This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

What do Fruit & Pets Have in Common?

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April 16, 1977:

Debut of Apple II & Commodore Pet

April 16, 1977, Apple Computer shows off the Apple II home computer at the West Coast Computer Faire. The $1,298 Home machine featured a 6502 processor, 4kb RAM 16kb ROM and for the first time – A home computer with color graphics.  Apple II was the most recognizable home and school computers in the 80s and 90s. The final Apple II rolled off the line on October 15, 1993.

Jobs at the 1st West Coast Computer Faire

Jobs at the 1st West Coast Computer Faire

Jobs at West Coast Computer Faire

Jobs at West Coast Computer Faire

Commodore also unveiled the PET 2001, which is a full-featured computer. It also had the 6502 processor, 4kb RAM, 14kb ROM and a cassette drive for $595. The Pet was replaced by the PET 2001-N in 1979.

Commodore Pet

Commodore Pet

Ironically, Commodore had previously rejected purchasing the Apple II from Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, deciding to build their own computers. Both computers used the same processor, the MOS 6502, but the companies had two different design strategies and it showed on this day.

Apple wanted to build computers with more features at a higher price point. Commodore wanted to sell less feature-filled computers at a lower price point. The Apple II had color, graphics, and sound selling for $1298. The Commodore PET only had a monochrome display and was priced at $795.

One of the most important feature of the Apple II was probably its eight expansion slots. No other computer had this kind of flexibility or expansion possibilities. The top of the computer isn’t even attached, it lifts off with little effort allowing easy access to the system motherboard and expansion slots. Dozens of different expansion cards were made by Apple and other manufacturers to add to the Apple II’s capabilities.

These include:

  memory expansion

  floppy disk controllers

  PASCAL and CP/M emulator cards

  parallel, serial, and SCSI cards

  processor accelerators

  video cards

appleiipcb

Expansion Slots

Expansion Slots

But what made sales of the Apple II take-off was the new spreadsheet program VisiCalc. If you’re familiar with Microsoft Excel, then you know what a spreadsheet program does. It adds columns and rows of data and instantly gives you the results. This was the first affordable program to perform such an amazing feat, something which corporate accountants previously spent hours laboriously calculating by hand.

VisiCalc transformed the Apple II into a serious business machine. It was apparently released on the Apple II before any other system due to Apple’s rather large memory size, since the Apple II could support up to 48K of RAM.

VisiCalc was the first so-called Killer App – many businesses bought the Apple II computer for the sole purpose of running VisiCalc.

Early Apple Commercial with Dick Cavett

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