By, William Stephens – Founder, So What Software
So What Software sold its first piece of Apple software on May 15th 1983 and sold its last on August 26, 1990. Over those 7 years it produced 12 titles for the Apple II, II+, GS computer systems.
Dedicated to the enhancement of Applesoft BASIC, So What Software produced enhancements and shells (especially in the GS) to link the Applesoft BASIC interpreter language to these new and advanced features which was conspicuously not done by the Apple Computer Engineers. This can be a complete story in itself, but, the reason given at the time for this omission was to allow 3rd party developers to have some thing to create. Interesting story but actually quite false.
Early on I had 3 influences in the Apple community and they were: Bert Kersey, the founder of the popular Beagle Brothers software company, Bill Budge, the creator or Midnight Magic and Pinball Construction Set and finally Randy Hyde, the assembly language guru. These guys inspired me to shirk my job responsibilities in aerospace engineering, loose my job and have to start up a company to keep out of the poor house. For this I am eternally in debt… in more ways than you might think.
I started out with DOS customization software (Disc Commander and Power & Utilities) and rapidly progressed to graphics and animation software (Iconix). This was still prior to the release of the Apple IIgs which arrived on the scene in 1986. As soon as I had acquired an IIgs I immediately ported Disc Commander and especially Iconix over to this platform.
With a IIgs in hand I soon realized that there was much much more to this Apple computer than I had realized. Soon, with the help of other programmers we had produced Sonix, which did for sound and sound synthesis, what Iconix did for graphics and animation. When Iconix and Sonix were used together the effect was stunning. Customers were now able to create professional multimedia programs and presentations easily and quickly using their good old workhorse, Applesoft BASIC.
This stable of programs was supplemented by some whimsical games which were never commercially released called Wanger-Ball and Maze-Blox and a utility that was called Menu Maker which allowed you to create and manage a graphical menu bar from plain old Applesoft BASIC, just like the operating systems desktop menubar. This planted the seed or an idea for the future course of So What Software. Everyone else was programming in C or Pascal or a very clumsy visual BASIC, all of which were compiler based languages. Applesoft was relegated to “kids stuff” and nothing serious, a joke! Applesoft was an interpreter language and thus must be too slow and limited to create “real” programs.
What I did not know at the time was that a secret agreement between Microsoft and Apple killed Applesoft BASIC and one of the agreement tennants was to not port Applesoft BASIC to any new platforms like the Mac and the AppleIIgs.
Apple Developer Services said flat out, that Applesoft could not use any toolbox commands and was therefore “obsolete”. Well, that may have been true in a sense but the way they forced the demise software-wise was full of holes easily seen by even the most modest assembly language programmer. In a nutshell, ProDOS8 and ProDOS16 and the toolbox all reside in unique memory ranges in the computer. If you load in Prodos16 (GS-OS) and have it load in ProDOS8 as usual, you can then use suprisingly simple and quick program code to actuate both operating systems, tools and in the mix give Appleoft BASIC access to everything in the computer.
THIS WAS THE BIG IDEA AND IT WORKED WITHOUT A HITCH!
This marked the birth of Call Box which was the only “Toolbox Programming System” for Applesoft BASIC ever devised. Now beginners and experienced BASIC programmers could create professional desktop applications taking advantage of the latest system tools created by Apples team of programmers. Call Box did not have many revisions because it was designed to grow as Apple changed the operating system so Apple made all of the improvements. Call Box just mirrored them to the user like a faithful servant should.
In the writing of Call Box I solicited the help of other programmers and made it a collaborative effort. One of these programmers, Joe Jaworski also had some of his own commercial product and So What Software marketed that as well. These programs were Hyperlaunch and SCSI Hacker / Disktimer.
As these programs matured I created the Call Box Programmers Association which provided examples, tips and tricks for the use of Call Box with the more advanced toolbox procedures. This extended the documentation which already rivaled the Apple documentation itself. Just as things were reaching utopia the world lost interest in the Apple IIgs and noticed a new shiny toy, the Intel Windows based computer which then took over.
That was the summer of 1990 and things have not been the same since. We have seen the near demise of the Mac, the second coming of Steve Jobs and the exit of Bill Gates. I, expanded my repitore with x86(Windows) and even UNIX/LINUX work only to recently get involved with the Mac and OSX which is a lot like UNIX and the hardware/firmware still reminds me of the good old AppleII. Funny how most of the fundamentals keep coming back again and again dressed up as something new.
Recently however, I have discovered emulators for the Windows, DOS, UNIX and Mac computers which really allow the good old So What Software Apple II and IIgs software to run again. Seeing it work 20 years after it’s life ended reveals how little things have actually changed and how the great advancements in software are not really advancements at all but instead, are re-hashes of things that had already been done long ago. It also shows how advanced and “cool” the Apple IIgs was.
Check out this emulated software and read through the manuals and support documentation. See if you too don’t agree that what I have said is true. Above all enjoy yourself at the Ghost of So What Software.