A2-2000 August-97 Preview

The Apple ][ Monthly - Freeware Disk-a-zine

An Interview with Mike Westerfield


The Byte Works
8000 Wagon Mound Drive N.W.
Albuquerque, NM 87120
(505) 898 8183


document and Interview

Copyright (c) 1997 by Charles T. 'Dr. Tom' Turley

Thursday - July 24, 1997

Mike, thanks for allowing me to do this interview with you for the August,1997
Issue of A2-2000. I first became aware of you in 1986 when I found a disk you
must have submitted to Epyx software, which was some of your early IIgs program
efforts on a MultiLaunch application. Of all the people that have programmed for
the Apple II and IIGS you've seemed to be the one of the few still around and
very active with your many program language updates and unique IIgs applications

Actually, that Switcher program was never released. I wrote it almost as an
in-your-face sort of effort because someone expressed doubt that it could work.
As any programmer knows, that's like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
Anyway, it worked just fine, and predated the other Apple IIGS switchers by
years. Mine was originally written for ProDOS 16 using System 3.2!

I didn't want to market it, though, because my company was doing programming
tools. We'd recently had some bad experiences trying to break into new markets,
and I didn't want to spend the energy on breaking into utilities when we had our
hands full with languages. I talked seriously with Roger Wagner Publishing, but
we never agreed on a price. (If you recall, Roger had published a ProDOS 8
switcher for the Apple IIGS.) I also talked with Beagle Bros., but they were in a
bit of internal turmoil with their own product line at the time.

Too bad--the whole program eventually rotted on the shelf.

Could you give our readers a review of what all you still offer the Apple II and
IIgs users, how and when you first started your programming interest with the
Apple II computers, a brief history of your most memorial experiences related to
the Apple II computers, when and with who?

We actually still offer virtually everything we ever offered. High-speed copiers
and laser printing have made it possible for us to publish extremely small
numbers of a product, and as a result, only one program has ever gone out of
print without being replaced by another. In addition, we picked up the Apple II
APDA items. All together, we have over 80 Apple II productss, mostly related to
programming or technical documentation for the hardware.

I don't want to list them all here, although you can feel free to include our
Byte Works electronic price list in your magazine. We're also happy to send
printed catalogs and electronic or printed specification sheets on our products.
Just let us know what you're interested in when you get in touch!

As for how I got started, well, that's a long story! Early in my life, I felt a
lot like Bones on the original Star Trek. "I'm a physicist, damn it. I don't do
programming." It's not that I didn't like programming, it's just that my goals
were in physics. While I was in the Air Force, I pursued that goal. For a while I
was a rocket scientist (well, I worked on satellite systems doing solid state
physics), and later a plasma physicist. All to often, a physicist who could
program was shuffled off to do the data analysis and never got to do real
physics. And, that's pretty much what happened to me.

Anyway, back to the story: My first assignment was in a satellite communications
unit. As soon as I walked in, they put me through a four month course in IBM 360
assembly language programming. FORTRAN was tacked on at the end as an
afterthought. This, incidentally, is why the syntax for ORCA/M looks a lot like
the IBM 360 assembler.

While in the course, I bought by first computer, which was an Apple ][ with
Integer BASIC, 48K of RAM, and a tape drive. I bought my first TV to use as a
monitor. I also sold my car to finance the whole affair, and rode a bike for
several months. Patty was incredibly understanding through all of this.

Of course, I wanted to program the new beast. Integer BASIC was quickly tried and
discarded. Applesoft was on tape--that didn't last long, either. I bought an
assembler, but remember, this was a tape based system. The editor and assembler
were on separate cassette tapes. To program, you started by loading the editor
and editing the program. Next you loaded the assembler to assemble it. If there
were errors ("If," he said?) you reloaded the editor and started the cycle again.
That didn't last long, either.

Finally I bought a floppy disk and a disk based assembler. It was an improvement,
but it worked. My assembly instructor had heard me bellyaching through all of
this, and convinced me to write an assembler. How hard could it be, after all? I
figured I'd write one over the summer. Two years later, ORCA shipped.

What was your very first Apple II computer model and what prompted you to get
into programming for the Apple II anyway?

(see above)

What was the very first program you did for the Apple II computers, why and when?

The very first program I wrote was an Othello game. It was supposed to be a
warm-up for writing a chess program. I sort of got sidetracked when I decided I
needed a better assembler to write the chess program.

You seem to be well versed in so many computer languages, having written nearly
all of the current programming language packages for the Apple II and IIgs, such
as; APW and MPW, ORCA/C, ORCA/M, Modula-2, 3D LOGO, etc. What computer language did you
first program in for the apple II computers and did you write it yourself or was
it by somebody else?

(see above)

You attended KansasFest last year and plan to attend again this year. What are
your most interesting recollections concerning KansasFest over the years and what
are you going to be doing there this year?

Oh, far and away the Nurf wars. I forget exactly which year that was, but several
large groups of people cleaned out the Nurf weapons sections of the local stores,
and we had a running battle with more foam weapons than I've ever seen collected
in one place.

After all, who goes to KansasFest for computers?

If I have to choose computers, though, I'd pick the robotics and electronics
sessions that Eric Wagner has done over the years. The hardware end of computers
is an area that I never learned a lot about, but was always interested in. Eric's
sessions opened the door in that area for me. I've enjoyed chatting with him over
the years, too. We ended up collaborating on last years robotics session.

What do you have in the works or plan to do work on now or in the future
concerning the Apple II computers?

Not as much as I'd like. I do plan to do at least one more update to the major
ORCA languages, and I've fixed a few bugs to move in that direction. I'm also
planning one more major Apple IIGS language. Honestly, though, I couldn't have
done it if the Apple IIGS was my only market for the language. The Apple II
market has, unfortunately, shrunk to the point that there aren't many commercial
projects I can consider.

Personally, I plan to continue using my Apple II for electronics interfacing. I
have a Macintosh and a Windows machine on my desk, too, but the Apple II is far
and away the most accessible computer for my level of electronics tinkering.

I noticed you have had some hands on experience with the Apple IIgs prototype
(The Mark.Twain)...what exactly can you relate concerning your experience with
this prototype, knowledge and history of it and your thoughts on it, etc.?

I came across the machine more or less by accident. Although I heard rumors of
the machine back when it was an active project at Apple, I was not directly
involved in it. There was no reason, after all, since from a software standpoint
it's the same as a ROM 3 machine with several options included as standard

I played with the prototype that floated around our user's group, and learned
along with everyone else what the machine could (and could not) do.

Can you give us some thoughts and feelings on the future use of the Apple II
computers, what you'd like to see implemented for them with hardware and software

I honestly don't see much of a future in commercial development on the Apple II.
There will be a few high profile products, but there isn't a big enough market to
finance the cost of developing large applications.

If I could afford it, I'd still like to do C++. I'd also love to beef up the ORCA
environment; much of it was designed when we had to assume that 1.25M of RAM and
a 20M hard drive represented a power user. I'm fulfilling one longstanding goal
by writing GSoft BASIC, which is the new language I alluded to earlier. I wish I
could do a compiler, though-- GSoft will be an interpreter.

In general terms, I wish there was a good graphics card available. By good, I
mean one that can use modern monitors, support large screens, and has QuickDraw
patches so old software will still run. I'm happy to see a web browser for the
Apple IIGS; that was another obvious need.

What plans or contributions and suggestions do you have to offer concerning any
languages, libraries, etc. for use with the upcoming update of GNO v2.06?

None whatever. I haven't seen the update. I also don't use GNO. That's not a slam
at all; I'm glad it exists. I just don't happen to use it.

Have you done any work or had any experience with the tcp/ppp bundle from Derek -
for use with his web browsers to be used with GNO v2.06? And, if so, what can you
relate concerning any of this?

I haven't even seen it, let alone used it.

What can you tell us about your thoughts, experiences. etc. with the Spectrum
Internet Suite web browser scripts (SIS) for use with Seven Hills IIgs Spectrum
communication program?

None. I haven't used it.

What do you thing the Apple II community needs most of all, to help keep it
happy, productive and successful with its users for the next few years?

This may seem strange, but the only real need I see is a replacement for Genie.
We need a place to be a community. The Internet use groups are not the
answer--there's too much mudslinging and Spam there. Genie is obviously fading,
although the Apple II group is still strong there. Whatever the site is, it needs
to be refereed like Genie, Internet and Apple II accessible, and it has to be a
place where most of the Apple II people gather.

I'm sure the readers of A2-2000 would like to know as much about GSoft - as you
are able to relate What exactly can you relate to us about your efforts with this
new IIGS basic program language you are developing - GSoft - is that the correct
name for it? What exactly motivated you to do it?

GSoft is an interpreted BASIC. The version that I'm getting ready for the Apple
IIGS is written in 65816 assembly language, and a close relative of this version
may someday ship on a 65816 single-board computer for imbedded systems. That's
still a vague idea, so it won't do much good asking for specifics--there aren't

GSoft will also ship on the Macintosh, and probably on Windows. I'll use what I
learn on the Apple IIGS when I write those versions, and I may end up porting the
changes back to the Apple IIGS, too. If so, that would give us a language that is
source compatible on all three platforms. (Toolbox calls would, of course, be

I do have very specific plans that go beyond the Macintosh release of the general
purpose language, but those are far enough in the future that I'd rather not get
into them.


Have you ever thought of doing any ports for any of the following to the Apple II
computers; Tex, Java, C++, GhostWriter (or any others) and/or do you know if any
other folks - thinking about such ports or working on such currently?

No, not seriously, and yes, respectively. The only way Java makes sense is in
combination with a web browser. I'd be interested in doing the language, and even
in doing HTML, but not the communications modules. With a browser now out, I
don't see myself working on these languages. (I'm not opposed to it, I just don't
see a likely scenario that would cause it to happen.)

I wanted to do C++ for years, and came close to starting one about the time I
hooked up with Roger Wagner to do Logo for him. At this point, I just don't see
it happening. If I sell more copies of GSoft than I expect, I might do a GSoft
compatible compiler, though. If that sold well, and I had some market for C++
outside of the Apple IIGS, I might consider doing an ORCA/C++. That's a long
shot, though.

What do you think about the use of the Mac and the IIgs together for enhancements
and cross-platform needs with each other?

As little as possible.

I don't think the Macintosh based cross development tools are as good as the
Apple IIGS tools--although they are faster. The market for cross platform tools
is nonexistent, so the cross development tools will not improve.

Cross developing from the Apple IIGS to the Macintosh would be silly. Fun,
entertaining and humorous, yes... but ultimately silly.

In your long experiences with both of the Apple computer platforms - Mac and
Apple II models - What might some developers consider for future needs to make
both Apple computer platforms more opened and useful with each others needs?

I don't see a big enough need for tools that don't already exist for me to
seriously expect anything new here. (I'm not including emulators in this
category, by the way--just cross-platform solutions.)

What are your thoughts in general - that you are able to relate - concerning all
of the recent interest and development with the Apple IIgs emulators; Gus, Bernie
][ the Rescue, and XGS?

I've looked briefly at Bernie and XGS. I haven't played with Rescue. Gus is so
good that, frankly, I use it for all of my software development.

Gus does have flaws. There is no support for serial ports or AppleTalk, and
printing is almost nonexistent. It doesn't support sound well at all. Still, if
you're writing compilers and interpreters, those are not critical issues. They
don't bother me at all.

Have you had any experience with the new Apple IIe clone 'The Tiger Learning
Computer (TLC) from Tiger Electronics and if so, what are your thoughts and
suggestions concerning it?

I've never even seen one. I was surprised it ever happened. To me, the only Apple
II clone that would make much sense would be a palm top, and even that would have
to be cheap.

A palm top running AppleWorks with a serial interface and translation programs to
move the files to Macintosh and Windows programs (or Macintosh and Windows
programs that would handle AppleWorks files directly) would be pretty cool,
though. If the price were right, I think it would do quite well.

What new hardware would you most like to see developed for use with any of the
Apple II computer models?

A video card capable of 600x800 pixels at 256 colors with software support so
existing toolbox programs would use it automatically.

Finally, what suggestions, tips, offerings and words of wisdom can you give to
the future programmers that will be working with the Apple II computer models in
the next several years?

Write for your own needs and for your own enjoyment. It's a great computer for
programming. But don't quit your day job for an Apple II product. (Unless, of
course, you're already making enough money to quit!)

Thank you very much Mike, for your time and efforts with this interview. I'm
sure our readers will enjoy what you had to offer, what you will continue to
offer and I'd like to arrange a future interview with you for another issue of

Please email all; corrections, complaints, additions, submissions or updates for this web site to: cturley@grin.net
Charles T. 'Dr. Tom' Turley

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