By 1983 there were a whopping 2,000 pieces of software for Apple’s pre-Macintosh computer, the Apple II — more than for any other machine in the world. It turns out this left a trail for one historian to understand The Apple II Age: How the Computer Became Personal.

The new book (by New York University academic Laine Nooney) argues that it was the first purchasers of that software who are the true overlooked pioneers during the seven years before the Macintosh. And (as this reviewer explains, with quotes from the book), collectively they form the most compelling story about the history of Apple:

It’s about all those brave and curious people, the users, who came “Not to hack, but to play… Not to program, but to print…” And you can trace their activities in perfect detail through the decades-old software programs they left behind. It’s a fresh and original approach to the history of technology. Yes, the Apple II competed with Commodore’s PET 2001 and Tandy’s TRS-80… [But] this trove of programs uniquely offers “a glimpse of what users did with their personal computers, or perhaps more tellingly, what users hoped their computers might do.”

Looking back in time, Nooney calls the period “one of unusually industrious and experimental software production, as mom-and-pop development houses cast about trying to create software that could satisfy the question, ‘What is a computer even good for…?'” The book’s jacket promises “a constellation of software creation stories,” with each chapter revisiting an especially iconic program that also represents an entire category of software…

[T]he book ultimately focuses more heavily on the lessons that can be learned from what programmers envisioned for these strange new devices — and how the software-buying public did (or didn’t) respond… The earliest emergence of personal computing in America was “a wondrous mangle,” Nooney writes, saying it turned into an era where “overnight entrepreneurs hastily constructed a consumer computing supply chain where one had never previously existed.”
Vice republished an excerpt in May which describes the “roiling debate” that took place over copy protection in 1981.

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