The magazine Softalk tracked sales of Apple II software during it years of publication from 1980 to 1984. This information was tabulated in a monthly column, “Softalk Presents The Best Sellers”, which included a “Top Thirty” list, as well as top selling programs in several specific categories. Further, in April of each year (1981 through 1984) they presented a list of the top new programs for the previous year, as voted by Softalk readers. For the monthly compilations they contacted a sample of Apple-authorized retails stores throughout the country, and asked the store managers what programs were doing well and how many copies they were selling. This gave somewhat more useful information than what could be learned from contacting the software companies themselves; they would only be likely to know how many copies of a program were shipped, and not necessarily be relied upon to tell how many were returned unsold. Softalk used a formula that created an index number for each program, determining its position on the Top Thirty list. The index number also gave an indication of the relative strength of each program’s sales.
Another service provided by Softalk each month, beginning in the May 1982 issue, was a column called “Fastalk”. Here were listed new program releases, as well as other older Apple II programs that continued to enjoy popularity and good sales. The introduction for the column stated the following: “Fastalk is a quick guide to popular, specialized, new, and classic software. When you need a particular kind of program or just want to see what’s new, Fastalk is the place to look for fast answers.” They listed new programs with a check mark, and if it failed to gain popularity, it was dropped after three months. A “bullet” marked program titles that Softalk magazine designated as a classic, “based on its ability to stand up over time, its significance for its time (breaking new ground, or introducing a new genre), or its archetypical qualities.” They went on to mention that some programs listed in “Fastalk” were included simply because they met a need that no other software package could, even if they were not high volume sellers.
In trying to create a compendium of the best Apple II software over the years, I have relied heavily on the Softalk best seller list and their “Fastalk” column for the years 1980 through 1983, years for which the annual Top Thirty lists are available. I have reproduced the annual lists for 1978-80, 1981, 1982, and 1983, both the Top Thirty and the specific lists for each category. When a program was also listed in “Fastalk” as a classic, or if I felt it was a unique program, I have included Softalk‘s capsule description in quotes with the program entry. If I have comments of my own, they are included without quotes.
After Softalk ceased publication late in 1984, no other magazine made the same effort to keep track of such information. Consequently, the lists of software programs for the years 1984 through 1992 are not going to reflect as accurately their popularity in terms of actual sales. Rather, I had to review available copies of magazines of the time, find what programs were being advertised, and list them. Also, if there was any program that I know has done particularly well over the years, I have tried to find out when it was first released and include it as well. Some of these programs may have additional information available listed with them that I have learned, either through my research or from personal experience. For the sake of continuity, I elected to keep the same category names as were used by Softalk, although I have included “Productivity” with “Business”, “Hypermedia” with “Educational” (originally called “Home Education” in Softalk), and “Desktop Publishing” with “Word Processing”. The category “Home/Hobby” eventually changed to “Home” and “Utilities” in the magazine, and I have made it into “Utilities/Programming”. Probably there are better organized methods that could be used today, but this one worked for my purposes.
There are several programs that were designated in “Fastalk” as classics, but failed to make the annual Top Thirty lists. I have included a description of these separately, just before the first Top Thirty list. Here I have also described the meaning of each category title. The descriptions in quotes are directly from Softalk; the ones not in quotes are mine.
Starting with the discontinuation of the Apple IIe in late 1993, it became increasingly difficult to find paper magazines about the Apple II, and thus information about available new software and hardware for the Apple II. Three printed magazines survived the failure of inCider/A+ magazine in 1993. These three (II Alive, GS+ Magazine, and Juiced.GS) tried to take the place of the glossy newsstand magazines, but the declining market for Apple II products (both production and sales) resulted in fewer companies available to purchase advertising space in a print publication. This resulted in increased expenses for production of a magazine, and ultimately the near extinction of printed Apple II publications. First II Alive, and then GS+ Magazine stopped publication. Juiced.GS managed to survive on a subscription basis, without being dependent on advertising revenue. A reduced cost of production compared to a glossy magazine, plus a loyal connected online community, likely contributed to its longevity.
For many years, the amount of information that I could include in this part of the History about software from 1993 onward was miniscule. This is not because nothing was happening; it had much more to do with my absence from the Apple II community and simply not being aware of what activity was still ongoing amongst hardware and software developers. Finally, I re-entered the online Apple II world, and in 2002 began an intensive review of the most easily obtainable periodical: GEnieLamp A2 and The Lamp! These digital newsletters run from April 1992 through the present, and provide a useful monthly snapshot of the online world during these years. Almost everything of significance happening with the Apple II in the past ten years is chronicled within the 67 issues of GEnieLamp A2 and the 60+ issues of The Lamp!
For the years 1992 and onward, much of the information provided here is going to be heavily dependent on information provided in these newsletters. If/when software information comes to light from other sources, I will add this in as well.