ASCII by Jason Scott

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Why the Apple II ProDOS 2.4 Release is the OS News of the Year —

prodos-2-4-splash

In September of 2016, a talented programmer released his own cooked update to a major company’s legacy operating system, purely because it needed to be done. A raft of new features, wrap-in programs, and bugfixes were included in this release, which I stress was done as a hobby project.

The project is understatement itself, simply called Prodos 2.4. It updates ProDOS, the last version of which, 2.0.3, was released in 1993.

You can download it, or boot it in an emulator on the webpage, here.

As an update unto itself, this item is a wonder – compatibility has been repaired for the entire Apple II line, from the first Apple II through to the Apple IIgs, as well as cases of various versions of 6502 CPUs (like the 65C02) or cases where newer cards have been installed in the Apple IIs for USB-connected/emulated drives. Important utilities related to disk transfer, disk inspection, and program selection have joined the image. The footprint is smaller, and it runs faster than its predecessor (a wonder in any case of OS upgrades).

The entire list of improvements, additions and fixes is on the Internet Archive page I put up.

prodos-2-4-bitsy-boot

The reason I call this the most important operating system update of the year is multi-fold.

First, the pure unique experience of a 23-year-gap between upgrades means that you can see a rare example of what happens when a computer environment just sits tight for decades, with many eyes on it and many notes about how the experience can be improved, followed by someone driven enough to go through methodically and implement all those requests. The inclusion of the utilities on the disk means we also have the benefit of all the after-market improvements in functionality that the continuing users of the environment needed, all time-tested, and all wrapped in without disturbing the size of the operating system programs itself. It’s like a gold-star hall of fame of Apple II utilities packed into the OS they were inspired by.

This choreographed waltz of new and old is unique in itself.

Next is that this is an operating system upgrade free of commercial and marketing constraints and drives. Compared with, say, an iOS upgrade that trumpets the addition of a search function or blares out a proud announcement that they broke maps because Google kissed another boy at recess. Or Windows 10, the 1968 Democratic Convention Riot of Operating Systems, which was designed from the ground up to be compatible with a variety of mobile/tablet products that are on the way out, and which were shoved down the throats of current users with a cajoling, insulting methodology with misleading opt-out routes and freakier and freakier fake-countdowns.

The current mainstream OS environment is, frankly, horrifying, and to see a pure note, a trumpet of clear-minded attention to efficiency, functionality and improvement, stands in testament to the fact that it is still possible to achieve this, albeit a smaller, slower-moving target. Either way, it’s an inspiration.

prodos-2-4-bitsy-bye

Last of all, this upgrade is a valentine not just to the community who makes use of this platform, but to the ideas of hacker improvement calling back decades before 1993. The amount of people this upgrade benefits is relatively small in the world – the number of folks still using Apple IIs is tiny enough that nearly everybody doing so either knows each other, or knows someone who knows everyone else. It is not a route to fame, or a resume point to get snapped up by a start-up, or a game of one-upsmanship shoddily slapped together to prove a point or drop a “beta” onto the end as a fig leaf against what could best be called a lab experiment gone off in the fridge. It is done for the sake of what it is – a tool that has been polished and made anew, so the near-extinct audience for it works to the best of their ability with a machine that, itself, is thought of as the last mass-marketed computer designed by a single individual.

That’s a very special day indeed, and I doubt the remainder of 2016 will top it, any more than I think the first 9 months have.

Thanks to John Brooks for the inspiration this release provides. 


Categorised as: computer history


19 Comments

  1. He missed the opportunity to dedicate it to the Apple IIGS 30th anniversary that was just yesterday, 2016-SEPTEMBER-15 ! (well… a few hours ago)

    https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/comp.sys.apple2/W-lEsvY5WAo

  2. […] development in the Apple ][ ecosystem in recent memory, and will remain so for at least a decade. The only person who still uses an Apple ][ as a daily driver agrees, and ProDOS 2.4 is now enshrined in The Archive for all […]

  3. […] development in the Apple ][ ecosystem in recent memory, and will remain so for at least a decade. The only person who still uses an Apple ][ as a daily driver agrees, and ProDOS 2.4 is now enshrined in The Archive for all […]

  4. mikebarela says:

    4 8 15 16 23 42 execute

  5. Dan says:

    Good lord. I love the old Apple II line, and think this is great. But your shrill harping about the current state of the OS market is going to be a huge turn off to a lot of the people who come here to see this. You should have kept the politics out of this “pure note, a trumpet of clear-minded attention to efficiency, functionality and improvement”. You’re taking something fantastic and tying it to the anchor of your agenda.

    • Darren says:

      With all due respect I didn’t read any “shrill harping”. While the desktop environment is obviously a more complicated situation than back in the Apple ][ days, most can agree that there’s a fair amount of bloat, inefficiency, poor UI considerations and blatant self-interest at the cost of UX built into most modern software design that there simply wasn’t room to implement in those days.

      For that, one may appreciate the software of its’ day for what it was: as economical, tight and relatively clean as possible, out of necessity.

      It’s no sin to long for that kind of simplicity.

      • Dan says:

        I don’t see where it was necessary to slam iOS or Windows in that way. ProDOS is an artifact of a different time, and not subject to the same pressures as iOS and Windows (or even Linux). Make all of those swipes (“trumpets”, “blares”, “1968 Democratic Convention Riot of Operating Systems”, “shoved down the throats”) at the other OSes is just tying the ProDOS update to a specific political agenda, which it really had no connection with. Let the ProDOS update stand on its own…it’s a great accomplishment and should be lauded on its own merits.

  6. Hi

    kudos to jbrooksbsi, that is some unconditional love to an ancient platform!

    @Felipe if you had read the VIEW.README you would know this release was dedicated yo the 30th anniversary…

  7. rdenatale says:

    I’m tempted to bring out the old Apple ][ and try this, but I’m confused about how I’d make a physical floppy disk from the disk image.

  8. […] E, para uma rasgada declaração de amor a tudo que é retro e old-school hacker, leia: Por Que o Lançamento do ProDOS 2.4 É A Notícia do Ano em Sistemas Operacionais. […]

  9. JP says:

    Great article. I feel that nowadays every update made to an OS, has to be as noisy (I swear there must be a better adjective) as it can. A point which you made very clear in this brief article.

  10. Barney Stone says:

    Brilliant! Long live the Apple ][! I’ve often wondered how many of the major developers of the whole PC industry got their start on an Apple ][, where it was easy to get into the guts and out how these things really worked.

  11. Ian says:

    Wow! Stunning. Every single problem I had is solved. Brilliant work. Thank you.

  12. […] reported by Jason Scott on his ASCII blog, ProDOS 2.4 was a labour of love for its developer. He […]

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