The Apple IIGS Compatible

What boots into Finder, disposes of files with a trash can, and can use ProDOS, Macintosh or MS-DOS disks and even run MS-DOS programs? A Quadra 610 with a Houdini card? A PowerMac 610ĞDOS Compatible? A Nubus based Macintosh with an Orange Micro DOS Card ? Well, yes, those can do it too--but so can the Apple II!

There are two basic levels of compatibility between different computer platforms--the ability to share data, and the ability to run each other's programs. Both levels of compatibility exist between the Apple II and MS-DOS machines. Probably the most i mportant level is the ability to share data. This level requires two things--the ability to transfer the data, and the ability to read the data.

Disk Drives

As to the first part of this, how do you get data from an MS-DOS disk onto an Apple II? As most people know, the 5.25" and 3.5" disk drives used on Apple II's and MS-DOS PCs can often use the same disks, but the formats are incompatible once initialized. What is needed is a disk drive that can read both formats. There are actually several choices for this.

Apple's SuperDrive, which ships with all current Macintosh models, was one such drive. This drive can read 720K MS-DOS disks, as well as 800K ProDOS and Macintosh disks, along with 1.44 MB floppies of any denomination. Applied Engineering made a similar drive, the AE FDHD drive (which is currently marketed as the Plus Drive by ABC However, Apple no longer manufactures the external SuperDrive (although those individuals and schools who bought IIGS computers in the Apple auctions of 1993 were lucky enough to get SuperDrives with their computers), nor the SuperDrive card needed to use it with an Apple IIGS or IIe. There is a rumor that ABC Direct will be makin g such a card available (due in October), but it still doesn't exist. So, to obtain the needed hardware for a SuperDrive or compatible you will need to turn to the used market. However, there are a couple of other alternatives.

The BlueDisk card, by SHH Systeme (email:, allows an Apple II user to connect standard PC floppy disks to his or her computer. Together with Peter Watson's MS-DOS utilities, which ship with the card, users may copy files to and from MS-DOS disks, as well as read Macintosh 1.44 MB floppies (all 1.44 MB floppies use the same basic encoding, known as MFM, and can be read by the same drives; MS-DOS 720K disks also use this method. ProDOS and Macin tosh 800K disks, however, use a method called GCR, which is not compatible with all high density floppies--and which is why the disks hold 800K instead of 720K). You can even use 2.88 MB floppies, a format that is not used on the Macintosh, but is suppor ted by some PCs.

The Floptical drive is a SCSI peripheral that can read/write floptical disks (21Mb floppies) or 1.44MB floppies. I recently purchased one of these from Tulin Technologies (email:, wh ich is selling refurbished Flopticals for $99.00. It comes with a thoroughly professional manual that is specific to the type of SCSI card you identify yourself as owning when you order. The Floptical disks cost $15.00 ($12.00 when ordered with the drive ), which is not nearly as good a per megabyte cost as ZIP cartridges (one of the reasons, no doubt, that the Floptical technology never became really widespread), but the fact that it gives compatibility with high density floppies is a real winner. For m e, it makes trading floppies between my Macintoshes and Apple IIGS much easier, since many of my Macs' disks are high density. Also, if my brother should send me something on disk (he uses a Windows PC) I will be able to read the disks...and create disks for him to use as well. And the 21 MB cartridges are very useful for creating bootable ProDOS volumes. I already have the one I ordered filled up with HyperCard stacks that I am working on. And, because the Floptical is a SCSI device, it will work with Macintosh and SCSI-equipped PCs as well, so your investment will be preserved in the future if you should migrate to another computer platform.

Transfers without a Disk Drive

Of course, if you don't have access to these types of disk drives there is still a way to transfer files--you can e-mail them to yourself. If you have an account on a BBS that allows any type of computer to log on, you can upload the file to yourself fro m your PC or Apple II and download it with the other computer. This is a good way of getting files from your workplace to home as well, if you need to work on them at home (just be sure to have a fast modem if you'll be doing this often). There are other methods of transferring files as well, but if you have to do this often, they can be cumbersome. Best of these "other" methods is using CrossWorks by Soft Spoken which lets you connect any Apple II with a serial port/card to a PC and transfer and translate files between DBase III & IV, WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3 and AppleWorks.

Which Files Can You Exchange?

Other than the formats that CrossWorks is able to convert, what types of files can you transfer? Well, word processing, database, and spreadsheet files can all be saved as text files and transferred. Wordprocessing files can also be saved as RTF (rich te xt format) files by many programs, which allows you to keep some basic formatting, such as fonts, font sizes, and styles, intact in your file. On the IIGS, only EGOed 2.0, which is sold by EGO Systems, can read RTF files, which is reason enough (as if th ere weren't others) to buy this program. We covered graphics in the last issue, but will repeat that GIF, TIFF, JPEG and several other types of graphic files can be translated into Apple II native formats. There are also sound files that can be exchanged , notably MIDI music, AIFF digitized sounds, AU sounds and WAV tables. There are even some animation/movie formats that can be grabbed from the PC world, such as DL and FLI animations. It's also good to know that if you receive a compressed file from a P C, both Angel and PMPUnZip can handle ZIP archives (the most popular form of compression on PCs today) while ShrinkIt GS can handle many older forms of PC Compression.

Running MS-DOS Software

The second level of compatibility is being able to run the software native to another platform. Some Macs can run Apple II software (using the IIe card) and PCs can use the TrackStar board or various software emulators to run Apple II software, but what about Apple II's running Mac or PC software? Well, there is no emulator or card that allows an Apple II to run Mac software, but there was a card manufactured by Applied Engineering, the PC Transporter, which can run MS-DOS and MS-DOS programs. The trans drive, a unit that can hold PC 5.25 or 3.5 inch (double density only) disk drives can be connected to the unit, as can a PC-style keyboard. If you have to run an MS-DOS program and have an Apple II at home, looking into purchasing one of these cards on t he used peripheral market would be a good idea. When not in use as a PC, the memory on the card is available to the Apple II as a RAM disk, which is an added benefit. The unit can work in a IIe or IIGS (there are slightly different configurations for eac h computer), and it can use the Apple 3.5" disk drive for reading/writing MS-DOS 720K disks (although this is not a perfect match, and disks formatted on the Apple drive are not universally compatible with PC disk drives, although the reverse does seem t o work without a hitch).

Why Care About All This?

If you need to exchange data with a PC, your own or someone else's, then the advantage of having disk drive level compatibility is obvious. What may not be so obvious is why you should care about this if you don't need to exchange data on a regular basis . One reason is that as your current disk drives grow older, you may find you need to replace them--and replacing a 3.5" disk drive with a Blue Disk Controller and PC-style floppy drive might just prove cheaper than buying an Apple 3.5" drive, while givi ng you expanded capacity on your floppies. The same holds true for the Floptical drives, which can provide you with 1.44 MB and 21 MB disks--enough space so that you could even forgo investing in a hard drive if you were upgrading a IIGS or IIe that did not have one.

As to running PC software? While you won't be able to run Windows on the PC Transporter (it uses a faster version of the older PC cpu, so while it is faster than the original IBM PC, it cannot run Windows 3.1) you can use it to run WordPerfect, Quicke n, and several other important PC programs that you might not have available for your Apple II or that you use at school or at work. Since used PC Transporters can be found for under $100.00, this gives you a much cheaper alternative than buying a PC for such tasks, and saves desk space too. And the PC Transporter will enhance your Apple II system with an added RAM disk and 3.5" disk drives (great for IIe owners who need to get a 3.5" disk drive for programs like AppleWorks 5.1).

In this field, as in so many others, the Apple II shows itself to be a very flexible computer platform, that can adapt to the needs of the people using it. The genius of Steve Wozniak in making a microcomputer with expansion slots continues to benefit users today, as we adapt our computers to obtain new capabilities.

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