The computer has enjoyed a period of concentrated development over the past 70 years. It has gone through several stages of development, from using vacuum tubes as amplifiers (Schoenherr, 2004) through the use of transistors and to employing integrated circuits (IC). Computers have been used for a variety of reasons, and are mainly centered on the simplification of tasks. Several companies contributed to the development of the personal computer, which is now an everyday item in homes, schools, and offices. However, the company that had arguably the largest impact on the proliferation of computers, Apple, controls a misleadingly low percentage of the market. Apple, with its development of the Apple II system in the late 1970’s largely revolutionized the market for personal computers. Although many argue that Intel, Altair, and IBM (Apple’s biggest rival) has each made a more lasting impact on the market, the steps taken by Apple in that decade was much more responsible for shaping the direction of the personal computer than any other technology company.
Many might argue that Intel’s programmable microprocessing chip, developed in 1969 had the most important impact on the computer industry. It was, after all, the initial development that made possible microcomputing, which refers to computing that could be done on much smaller machines than were available at the time (Poulter, 2004). Although the chip was able to process only 4 bits of information at once and was developed specifically for a desktop calculator, computer companies began making use of it in its evolutionary 8-bit state a few years after it was first introduced (2004). The chip spawned the creation of such microcomputers as the Micral, the Mark-8, and Altair. It is important to note, however, that the chip was not useful for computer programmers until it had evolved from the 4-bit 4004 to the 8-bit 8008 form, and even then it was difficult to program. In addition, many of the computers made from it were available mainly to those who had expertise in assembling the hardware.
The Apple II computer released in 1977 was a major improvement on a previous version, Apple I. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had designed that first model and built it to encompass simplicity and innovation in computer engineering. The Apple I was the first machine with a single circuit-board and built-in read-only memory (ROM) (Srivastava, 1996), and this feature was maintained in the Apple II. The Apple II also maintained the simplicity of its predecessor and brought computers into the homes of not just the hardware gurus but those who were interested in the computer as a platform for software programming. The new machine presented the first fully-assembled computing system that contained its own power-supply and input device. Although a monitor did not come standard with the machine, it could be easily hooked up to a television screen. It could also be easily expanded to perform more than the basic applications it came with. With these specifications, the Apple II was influential in setting the standard for all microcomputers to come, and even then its developers were quick to improve upon it.
Although the Apple II (like all other microcomputers) at first used cassette tapes as storage devices, its developers quickly sought to detach the machine from the difficulties associated with that device (Schoenherr, 2004). It was often difficult to store the data properly on the tape, and its retrieval often took unnecessary amounts of time, as it was not easy to locate exactly where on the tape the data had been stored. After only a year, a floppy disk drive was developed for the Apple II system, which provided more reliable data storage and retrieval, plus faster processing of those applications. This was again a standard-setting landmark in the computer industry as eventually that disk evolved to become the first standard 3.5 inch floppy to be included with a microcomputer (Poulter, 2004). Along with this, the fact that the technical manual was made available to the public led to the proliferation of software made to be run specifically by the Apple II computer. This is a significant development, as it made the Apple II one of the first companies to induce buyers to purchase its product through the production of software written specifically for it (2004). The introduction of VisiCalc, a spreadsheet program that simplified the accounting process, led to the expansion of the market for Apple II in the area of small businesses and accounting departments in larger firms. It also solidified the reputation of Apple II as being useful to a variety of persons, and not just computer hardware and/or programming specialists and hackers.
The argument for IBM’s contribution to the development of the personal computer is often a very cogent one, as the current evidence is that the company has dominated the market and won the standard battle for the PC. In the early years IBM had an arguable edge in the computer world, as it was a notable producer of minicomputers, much more capable and powerful computers of the time—yet much larger and difficult to market to the masses (Poulter, 2004). Yet, the Apple II saw such widespread popularity that it managed even to threaten the sales of IBM’s minicomputer. It is therefore arguable that Apple II influenced the expansion of IBM into the personal computing business (2004; Weyhrich, 2006). As a result of this, IBM made the decision that it should quickly enter the personal computer market. Because it had not yet begun developing in this area, yet needed to offer something to the public very quickly, rather than create its own parts and processors, the company used components that had already existed in the market. The ready availability of its parts and not necessarily any superiority of product caused its dominance of the market, as many technological companies began to clone the IBM and offer it cheaply to consumers (2004). It might be argued therefore that the superior innovation of the Apple II microcomputer, the leader of the market, is what prompted IBM to even begin a PC-building program. This therefore extends Apple’s influence, making it at least partially responsible for the entrance into the microcomputer industry of its currently leading giant.
However, Apple influenced IBM’s Microsoft even more directly than this. When in 1976 Marc McDonald, Microsoft’s first employee, was unable to find a sponsor for his BASIC program, he was rescued from impending bankruptcy by Apple Computer (Weyrhich, 2006). Being too busy with the interface card Disk II to be able consistently to work on improving their Integer BASIC program that went along with the Apple II, the owners negotiated a contract with McDonald for the use of the BASIC system he had developed for Microsoft. The Apple Company agreed to pay Microsoft a flat fee of $21,000, a situation that demonstrated just how much of a savior Apple became to Microsoft. Had the Microsoft Company been doing well, it would have agreed to a royalty that granted it a percentage of every BASIC product that got sold. It appears, therefore, that the Apple II (with which the Microsoft BASIC program was bundled) was also influential in allowing Microsoft to remain in the business of computer software by giving it a platform in its early years when no one else would (Weyrhich, 2006).
The influence of the Apple Machine might also be seen in its ability to survive and serve beyond just one computing generation. The Apple II began selling in 1977 and continued production beyond the eighties and into the 1990’s. The final month of its production was November 1993 (Poulter, 2004). While accomplishing this feat, Apple was also busy accomplishing another of which no other computer company could boast. While developing its other models, it promoted backward compatibility among most of its designs, so that the process of becoming outdated would be slowed, and their customers would not lose important data simply by upgrading to a newer Apple computer (2004). This too has contributed to the influence of the Apple II as it sustained several different programs for different systems and set the standard for the other computers made by Apple.
The Apple computer was also the starting point for other electronic companies, such as video games companies like Entertainment Arts and Sierra On-Line (Poulter, 2004). Because Steve Wozniak had been the designer of the videogame Breakout for Atari, this influenced him to build the Apple II with capabilities that would enhance its use with applications that required such graphics of it. The machine displayed in color, and was able to run its own version of the Breakout game, should someone decide to program one into it. The machine’s memory, too, was beyond the capacity of others available at the time. The standard 4K memory could be expanded up 48K. The capabilities of the Apple II are what gave it the edge and made it sustainable for as long as it had been (2004).
The Apple II microcomputer extended its influence to being largely responsible for the success of its parent company. It is considered the product that established the reputation of the Apple Company as one that held a large amount of influence in the computing world. In fact, of such influence was the machine that its sales financially supported the continuation of the company during the development of other products that were comparable failures. The Apple II (and the later Apple II Plus) continued its sales while Apple made and attempted to market Apple III and Lisa. Even later, during the development and manufacture of the Macintosh, the Apple II resisted becoming outdated and continued selling alongside IBM and its compatibles (Poulter, 2004; Weyhrich, 2006).
Throughout the years, despite the overwhelming market share that IBM’s have developed, it has not been possible to remove Apple computers completely from the market. In fact, though a standard has clearly been achieved by IBM because of the size of its market share, Apple’s presence in the business has continually been an inducement to raise that standard. This can be attributed to the legacy of the Apple II. Apple has since led other major standard changes, such as the complete removal of the floppy drive as a standard feature on the personal computer. This was done with the introduction of its iMac in 1998, which was at that point the latest descendant of the Apple II (Wikipedia). Another influence of the Apple Company on the market is its Safari browser, which challenges Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE). Although IE has enjoyed an enormous share in the browser market, the new Apple browser has been experiencing steady growth (McLean, 2006).
In retrospect, the Apple II has been influential in the market of microcomputers for several reasons. The machine’s importance surpasses that of Intel’s chip because of its immediate and specific relevance to the world of the micro or personal computer. The Apple II computer was a vast improvement over the other types that made use of the Intel chips because of its usefulness to a broad cross-section of persons. Rather than being appealing only to the few persons who could assemble the hardware, it catered to those who were interested in programming and using it for everyday tasks by marketing a fully-assembled product. The machine also provided ongoing innovation, as it soon offered an improvement on the tedious and unreliable cassette-tape storage that was prevalent in the industry. The expandable memory catered to the myriad of needs and desires customers wanted, much more so than the other microcomputer models available at the time; and it has set a standard that is still adhered to (as even today the memory capacity of personal computers is expandable). The influence of the Apple II was also evident in its ability to attract third-party software that made the computer useful to accountants and financial institutions around the country. The Apple II even caused big computer companies like IBM to pay attention, as it began cutting into the market for the larger computers through its ability to run spreadsheet programs. Gaming programs were also able to be run on the Apple II, and this is a trend that has continued even today. In fact, much of the technology that prevails in this current era can trace its origins back to the Apple II as father of the idea or as the competition that sparked further innovation.
The article “The Evolution of the Computer,” written by Steven Schoenherr in 2004, gives an overview of when, where and by whom important developments in the development of the computer were made. The work is subdivided into five sections, dealing with the first to fifth generation of computers. The first-generation section deals with computers that used vacuum tubes as transmission devices. It gives some of the historical background, which reveals that the war effort surrounding World War II had a lot to do with the innovations regarding computers at that time. Schoenherr goes further to describe how the second generation of computers saw a transition from vacuum tubes to transistors and the various accounting uses of these machines. The third generation is then shown to have begun with the patenting of integrated circuits and the introduction of minicomputers (including videogame consoles), whereas the fourth showed the introduction of microprocessors for use in microcomputers—the immediate predecessors of today’s personal computers. The fifth generation begins with the development of the World Wide Web and continues to describe present day computing.
Andrew Poulter’s 2004 article “A History of Personal Computers” describes the beginning of micro-computing and the development of the computers around the evolution of the Intel 4004 chip. It gives the details of such early microcomputers as Altair, Micral, Mark-8 and Apple II, telling when, how and why each innovation occurred and how it contributed to the dynamics of the market. The interactions of the developers of Apple II, as well as the background for the development of the Apple microcomputers are also explained. Programs developed for these machines are mentioned, as well as clubs that formed on college campuses and other institutions for the purpose of learning and sharing the technology. The article notes that such giants of the computer world as Bill Gates and Steven Wozniak rose up from such clubs/universities.
“Apple II History,” written by Steven Weyhrich, tells the history of the Apple Company, centering the work especially on the development and legacy of the Apple II computer. It contains sections that deal with the background to the start of the company, the various models of computers developed over the years, hardware and software developed for them, and the languages in which their programs were written. The section on the Apple II computer features testimonials by Steve Wozniak, the designer and developer of the Apple II as well as the BASIC program on which it ran. Weyhrich also shows how the initial BASIC program evolved into the Integer BASIC. He delves into the process of the computer’s development, as well as challenges the technicians and producers faced within the market as well as with the government. Later, the article examines the reaction of customers when the Apple II was first released, and gives details about what the layman encountered while using the machine.
Manish Srivastava’s 1996 overview of the life of Steven Wozniak tells the details of the man who invented the Apple II computer. It gives an overview of his time spent with Hewlett Packard, then focuses on his friendship with Steven Jobs and the forming of the Apple Company. Srivastava mentions the connections between Wozniak’s former work and the innovations of the Apple II. The evolution of the Apple Company and the later models of computers developed within comprises much of the article. It also mentions Wozniak’s return to university to finish his computer science and engineering degrees. The article then tells of his subsequent disappearance from the public eye.
The Wikipedia article “the Floppy Disk” outlines the development and evolution of the storage device. The article describes the steps taken by the several developers from several companies, beginning with the introduction of the 8-inch disk, through the 5 ¼-inch minifloppy, to the latest 3.5 inch floppy disc. The article then presents other devices that have led to the gradual phasing out of the floppy disk. It later tells about the different formats and capabilities of the disks throughout the years, as well as the different ways in which engineers have sought to extend the life of the floppy disk in and beyond the digital age.
McLean, P. (2006). “Apple’s Safari Showing Major Growth among Browsers.” 7 May 2006. http://www.appleinsider.com/article.php?id=1677
Poulter, S. (2004). “A History of Personal Computers.” Andrew Poulter. 7 May 2006. http://www.andrew.poulter.com/a_history_of_personal_computers.htm
Schoenherr, S. E. (2004). “The Evolution of the Computer.” History Department at the University of San Diego. 6 May 2006. http://history.acusd.edu/gen/recording/computer1.html
Srivastava, M. (1996). Steven Wozniak. 7 May 2006. http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~history/WOZNIAK.HTM
Weyhrich, S. (2006). Apple II History. 7 May 2006. http://apple2history.org/index.html
Wikipedia. (2006). Floppy Disk. Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia. 7 May 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floppy_disk