KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s rare we hear the term personal computer anymore. Yet personal is the only word to begin to understand KansasFest and a small but feisty community of preservationists who love the Apple II line of computers.
The 28th fest concluded Saturday and within the event’s first hour, attendees were already making plans to attend next year, the 40th birthday of the Apple II.
Acceptance via Apple II
“I am not a single-minded person, but I would say Apple is practically my religion,” says Brian Wiser, an author, producer and member of Call-A.P.P.L.E, one of the oldest surviving Apple user groups. “It has changed my life in so many ways and done so much for me.”
Wiser did not have to worry about his sentiments being seen as hyperbole. He was sitting with friends who listened, understood and even nodded.
Apple saw its mission as to put a computer in every home and the Apple II was the brand’s first to make bold inroads. It was Apple’s moneymaker from 1977 to 1993. For many, it was their first encounter with a computer and, like a first crush or first car, it reboots some very heartfelt feelings.
But the story is even more personal and unique to many of the 83 who attended the five-day conference at Rockhurst University.
Whether bullied because of social awkwardness, intelligence or sexuality, some see the Apple II as a vehicle that got them through a difficult youth. And at KansasFest, men and women, gay, straight and transgendered, and liberals and conservatives not only mixed comfortably but with great affection for one another because of the bonds developed over this computer.
The tech community is often viewed as a bro culture. Yet one of the most respected hackers and coders at KansasFest is a woman. Quinn Dunki, an engineer for gaming company Scopely and coding goddess according to one tech blog, spent much of the week tearing apart a Bulgarian model Apple II just to see what secrets it would reveal.
“One of the great things about KansasFest is getting to meet some of your heroes, like Quinn,” says Martin Haye. “It’s very inspiring to be here.”
Many credit the Apple II computers with steering them toward a career in computer science or some other field. At the conference, there were programmers, game developers, physicians, graphic designers and engineers to name a few of the professions represented.
Mention the movie, Jobs, Aaron’s Sorkin’s much-maligned biopic of Apple’s visionary and mercurial co-founder Steve Jobs, and you’ll get an earful. Fest attendees were especially livid by how Sorkin portrayed co-founder Steve Wozniak, the mastermind behind the Apple II.
Here at KansasFest, there is great respect for Jobs, but a higher reverence seems reserved for the Woz.
Enter the Macintosh …
To understand the meat of the word ‘personal’ with this computer group, mention another word – Mac. It was the Macintosh that eventually phased out the Apple II, and this still has some hackers hacked off.
Apple made money with the II series, but invested the profits into creating the Macintosh. The Apple II was an open system that allowed, even invited, people to design programs and hardware for the machine. The Macintosh closed the architecture, which meant Apple’s more industrious fans could not program for it (Apple opened things back up again with creation of the App Store, which allowed third-parties to develop software, especially for iOS).
… and the beginning of KansasFest
Apple phased out the Apple II series, but it did not die. Even before the final production run, KansasFest began as a developer’s conference so that enthusiasts could share software and hacks.
“This came together because people felt abandoned,” says KansasFest board member Steven Weyrich. “All of these people have a deep commitment to the II.”
Attendance dwindled to as low as 26 one year but has been steadily climbing. A younger generation is intrigued by the Apple II, Weyrich says, and is now contributing programs and various work-arounds to give the Apple II some 21st-century computing powers.
There is a quarterly magazine just for the Apple II called Juiced.GS (The GS is an homage to the beloved Apple IIGS). It has been in print — yes, print — for 21 years and reports on everything from coding and hardware to meet-up events.
KansasFest is just one of a handful of Apple II events around the world. Next month, there will be a festival in France. Australia, with one of the most active Apple II communities in the world, hosts a series of meet-ups called WOzFest.
All of this is meant to keep its users informed and able to maintain the life of the machines. After all, you can’t just bring one of these things to the Apple Store Genius Bar.