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The Apple /// FAQ File V. 3.5


By David Ottalini
WAP /// SIG Co-Chairman

- with thanks to Mitchell Spector ( and Jeff Marraccini of Altair Systems (

Additions/Corrections welcome to the above e-mail address.

Version: 3.5
October, 1998


1) What is the Apple ///?
2) What are the ///'s Capabilities?
3) What About Its Built-In Features?
4) What About SOS - The ///'s Operating System?
5) Is My Apple /// Still Useful Today?
6) What Other Hardware/Software do I need?
7) What's This about SOS?
8) What is BOS3?
9) What About Emulation Mode?
10) Where do I find Information about the ///?
11) Where Can I Find Public Domain Software?
12) Are There Still Sources for Hardware and Commercial Software?
13) Where Can I Get my Apple /// Repaired?
14) What about an outboard Power Supply for the ///?
15) Are There Any Apple /// Newsletters or Magazines?
16) What about Apple /// Books?
17) What about Technical Materials?
18) What Kind of Communications Software is Available?
19) What about Modems?
20) Can the /// access the Internet?
21) What Does it Take to Surf the Internet with the ///?
22) What was the Apple /// Software Development Fund?
23) Are There Any Specific Apple /// Web Sites?
24) What's new with the ///?
25) OK - I'm Stumped - What is a SARAsaur?


The Apple /// (code name: SARA- after the daughter of one of the developers) was the first computer ever designed from the ground-up by Apple Computer as a company. It included many of the "extras" one had to buy separately for the Apple //: an 80 column card, a serial card, larger memory, etc. In addition, it came with the most advanced operating system for small computers of its day: SOS or the Sophisticated Operating System. It was so good, in fact, that Apple later based its ProDos Operating System for the Apple //e, //c and GS on SOS. The Macintosh's HFS, or Heirarchical Filing System was also based on a similar system that was part of SOS.

Design work on the Apple /// started in late 1978 under the guidance of Dr. Wendell Sander.

It was designed by committee - and no one could really decide what they wanted the /// to be. It had to be a business computer that would replace the Apple II. They agreed it would have an emulation capability, but not completely. It would have a new, more powerful operating system - which meant it was incompatible with the older Apple II software except in the stilted emulation mode. Few developers came on board to start - they were too busy working on Apple II products and Apple did little to ensure there would be new software packages to start. It had no fan and like the II, its keyboard was attached to the case. It was heavy. And Dr. Sander and his fellow developers were under orders to get it out the door quickly. This was, in total, a prescription for disaster.

The Apple /// was officially introduced at the National Computer Conference in May, 1980. Because the machine was never properly tested there were almost immediate problems when shipments of SARA started in the Fall .

Of primary concern: the chips would pop out of their sockets after only a few hours (primarily due to heat). This led to the famous "two-inch drop" where owners would pick their machine up and drop it two inches to reseat the chips. Such a short-term solution was not totally satisfactory, however, and Apple ended up replacing every main circuit ("mother") board. (In fact, Apple's policy through June, 1981 was immediate replacement - no questions asked.)

And there were other problems - a promised built-in clock/calendar chip did not work and there was very little software (people complained "I spent $4000+ and got Visicalc and a paperweight!")

The problems hurt Apple's reputation. By December, 1981 Apple "reintroduced" the Apple III -- a revamped system with all or most of the serious problems gone. But the damage had already been done. The IBM PC was introduced in August, 1981 - between the old III and the "fixed" III. And while the PC did not meet immediate acceptance, it was helped along by the ///s problems.

With the Lisa already out and the Macintosh in development, Apple was unsure what to do about the ///. The company finally decided to release an updated version, the Apple III Plus - but it did not hit dealer's shelves until December 1983. The /// Plus had a new //e-style keyboard and a few other upgrades (power supply/video interlace) and was problem-free. Yet the entire Apple /// line was discontinued only four months later! All in all, some 100,000 machines were actually built.

Here's a visual timeline graph to make things clear. Note that each notch in the graph represents two months.

|- <--------------- Apple III
|- <--------------- IBM PC
1982- <--------------- Apple III (fixed version)
|- <--------------- Lisa, Apple IIe
1984- <--------------- Apple III Plus
|- <--------------- Macintosh
|- <--------------- Apple IIc [Apple III discontinued]
|- <--------------- Mac 512



Keyboard Friendliness

1)Arranged in a strictly traditional typewriter layout.
2)Sculptured, stepped and angled keys.
3)Numeric key pad. Recognized differently from main keyboard.
4)Software definable character set. Can be used for graphics.
5)All characters used by programming languages.
6)Dedicated cursor or arrow keys.
7)Two-key method to boot a disk without powering on and off.
8)Alpha lock key. Shift locks alphabetical keys only.
9)The entire ASCII code.
10) Automatic repeat for all keys and the speed can be tripled.
11) Can print 224 distinct characters.
12) Little bumps on D, K and 5 keys for finger positioning.
13) Numeric keypad can be redefined into 12 special function keys.
14) Dvorak American simplified Keyboard available on file.
15) 128 byte type ahead buffer.
16) Many different fonts available on file.
17) Character set can be changed under program control at any time.
18) Up to 13 control keys.
19) Computer "ON" light.
20) Two system keys, Closed and Open Apple keys redefine others.
21) 73 total keys.


1)80 Column display.
2)143K internal Disk drive.
3)Interface for up to 4 disk drives.
4)RS232-C. Can be made to serve six devices with a T-switch.
5)Color: All 16 colors with 192 lines of 280 dots per line.
6)Graphics: 16 shades of green with 192 lines of 560 dots per line.
7)Sound: 64 volume settings and over seven octaves.
8)Speaker : of speech producing quality.
9)Monitor ports:RGB or any video device; NTSC 80 column monocrome.
10) Real time clock (location 3-B on mother board).
11) Two Joystick ports, A&B. Silentype printer can share port A.
12) Diagnostics in ROM.
13) Audio output: SOS Audio Driver can be rewritten to your needs.
14) Built-in security mount to prevent theft.
15) 256k RAM ability, 512k potential without strain.
16) Four expansion ports.



1)First ever written to be user friendly.
2)Data base capabilities. Hierarchical file-structure.
3)Manages ALL memory locations and I/O.
4)One disk format for ALL allows file sharing and communication.
5)Able to share files with Apple //e; c and gs ProDos systems.
6)Easily updated without hurting existing compatibilities.
7)Ability to rewrite software drivers instead of changing hardware.
8)Will locate which drive a file is in for you.
9)Error proof menu system.
10) Automatic date/time stamping of every file.
11) Any destruction of data requires confirmation.
12) Interrupt driven.
13) Device-independent I/O.
14) Stores information using all empty space.
15) Programs that request printing could continue during printing.
16) Powerful drivers for graphics, console, audio, printer and RS232.
17) Programs can run 20% faster by pressing Control-5 on keypad (no video). 18) Uses all available memory.


The Apple /// at the end of the 20th Century has become a collectors item. Despite all its problems, it remains an excellent text-based computer with software that allows it to do many basic computing chores. It still has one of the best keyboards ever made for a computer. It can do basic word processing, spread sheet work and even communications. It remains useful if you do not need a graphical-based computer system. The price is certainly right. Units that once sold for more than $4000 can today be had at very low cost. Profile drives are nearing the end of their useful life but can still be had for little or nothing. Consider they cost $1000.00 new. There is ample software available from Washington Apple Pi's public domain library and other commercial programs are sold by users on an on- going basis. As with any computing machine, the bottom line here is: Can the machine do the basic things you need it to do? For some folks at least, given the low cost of both hardware and software, the answer is still yes.


a) A second 5.25 inch disk drive. It speeds up your work considerably, makes it easier to load and save data, etc. The /// can also use the: 1.4 MB Apple II Superdrive and 800k Unidisk (using Apple // interface cards and On Three drivers) and many hard disks (Profiles and SCSI). On Three sold a Universal SCSI driver from On in 1996 that, with the proper interface card,gave /// users access to the Syquest EZ Drive and just about all SCSI-based hard drives (one notable exception is the Iomega ZIP Drive).

b) System Utilities disk. This program lets you copy files, format disks and configure your SOS.Driver file (WAP PD disk 3UTL-02).


c) /// EZ Pieces. This is an excellent integrated software program that is easy to learn and use. Its files are also compatible with the Apple // version called AppleWorks. (3APL-07)

d) Printer. The kind is up to you within certain limits. You can run a printer off of the RS232 port in the back of the /// or by using a Serial or Parallel card you plug into one of the four slots internally. To connect your serial printer to the /// you will need what is called a Null-Modem cable. Local computer dealers and national chains like Radio Shack sell them. You will also need specific device drivers you have to install in your SOS.DRIVER file using System Utilities. WAP has a disk full of /// drivers (3SYS-07). The /// can print to laserprinters (with serial ports) as well as dot matrix, but does not have access to inkjet printers (no drivers!).

e) A surge protector to prevent electrical surges from destroying your machine.


As mentioned earlier, the Apple /// uses an operating system called SOS, or Sophisticated Operating System. It is entirely ram-based. That means every time you load an application, it loads the operating system as well. You will find three files on all program disks: SOS.Kernel; SOS.Interp and SOS.Driver. The KERNEL is the operating system itself. You want to make sure you have the latest version: 1.3. You can tell what version you have when you boot up. You will see a message that tells you the version along with the Apple copyright. You can get an auto- upgrade disk from WAP - ask for disk 3SYS-01.

The INTERP file is the language the program uses or it may be the program itself. Applewriter, Basic and Pascal are examples of SOS.Interp files you will find. Finally, the DRIVER file (SOS.Driver) contains the drivers that enable the /// to talk with your printer, disk drives, modem and hard disk properly. At the minimum you will need the console driver, called ".Console" and you might find others: ".Printer" to drive your printer; ".RS232" operates the RS232 port or a serial card for telecommunications; ".Audio" lets your /// beep and play music to you; ".Grafix" is the graphics driver. There are many more. You install these using the System Configuration Program on the System Utilities disk. In most instances, you want to make sure you have the 1.3 versions of the drivers installed (WAP /// SIG SOS Drivers PD disk: 3SYS-07)


BOS3 is a wonderful upgrade to SOS, released in December, 1994. Developed by Bob Consorti, it was financed entirely by the Apple /// community (the Software Development Fund). BOS3 adds a tremendous number of capabilities to the /// with a hard disk. They include an easy to set-up and use menu system, disk caching, password protection, screen saver, macro capability to run programs with just two keystrokes and compatibility with Selector /// pathnames. Contact WAP for more information about BOS3 at 301-984-0300 or email to



Your /// can operate as-is in an emulation mode to make it think it's a 48k Apple //+ (WAP has the emulation software: Disk 3EMM-01). Titan made a ///+// card for the /// you might also be able to find - it increased memory up to 128K in //+ emulation and offered a RAM disk in native mode.

You might also be on the lookout at computer garage sales for the "Titan ///+//e" - a set of two-cards that turns your /// into a 128k //e. You'll want to add a 65c802 CPU (in place of the 6502) to ensure compatibility with newer Apple // programs (it has no effect on native mode applications). The cards offer a RAM disk in native mode as well. (WAP has a wonderful set of RAM drivers for these cards - disk 3DAD-10).



A user group is a great way to obtain more information about the Apple ///. Members are knowledgable, ready to answer questions and most offer PD (public domain) libraries with Apple /// software. There is only one User Group that still supports the Apple ///:

Washington Apple Pi
/// SIG
12022 Parklawn Drive
Rockville, MD. 20852

Check out WAP PD disks 3INF-01 through 15, as well as 3WAP01-10 for lots of Apple /// information files on disk. These include past articles from many Apple /// UG newsletters and magazines.


Apple's World Wide Web page ( offers some Apple /// services - Apple /// tech notes are available for download. There are also a number of sites around the Web that offer this FAQ and some other Apple /// Information - including one specifically about using the Apple /// to access the Internet. There is also an Apple /// discussion group for the Apple /// community. To subscribe, send a message to with the text:

subscribe apple3-l

in the body of your message.

You'll get info back at that point. Send comments or suggestions to:
(THANKS to Jeff Fritz at West Virgina Univ. for hosting this Listserve for many years.)

One other place to go is the Apple // Discussion area, a Usenet newgroup on the Internet. Check out the Comp.Sys.Apple2 board - whereApple ///ers lurk and answer questions on occasion. This FAQ is also posted there from time to time.

You can also check out Washington Apple Pi's web page at where we offer a growing list of Apple /// resources. The primary offering is a searchable FM Pro Data Base of virtually all Apple /// articles, compiled by Dave Ottalini.



WAP is your best bet for PD offerings - there are some 250+ disks. Costs for the software is minimal and the selection is excellent. There are some unique offerings along with many of the "old standbys." You will get a better deal on PD software by joining WAP.
Most disks are double-sided and self-booting. WAP is the only User Group that still supports the /// and its Public Domain Library. Software is also available on the WAP TCS - an 8 system BBS that includes a complete file download library - offering Apple /// Programs, Information and Essentials (members only). Members can also download programs from WAP's Internet site at

Here are the categories for the PD Library:

Accounting; Apple Software (formerly commercial programs); Appleworks/3EZ Pieces templates; (Dr. Al) Bloom Programs; Business Basic; Catalog; DA Datasystems Programs; Emulation, Fonts, Games, Graphics; Internet;
Miscellaneous; Pair Software; Pascal and other Languages; Repairs; Shareware; Source Code; System Software; TeleCommunications; Utilities; WAP Articles and Word Processing.


There are only a few places we can go to obtain old-line products like Visicalc, Apple Writer and /// EZ Pieces or some hardware products.

Here are some remaining places to check out:

Sun Remarketing
P.O. Box 4059
150 E. 400 N
Logan, UT 84321
1-800-821-3221(Orders only)

Sun Remarketing continues to support the Apple ///, tho its emphasis has long since moved on to the Macintosh. However, they do offer some products. They have a large selection of /// commercial software and hardware (including parts) at mostly decent prices.

Sun at one time offered nationwide service for the /// community. Call to see if they are still doing that.


I have NOT checked recently to see if the folks below still offer anything Apple /// related but they have in the past. IF you know of any other sources, let me know and we'll update this FAQ.

B&R Computer Services
PO Box 7195
San Diego, CA. 92167

B&R Computer Services in San Diego had on hand a wide range of old Apple /// commercial software at one point.

(An Apple Resource Center)
1014 Central Ave.
Tracey, CA 95376

Order Number: 800-753-0114
FAX Number
: 209-832-3270
Info Number
: 209-832-4300

A source of Pre-owned Apple II, IIgs, /// and Mac hardware. Theybuy/sell and repair.

Here are some other sources of parts you might find useful:

COMPANY/NAME: Jameco Electronics
PHONE: 415-592-8097
ADDRESS: 1355 Shoreway Road Belmont, CA. 94002


There are few (to no) sources left for repairs but be sure to call the WAP office if you're a member, since the club has experts that may be able to help you without the long-distance charges. Also ask on the Apple /// Usenet board as there are still folks who may be able to help you.

You can check these folks out to see if they still offer any Apple ///-related services:

Company: Sun Remarketing
Contact: Bob Cook
Address: P.O. Box 4059
Logan, UT. 84321

Contact: B&R Computer Services
Phone: 619-225-8281
Address: PO Box 7195
San Diego, CA. 92167



Washington Apple Pi, working with Dr. Stephen Buggie, has developed a new, cheap power supply for the ///. This is an outboard power supply, originally made for use in PCs. It works great and supplies ample power for the /// and four slots worth of cards. The cable from the new power supply snakes into the /// from the back through the Slot 1 opening. It does NOT prevent the use of a slot one card. The price is just $27.00 plus $5.00 postage to Dr. Stephen Buggie, Univ. of New Mexico, 200 College Road, Gallup, NM. 87301. It's a little clungy but it does work.


There are no publications remaining that offer Apple /// articles on a reqular basis. Washington Apple Pi's "Journal" does offer some articles on occasion. However, It's available only to WAP members. On the other hand, ALL Apple /// articles for more than 10 years are on disk and available to all. Call the WAP office at 301-984-0300 or email to for more details and costs.
On Three published an excellent magazine that came out for years. It provided a wide range of reviews (usually of its own products), beginners tutorials and a letters section. Back issues are no longer available. WAP has been reprinting some of them, however in its magazine over time.
You might also want to check out the WAP /// SIG PD Library, which has on disk the entire set of newsletters from ATUNC - the Apple /// Users of Northern California (3INF-06 through 11). There are also disks with information from TAU - the Third Apple Users Group of Wheaton, Illinois (3INF-05) and many more. Again, you can search for specific articles in magazines or newsletters at WAP's web page: The WAP library and some users still maintain sizeable collections and may be able to help you find the article you're looking for.


Only a few books were ever written about the Apple ///. There are three specific books worth mentioning:

The Osborne/Mcgraw Hill Guide To Your Apple /// is the first book on the list. The other two are by Eddie Adamis: Basic Keywords for the Apple /// and Business Basic for the Apple ///. The Guide covers only the Apple /// and not the Plus version. The author is Stanley M. Miastokowski. It's a good, beginning- level text for new /// owners and good to have for us older SARAsaurs who've had their machines around for awhile. It has a good overview of Business Basic and sections on the .Audio and .Grafix drivers that are excellent. WAP is trying to get it placed into the public domain.
The Adamis texts are straight-forward, no-nonsense books that essentially describe Business Basic version 1.1, its key words and provides examples.
The only other ///-specific book on the market at one point was "Using Apple Business Computers"by Kenniston Lord Jr. It discusses Business Basic from a number of perspectives and includes lengthly Basic programs for business users. Unfortunately, all these books are now out-of-print. But you may still be able to find them at local new or used bookstores. WAP members: All these books are available in the WAP library.


If you are a /// EZ Pieces user, you can check out any of the older AppleWorks books in most libraries, since the two programs (at least in earlier versions) shared the same file formats (Appleworks 3.0 and 4.0 can read older AW or 3EAP files, but there will be incompatibilities once those files have been worked on and saved - especially with spreadsheet and data base functions). There are also some excellent books out on Apple Writerand Visicalc - which you might be able to find at your local library or at a computer garage sale or Ham Fest.
Finally, Sun Remarketing offered a booklet at one time designed to help Apple /// users diagnose and repair their machines.


Apple produced a /// Service Manual that includes schematics, information, service tips, etc., along with a host of Technical Notes. WAP has a copy of the Service Manual and can make copies for those interested. The cost for a copy of the double-sided manual (printing + P&H) is $75.00 (the manual is huge). All the Apple /// Tech Notes are available on Apple's WWW home page -
Dave Ottalini ( has a hugh collection of Apple /// technical materials. Reprints available for postage and a donation to WAP.


There were a number of communications programs produced for the Apple /// over the years, but there are three generally considered to be the best:

a) Access /// Interp Version: An excellent assembly-language terminal program that can provide VT100 emulation. Scripts can be used to automate log-ons to Compuserve and other on-line services. It does NOT offer Xmodem protocol. It is available in the WAP /// SIG PD library as disk 3TEL-02 (which includes an excellent Apple /// communications tutorial).

b) XMODEM /// is also in the WAP PD - an excellent stand-alone telecom program that offers the user XMODEM Protocol for error-free downloads and uploads. In the WAP PD it's disk 3TEL-05. Manual is on disk.

c) The Communications Manager was aprogramfrom On Three that is no longer available commercially. It is the best /// communications program ever produced and offers a host of features, including XModem and turbo downloading capabilities. It can be run as a stand-alone program or as a Desktop Manager module.

Please see the Apple /// Communications FAQ (by Al Bloom and others) for more details about telecommunications on the Apple ///.


You can connect just about any speed modem to the ///, but the terminal programs above have settings that only go up to 9600 baud. Your best bet is to use a 2400 baud or 14,400 baud modem - they will work fine and are very inexpensive (get one at a computer garage sale or your local user group).


You bet! The /// and its communications software is definitely equal to the task of accessing an Internet host to "surf the Internet". In fact, internet access via the /// is both viable and enjoyable. The lack of graphics seldom is a barrier. The world's most popular Internet hosts are still Unix computer systems. Unix systems have traditionally integrated well into the Internet, andplenty of text- based Internet software is available on these hosts toenable your Apple /// to become a powerful Internet surfer.



In most areas of the United States, Internet host access is available for an
inexpensive monthly fee. Similar service for similar prices can be found in most places in the world. Normally called "shell" access, an Internet provider generates an account for you on their host(s). Then, using the Apple ///, a modem, and a communications program such as Access /// or The Communications Manager, you call into their host and begin using the programs above in any combination to explore the Internet. In some areaspopular systems known as FreeNets are available. These offer free,text-based access to the Internet and generally have the samecapabilities as any other Internet host. Please see the A3 Internet FAQ for more information.


Established by Washington Apple Pi, the SDF was used to fund specific software projects for the ///. Through donations and contributions from WAP and ATUNC (the now defunct Apple Three Users of Northern California), the SDF helped fund the development of a Superdrive driver and BOS3 - the first upgrade to SOS in some 10 years. Other projects to be completed was a universal SCSI driver that works with the Syquest EZ Drive and most all SCSI drives (one notable exception - the Iomega ZIP drive because of the way it was built) and a replacement outboard power supply.
The SDF (through WAP) also continues to provide encouragement and support to programmers working on Apple // projects thought to have an Apple /// application as well.


There are sites that include pictures of the Apple /// as part of a larger history of Apple Computer. Some folks also have /// sections of their web sites devoted to the ///. The best way to find them is to do a Yahoo or other search engine search under Apple ///.


*An Apple /// emulation mode for the Macintosh is apparently still being
developed. Chris Smolinski ( is heading up this project
with WAP support. He says he decided to write the emulation program because:

I thought one for the /// would be very interesting. I also hope it will help to preserve what's left of the /// "universe" by encouraging people to at least make disk images of the various programs." Watch the WAP Web page at http://www.wap.orgas well as the Apple /// listserve (see above) for the latest information.

See for yourself at :

NOTE that there has been little action on this as of the Fall of 1998.

*There was one otherproject, Bill Malcolm ( e-mailed to say:

I am going to start writing the "C'for the Apple /// soon (November, 1997): the Kernel to the C will be in assembler , based on the tiny Cwith an integrated editor. The whole thing will be an integrated development environment. I am hoping to have working alpha release done by March 1 1998.

There has been little movement on this project either, as far as we can tell.


Anyone who still loves the Apple /// as a great computer! That includes folks all over the world - from Japan to Puerto Rico, Washington DC, Detroit,the San Francisco Bay area and many places in between. We invite you to join us!

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