Today in Apple history: Card lets users run Apple II software on Macs

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Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 10.05.54
Running Apple II programs on your Mac was pretty darn awesome.
Photo: Microwavemont/YouTube

March1 March 1, 1991: Apple introduces the Apple IIe Card, a $199 peripheral that lets users turn Macs into fully functioning Apple IIe computers.

The ability to emulate the popular Apple IIe computer on a Mac brings Apple’s two operating systems side by side for the first time. It’s not quite the equivalent of Apple letting you run iOS on a Mac today, but it’s not a world away, either.

Aiding the transition from Apple II to Mac

By the early 1990s, it was clear that the Apple II was on its last legs. The product line had been running since 1977, with various updates along the way. The plan had always been to eventually phase out the Apple II in favor of the Macintosh, but the Mac initially suffered disappointing sales. It also took several iterations for the Mac to truly find its feet, while the Apple II benefitted from being a mature product at that point.

In 1991, the 1983-era Apple IIe could still be found in many schools, a market Apple traditionally excelled in. Letting Mac users emulate the Apple IIe meant schools that had invested in Apple II software wouldn’t be throwing away all that money while switching to Mac.

The strategy seemed to work because, just two years later, Apple made a big splash in the educational market with the Macintosh LC 520, which became a part of many 1990s schools.

The Apple IIe Card boasted a 65C02 processor, 256K memory and a port for supporting a 5 1/4-inch Apple II floppy drive and joystick. The emulator software shipped on a 3.5-inch floppy disk, allowing the Mac to run Apple II software from inside Mac OS — although you couldn’t multitask between Mac apps and Apple II programs.

The Apple IIe Card ran on the Mac LC, Color Classic and early Performa models, and with Mac System 6.0.8 through 7.5.5, which was the final version to support a 24-bit mode.

Apple discontinued the peripheral in May 1995, two years after the final Apple II debuted. Still, the Apple IIe Card achieved its purpose: It squeezed a couple more years of life out of the Apple II, and eased the transition from Apple II to Macintosh for customers still clinging to the past.

Do you remember Apple II emulation on the Mac? Leave your comments below.