David A. Wheeler's Blog

Wed, 16 Jun 2004

Apple should release Apple ][ code

I’d like to convince you, gentle reader, to add your voice to mine, and ask Apple Computer to release the code for the Apple ][ line.

Many years ago, the Apple ][ line was one of the most popular computer lines, but it’s now completely obsolete. You can see Apple history for more information, The Apple ][ (also spelled Apple II, later Apple //, and sometimes Apple 2) was an 8-bit computer first built in 1977, and ran at 1MHz with 4K to 64K of memory. The last of the Apple ][ line was the Apple //gs, announced in September 1986, and discontinued in December of 1992. It ran at 2.8 or 1 MHz (with upgrades up to 18MHz), and could expand to up to 8 MB of RAM. Compared to todays’ machines that run at 1000 MHz and much more, and routinely come with 512MB and more of RAM, these machines are completely obsolete.

Still, there are hobbyists and nostalgia buffs who’d like to be able to run these old machines (either directly or by emulation).

So I ask Apple, as a gesture of goodwill, to release the code for the Apple ][ line, say to the public domain or under some sort of open source software license, so that hobbyists can keep these old systems running. That includes the Apple ][, ][+, //e, //c, and //gs ROMs, the disk ROMs, and the operating systems (at least DOS 3.2, DOS 3.3, and ProDOS). Apple may not be able to release the Applesoft BASIC stuff (I believe Microsoft owns that copyright), but Apple can at least release the rest of it, and we can ask Microsoft to release Applesoft BASIC separately. The original Apple ][ ROMs didn’t include Applesoft BASIC, and yet for many circumstances that ROM is enough to run many Apple ][ programs, so even without Applesoft such a grant would be very helpful.

Apple, you aren’t going to make money on these things. But current copyright law doesn’t acknowledge that obsolete things should be automatically released to the public. By releasing obsolete items that no longer have real market value, you allow others to maintain and use these old systems (through hardware or emulation) in future generations.

Others have released obsolete systems to the public. The Minix operating system, developed long after the Apple ][ line began, originally required a fee, but it’s since been released under a BSD license. CP/M binaries and source code have been released to the public at no charge, and that 8-bit operating system comes from the same timeframe.

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