Author’s Note: The original version of this article was published in the Journal in late 1988 as part of our 10th year anniversary celebration. We updated a bit for the 25th anniversary but it's time for another report. Enjoy!
Washington Apple Pi was barely a year and a half old when the Apple /// was introduced at the National Computer Conference in Anaheim in May 1980. The /// was the first computer to be designed in-house by Apple Computer. It was supposed to be a replacement for the Apple ][, which Apple was afraid would not continue to sell well. The Apple /// was specifically designed as a business machine and Apple sold it in "bundles" with software and hardware.
For Washington Apple Pi, the first mention of the Apple /// occurred in February 1981 when Burton S. Chambers III wrote a Journal article entitled "Flavors: Little Tidbits." Orange was the color of his /// comments. He said that he wanted to wait before making a final decision on the machine until there was more software and the bugs were worked out ("I'm sure it will be a useful machine some day"). Apple /// user Mark Cheren wrote the following month ("Here So Slowly Comes The Apple ///") that he had gone through three Apple ///s (due to early production problems) but still felt the machine had excellent potential. He wrote: "So, have I made a mistake? Frankly, I don't know yet."
The first call for a /// SIG within Washington Apple Pi was made by Charles N. Dow, in the April 1981 Journal ("The Not-Too-Slow Apple /// Is Great!”). Dow, untainted by the Apple ][, was a bit more exuberant over the /// and its possibilities, writing that "the Apple ///, I have confidence, will be a great business asset, developed from the experiences gained from the Apple I, II and all other sources."
It took ten months more, but in February 1982, Dow (the first "Pro Temp Chairman”) gave the official announcement that a /// SIG within WAP had been formed ("Update On the 'Big Apple' ///"):
So herewith we unilaterally establish a group and invite all of the members who are interested in learning more about the newest Apple and the smallest Users Group (there are six members that I have been in touch with personally).
The June 1982 Apple /// article by Ronald Askew reported the third meeting of the SIG occurred April 15th at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He wrote that 11 of the 20 ///ers in WAP had attended. Askew also reported that SIG librarian Michael Konvalinka had "collected virtually every important article, ad and publication referencing the Apple /// and relevant hardware and software."
In March 1983 came the first, and only, complete review of the /// done in the Pi Journal. "A Report Card On The Apple ///: Does It Merit A Passing Grade?” was written by William C. Jacobson. The bottom line for him was that the (now) two-year-old Apple /// got a "qualified passing grade." He was particularly upset that the /// had such a poor implementation of CP/M and called for an upgraded emulation disk to handle 64K and upper and lower case.
By May of the following year, Bill Hershey had been elevated to SIG Chairman. He was the first "official" leader of the SIG. In July 1984 Hershey reported that the SIG now had 73 members! He also reported that an Apple Rep assured the members of Apple's "continuing commitment to the ///."
Midway through 1984, the SIG had gained a Co-Chairman in Jerry Chandler. Bill Hershey officially made way for Bill Rosenmund as co-chair in January 1985. Throughout that year, SIG Secretary Charlene Ryan kept the ///'s flame burning in the Journal. She reported in January that despite the bad news about the /// being discontinued, the SIG was alive and well and members felt the /// was still a great computer. Over the course of the year, the SIG continued to meet, held a few tutorials and even surveyed members by mail. June 1985 marked the debut of this author in the Pi Journal. Over the years, he published many, many articles about the /// - all of which are available on disk in the /// SIG Public Domain Library.
By 1986, the author had also taken over for Bill Rosenmund as co-chair and Jerry Chandler moved on. Tom Bartkiewitz ultimately agreed to co-chair. In July 1986 SIG Librarian Al Lambert announced our first four public domain disks. By 1997, there were 250 disks.
Early October 1987 saw a prominent role for the /// SIG at the Phase III Conference and Exhibition in Chicago. Sponsored by The Third Apple Users group (TAU), it was the only Apple /// convention ever held. One of the discussions was about ThreeWorks - a series of databases for the /// developed by this author. The primary data base - a bibliography of virtually all known Apple /// articles – is now available as a FileMaker Pro database on the Washington Apple Pi Web site at:
One of the proudest accomplishments of the /// SIG in the 1990s was serving as a catalyst for development of /// products. BOS /// - the first upgrade to the SOS Operating System in 10 years (written by Bob Consorti of On Three fame) was a wonderful achievement.
It was done with the financial help of Washington Apple Pi and ATUNC, the Apple Three Users of Northern California, along with many individual ///ers. A driver for the 1.4 MB SuperDrive was developed, as was a “universal” SCSI driver. In 1997, the SIG successfully worked to develop an updated power supply for the /// with Dr. Stephen Buggy. The Apple II community pointed to those achievements as arguments for continued development of Apple II products.
Since the late 1980’s, we’ve seen a number of good Apple /// friends come and go. Paul Campbell, Seth Mize, Bob Sambolin, Steve Truax, and Dave and Joan Jernigan are among those who were able to keep the /// a part of their computer lives into the late 1990s.
Paul especially deserves credit for his many years of unwavering support for the ///. Living in Detroit, he drove with his growing family twice a year for a number of years to attend the Computer Show and Sale. He served as /// SIG Co-Chair for many years.
The /// SIG no longer exists as a group. But I continue to answer calls for help even today. The /// has now become something of a collector’s item and there is a steady demand for machines – just check EBay. Our public domain library continues to sell disks to folks all over the world. Some have purchased the entire library of 250 disks. I am proud to say the /// PD continues to be the only PD software that sells on a regular basis – thus continue to help the Pi after two decades.
I am also happy to report that we are working to convert the entire PD library to a CD using Bob Consorti’s Disk Archive and Retrieval (DAR) program. This CD will include a copy of DAR and will require a Mac with a 3.5” drive and CD. You’ll also need an Apple /// with a 3.5” SuperDrive. Stay tuned for more on this.
The SIG has produced a two-set DVD-ROM with the contents of the old “How To Use Your Apple /// In Ten EZ Lessons” and some original content from my collection – mainly some iMovies and a slide show to honor our old friend Bob Consorti and On Three. I am happy to say that there is steady demand for it, and our friend Koji Annoura in Japan is interested in creating a Japanese version of the DVD-ROM.
Work on a /// CD also continues as time permits that will contain a central depository for a vast amount of /// information (including virtually all of this author's articles). The goal is to have it finished by year’s end.
Washington Apple Pi is recognized as one of the “last bastions” of support for SARA – especially where PD software is concerned. Do a search on the Web and see how many hits you get – the Apple /// will live a long life on the Internet. In fact, a number of sites have popped up that include not just pictures of the ///, but lots of excellent information. One of my favorites is at http://www.digibarn.com/.
One other note for those of you still interested, an Apple /// discussion group continues on the Internet at APPLE3-L@altair.com.
And you might be interested to know that there are still products being developed for the /// even today! Rich Dreher of R&D Automation, LLC. has developed an interface card for the Apple II that includes both a Compact Flash (CF) card and IDE interface. It turns out that ///er Dale Jackson was kind enough to write a driver for the /// as well! WAP is in the process of obtaining one of these cards (which also works with the GS) to give it a try. For more information, point your browser to:
It’s hard to believe that the Apple /// has been an orphan machine for more than 20 years now. Still used as an example of bad decision-making by Apple, she deserves better. As a computer, the /// was a groundbreaking machine. Many of Apple’s best people worked on its development, many great companies wrote software for it, and many people around the world purchased it.
For those of us who did buy and use the /// (and I still own one!), we remember it as an excellent computer that was ahead of its time.
It is now a part of Apple history. But SARA helped shape the life of many, many people and bridged the Apple II world to the Macintosh in a way few realize or appreciate.