). The CompuServe computer network is the largest telecommunications information system of its kind, and the Creative Computing SIG is fast becoming one of its most popular services.
In addition to the electronic mall which allows you to shop from your home via modem, there is a variety of user groups, message boards, and databases available on the CompuServe network. All it takes is a valid password (and checking account or credit card) to access this plethora of on-line information.
Connect fees depend upon when you log-on to the system, as well as what speed modem you use (300 or 1200 baud). CompuServe has local area access modes all over the United States which allow you to connect your computer without incurring outrageous long distance telephone bills. This is considerate, since once you get addicted to CompuServe you may find yourself logged on for hours at a time.
The Creative Computing SIG is located on page 22 of the computer information systems section of CompuServe. To visit, simply type GO PCS22 at any function prompt. When you arrive you will be asked to sign up as a new member (membership on our SIG is free and open to all) and then be given a brief introduction to the SIG.
The Creative Computing SIG can be thought of as an on-line electronic edition of the magazine. Special sections correspond to columns and features of the printed magazine, and there is original material as well. In addition to the constantly changing message board where questions are answered and news flashes posted, each section has its XA database which is similar to a large filing cabinet containing articles, reviews, and programs printed in the magazine. There is no need to spend hours manually entering program listing from the magazine; simply get on-line and pull the programs up into your computer buffer!
One of the most compelling reasons to climb aboard our SIG is that you get to converse directly with us, the editors of Creative Computing. Have a question that needs a prompt reply? Leave us a message or catch us in the Conference Center, and we will be glad to respond. In addition to making ourselves available, we have a bevy of industry celebrities lined up for special Conference Nights.
Associate Editor John Anderson has been acting as wizard system-operator (wiz sysop) ever since our official opening to the public several months ago. It is an enormous task for one fellow, but John perseveres and has managed, along with the regular members, to give the SIG a personality that is up-beat, humorous, interesting, informative, and above all, entertaining. Do drop by and visit often.
To counter the preceding unabashedly blatant plug for our own SIG, let me also tell you about the Apple-only SIG called MAUG (Micronet Apple Users Group). Neil Shapiro, the MAUG sysop, is to be commended for running one of the largest and most informative Apple computer bulletin boards ever.
There are literally thousands of programs, messages, and users on MAUG, and Neil keeps everything operating smoothly, while still managing to take time out to help the computer neophyte solve a problem. MAUG is an invaluable Apple resource and can be accessed by typing GO PCS51 at a function prompt. Tell Neil that Owen sent you. (Well, that's all for this month. We survived 1984 and on behalf of the staff of Creative Computing, I would like to extend to you our best wishes for a very happy 1985.