12-The Apple II Abroad / Clones



In Apple Computer’s early days, the company was doing its best to keep orders for the Apple II going out in the United States, without the additional problem of trying to service the foreign market. However, there was a demand outside of the U.S. for the Apple II. To make the Apple II function in many of the countries outside of the U.S., it was necessary to consider not only the obvious differences in language, but also the differences in electric line voltage and television standards. Many other countries use 220 volts AC at 50 Hz, instead of the 110 – 120 volts, 60 Hz AC standard in the United States. The video standard in the United States is “NTSC”, which stands for “National Television System Committee”, and was devised in 1953 for broadcast television. While there are many countries in the world that follow this standard, many others chose to go with a different standard, called PAL (“Phase Alternation by Line”), and some use a third method, SECAM (“Systeme Electronique Couleur Avec Memoire”). [1]

ITT 2020

ITT 2020
ITT 2020 – Photo credit: Yves de Ryckel

The earliest effort made by Apple to sell the Apple II in Europe was to license the technology to a British company, ITT Consumer Products. The agreement made authorized this company to build what would today be called a “clone” of the Apple II. It was sold under the name “ITT 2020”, and the finished product was available for sale in 1979, not long before the Apple II Plus was released in the United States. It was not on the market for a very long time, as the Apple II Europlus, Apple’s official European Apple II, came out soon afterwards.

ITT built their Apple II in ways that differed more than just how it handled the different voltage and video standards. One change they made involved the hi-res graphics. Unlike the standard 192 lines of 280 dots each, the engineers that created the ITT 2020 had hacked in a ninth bit (in an extra 4K of RAM on the motherboard) to create a 192 lines by 360 dots each in the hi-res graphics display. It did not allow for any additional colors, but  made for some slightly better quality graphics, and made it more compatible with the PAL video signals. However, this different hi-res graphics arrangement caused significant compatibility problems with standard Apple II software that used the hi-res screen, specifically the appearance of blank “tram lines” (railroad tracks) on the screen where the extra bits were unused by the standard software.[2]

ITT 2020, later revision
ITT 2020, later revision – Photo credit: Yves de Ryckel

The ITT 2020 system Monitor program was the “Old” or Standard Monitor ROM, which meant that RESET had to be pressed after startup, as on the original Apple II Integer BASIC model. In the models that had floating point BASIC, Applesoft was replaced by a modified BASIC called “Palsoft”, which included the code to handle the different hi-res graphics mode. Other changes in Palsoft included correcting some known bugs in Applesoft. One, the ONERR bug, was well known, and Apple had an officially approved patch that could be used to avoid this problem. However, if a program used Apple’s patch, it would crash when running on an ITT 2020, since it was trying to fix an already fixed bug. Another cause of crashes came from programs that made calls directly into the Applesoft code space. Since Palsoft had been modified and recompiled, the entry points were not the same, and which made machine language access to Palsoft much more difficult. To avoid these software problems, it was not uncommon for an ITT 2020 user to perform a ROM transplant, and put genuine Apple II Plus ROMs into the computer, making it a true Applesoft/Autostart Monitor computer.[3]

ITT COLOUR DEMO cassette – Photo credit: Philip Lord

On the hardware side, there were timing differences on the ITT 2020 motherboard, due to the 50 Hz frequency used with the 220 VAC power standards in the UK and Europe. Because of this, certain peripheral cards (especially disk drives) had problems with proper operation. To avoid this problem with disks, there was an ITT-specific disk controller and disk drive sold for this computer, one that did not have the timing problem. However, this disk controller worked only with the older 13 sector DOS 3.2, and the chips were the wrong size to allow the DOS 3.3 conversion package to work when it became available. Attaching an ITT disk drive to an Apple-brand disk controller card would work with some drives, and with others it was necessary to make a timing adjustment on the drive. Many users chose to make more modifications to the motherboard to fix the timing problems and to allow them to use more standard Apple II peripherals.[4]

ITT included a copy of the 2020 Reference Manual with the ITT 2020. This book, with a bronze colored cover, was simply a copy of the Red Book reference manual, edited (not too cleanly) to remove the name “Apple” and replace it with “ITT” when possible. The typeface was different than in the original, and not all references were caught and changed when this book was produced. [5]

Microsense Computer Limited was the company that distributed the ITT 2020 and other Apple products in the United Kingdom. In 1981, Apple Computer acquired Microsense Computers Limited for $3.5 million. Apple Computer UK was formed from this acquisition, and continued to sell Apple products. The ITT 2020 was then officially replaced by the Apple II Europlus, which was sold until 1983, when the Apple IIe was introduced.


Apple II Europlus name plate – Photo credit: Gerard Putter

When Apple was able to better address the overseas market, engineers created a modified Apple II Plus, and sold it in Europe as the Europlus. As with the ITT 2020, the power had to be adjusted to work with 50 Hz, 220 volt AC power. The video circuitry required modification to function with the PAL standard in Europe. Video was a challenge because Wozniak had used a trick with the NTSC signal that made it possible to display color on the Apple II. This trick did not work with the PAL standard, and so even with a circuit adjustment on the motherboard, output from the built-in video output connector could only produce a monochrome PAL signal. In order to get color, a video card was needed in slot 7 to produce the correct PAL-compatible signal. In fact, slot 7 was reserved exclusively for the use of this PAL video card.

With the various languages in Europe, Apple also had to make adjustments in the character generator ROM to display the various diacritical marks or accents on letters. The Monitor ROM code also had to be adjusted on each regional model to make it possible to display these various characters. For example, ESC key sequences could generate the German umlaut symbol to go with certain vowels (such as ä or ü).[6]


Apple II j-Plus name tag
Apple II j-Plus name tag – Photo credit: Philip Lord

In July 1980, Apple also released a version of the Apple II Plus specifically for the Japanese market. Called the Apple II j-Plus, this model presented some different challenges for Apple engineers. In Japan, power is supplied as 100 volts AC, and then has different frequencies (60 Hz in the west, 50 Hz in the east). As with the Europlus, a change was necessary to accommodate these voltage and frequency options.

Engineers also worked to make allowance for the Japanese katakana character set to be displayed. They made use of some addresses in the soft-switch section of memory (between $C000 and $C0FF) that were specific for the annunciators. (These was an infrequently used capability of the Apple II that made it possible to control some real world devices with simple “on” and “off” commands, using connections attached directly to the correct pins on the game port.) The address $C05C was used in the American Apple II to set annunciator 2 to “0”, and $C05D was used to set annunciator 2 to “1”. Since only specialized applications actually made use of these annunciators, sacrificing these addresses for the sake of switching character sets in and out was a small price to pay.

Apple II j-Plus keyboard – Photo credit: Philip Lord

To type in katakana, the user would access $C05C by typing the BASIC command “POKE –16292,0” from the command line. This would activate the katakana character set, and then pressing Ctrl-T on the keyboard would toggle between Roman and katakana characters. The address to turn this off was $C05D, accessed by typing the BASIC command “POKE –16291,0”. This deactivated katakana typing, and turned on inverse Roman text. Ctrl-T would then toggle between inverse and regular text.

To use katakana characters in a BASIC program, it was first necessary to type “POKE –16292,0” at the command line turn on katakana, and then press Ctrl-T to go switch back to normal English characters.  Type “20 PRINT “, followed by a double quote, then Ctrl-T to switch back to katakana. The desired characters could then be entered. When done, press Ctrl-T again to go back to English, type the closing double quote, and then press RETURN.

Notice on the photo of the keyboard that with only one exception, the keys that had two characters on them on the American keyboard, normal and shifted, also had two katakana characters on them. The one exception is the letter “M”, which has two katakana characters.[7]


When the IIe was released, other modifications were made. The German version was built with an external switch below the keyboard, allowing the user to change between a standard U.S. layout and a German layout. (American versions of the IIe lacked the switch, but had a place on the motherboard that could be modified to allow a Dvorak keyboard layout to be switched in instead of the standard keyboard). The IIe auxiliary slot, which was placed in line with the old slot 0 on American versions (but moved forward on the motherboard) was placed in front of slot 3 on German versions, to accommodate the PAL video circuitry. Because the 80-column firmware was mapped to slot 3, if an 80-column card was installed in the auxiliary slot it was not possible to use any other card in slot 3. Versions of the IIe made for other European countries had similar modifications to account for regional differences.[8],[9]

When The Apple IIc came along, it was designed from the start to take the foreign market into account. As mentioned previously, the U.S. version of the IIc had a standard layout when the keyboard switch was up, mapped into a Dvorak layout when the switch was down. European versions were similar to the American layout with the switch up, and had regional versions that could be swapped in with the switch down. The British version only substituted the British pound sign for the American pound sign on the “3” key, but the French, German, Italian, and Spanish versions had several different symbols available. A Canadian version of the IIc was the same as the American with the switch up, and had some other special symbols with the switch down. This version was unique because each keycap had the symbols for both switched versions. For example, the “3” key had the “3” and “#” symbols, plus the British pound symbol, making it a bit more crowded than a typical keycap.

The Apple IIGS continued the practice of making international versions available, but improved on the design by making the various keyboard layouts all built-in. On the IIGS it was selectable via the control panel, as was the screen display of the special characters for each type of keyboard.


As mentioned above, the tremendous success of the Apple II in the United States created a demand for this computer elsewhere in the world. Steve Wozniak’s hacker ethic and desire to share knowledge resulted in a significant amount of information about this computer being released to the world. In the original Apple II Reference Manual, even as far back as the Red Book, it included schematic diagrams of the motherboard, technical information about timing, connector description and voltages, it even included a source code listing of the Monitor ROM code. Naturally, the intended purpose of this was to make it easy for programmers to do anything they wanted to do with the Apple II, and for companies or individuals wanting to make peripherals for it to have all the technical information they needed.

Unfortunately, what this accomplished was also putting tools into the hands of competitors overseas who decided it was easier to create and sell their own version of the Apple II than to send money to Apple in America to get the genuine article. With American patent and copyright laws extending only to the borders of the United States, there was often little that Apple could do about clone makers.

There were as many as two hundred clones of the Apple II that appeared over the years of its popularity, from countries all over the world.[10]Only two were created with permission of Apple (the ITT 2020 and the Bell & Howell Apple II). Many of the illegal clone makers duplicated every aspect of the Apple II, changing only the label above the keyboard to include their own product name (which was often fruit-related, such as “Pear” or “Pineapple”), even going so far as to use Apple’s multicolored logo. Others made changes to accommodate local languages, or to add other features that the Apple II lacked, such as lowercase text, a numeric keypad, or possibly a detached keyboard. One country, Brazil, had laws that prohibited the import of computer equipment from other countries; in that country, the only way to get a personal computer was for a company there to create a clone.


Franklin Ace 100
Franklin Ace 100, Photo credit: old-computers.net

The Franklin Computer Corporation came on the scene in March 1982 with a computer that was the first clone of the Apple II available in the United States. The Franklin Ace 100, which retailed for $1495, was actually not just a clone of the Apple II Plus; aside from a larger-sized case, it was a complete copy, right down to the ROM code. Like the Apple II Plus, it had 48K of RAM on the motherboard, with a 16K RAM card to function like Apple’s Language Card. It had the same eight slots for peripheral cards. An improvement over the Apple II and II Plus was better keyboard with a numeric keypad and support for full upper and lowercase characters. The Ace 100 had a modified character generator ROM to display these extra characters. Franklin did not include support for cassette storage, and made use of the space used by the cassette input and output routines for code to manage upper and lowercase text entry. The only real incompatibilities with existing Apple II software had to do with programs that did not know how to deal with lowercase characters or used a different method to create lowercase.

At the time Franklin released the ACE 100, there was no law on the books prohibiting the act of copying computer code that was only available in machine-readable form (either in the ROM or on a floppy disk). Franklin sold their computers on a loophole that although Apple had patents on the Apple II hardware, it was not (yet) illegal to copyright processes, systems, or functions. In May 1982, just two months of the release of the ACE 100, Apple brought suit against Franklin for copyright violation. Initially, the district court that heard the case found in favor of Franklin.

Franklin Ace 1000
Franklin Ace 1000, Photo credit: Old-computers.net

In June 1982, Franklin updated its Apple II clone and released the Franklin Ace 1000 for a higher price of $1595. As an odd partial response to Apple’s first legal challenges, it removed a chip from the motherboard that allowed color output through the video port. However, for $50 the computer dealer could install the chip that restored color video capability. The Ace 1000 featured a larger power supply (and built-in fan), 64K of RAM on the motherboard, an improved upper and lowercase keyboard, and even included some special function keys for VisiCalc. It booted to the standard 40-column display, but included in hardware the equivalent of an 80-column card.

The next model released was the Ace 1000 Plus, which included a built-in disk controller card, and (oddly enough) added support for color video back to the motherboard. In November 1982, Franklin introduced updates to the 1000 Plus, the Ace 1100, which included a single 5.25 Apple-compatible floppy drive, and the 1200, which had dual disk drives. These models actually had disk housing built into the lid to hold the disk drives in place, making them part of the case. The ACE 1200 also offered a built-in 80-column card, an interface card with parallel and serial ports, and a Z-80 coprocessor card to allow running CP/M software. The primary problem of the disk drives being part of the lid was a tendency for the 1100 and 1200 to have problems with heat; some users found it necessary to prop their lids open to allow them to run better.[11],[12]

Franklin Ace 1200
Franklin Ace 1200, Photo credit: VintageMicros, Inc.

For an operating system, Franklin included lightly modified copies of Apple DOS, even referring to it as DOS 3.3 in its user manual. For its supporting utilities, Franklin renamed the Applesoft “COPYA” program to just “COPY”. Rather than a program called “FID” to copy files, Franklin’s program was called “FUD”. It also included Apple’s “CHAIN” (to link between program) and “BOOT13” (to allow booting 13 sector DOS 3.2 disks). Other programs on the included master disk were for running diagnostics on the computer, something Apple did not include with the Apple II Plus. Franklin’s disk also included the “INTBASIC” and “FPBASIC” files from Apple’s DOS 3.3 master disk.

To try to get around Apple’s patents, the ROM in the Ace 1000 series had just enough code to start up the disk, and then load code from the disk into memory. This put the ROM code on a disk instead of in a physical ROM on the motherboard. Likely, this was the main reason for the “FPBASIC” file on the Franklin DOS disk

After the first court ruled in favor of Franklin, Apple appealed to a higher court. In August 1983, this court found that computer code in ROM and on floppy disk could be protected under copyright, and reversed the ruling of the lower court in favor of Apple. Although the company got an injunction that allowed them to continue to sell their computers, the downturn in the tech industry that happened in 1984 had an adverse effect on their sales, and it became necessary for Franklin Computer Corporation to file for bankruptcy protection that year.[13]

Before Franklin filed for bankruptcy, the company was preparing to release a “portable” version of the Ace 1000 series, called the Franklin CX. Looking very much like the Osborne-1, the CX had a built-in green phosphor monitor, two half-height disk drives, and a keyboard. When closed up, it looked like a suitcase, and it weighed 25 pounds. The keyboard connected to the main unit with a coiled cable, much like the IBM PC. Included with the Franklin CX was to be the Franklin Office Manager, an integrated software package that offered word processing, graphic design, and a spell checker. There were four models, the CX-1, CX-2, CX-3, and CX-4, each model offering larger amounts of RAM and additional capabilities. They all had a 6502 as the main microprocessor, but the Franklin CX-3 added a Z-80 coprocessor, and the CX-4 an Intel 8086 coprocessor.[14][15]

Franklin Ace 2100
Franklin Ace 2100, upgraded to use two disk drives, Photo credit: Old-computers.net

While reorganizing to get back in business, its engineers did serious work to copy the Apple II without directly Apple’s code and design. In October 1985 Franklin emerged from bankruptcy and released two new computers, the Ace 2000 series and the ACE 500 (to compete with the Apple IIe and IIc, respectively). To run these legal clones of the Apple II, Franklin wrote its own version of DOS, calling it FDOS.

The ACE 2000 had a look that was similar to the popular IBM PC, with disk drives opening on the front of the computer, and with a detached keyboard connected with a coiled cable. As with the Ace 1000 series, there were three models in the Ace 2000 series: The ACE 2000 was sold at $699 with no disk drives, the Ace 2100 for $799.95 with a single drive, and for $949.99 the Ace 2200 came with two built-in half-height disk drives.[16] The front panel of the computer featured LED lights for disk drive activity, power, diagnostics, double-hires graphics mode, and CPU activity. It used a 65sC02a processor from GTE, which was mostly compatible with software written to use the 65c02 in the Enhanced Apple IIe or IIc, but was enough different that some software would immediately crash. The Ace 2000 series came with 128K of RAM, and an additional 256K on an expansion card (which could be expanded to 1 megabyte). This extra RAM could be used by programs like AppleWorks, and with software included with the Ace it was possible to use it as a RAM disk.[17]

On the back panel, the Ace 2000 offered two serial ports, a parallel port, and RGB video. As with the Ace 1000, there was a built-in fan for cooling. Inside, due to space constraints of the altered case design, it did not include all eight slots. Some of the functionality of slots was offered by built-in ports, and slots that were physically present were positioned in unusual ways that made them difficult to use.[18]

Franklin Ace 500
Franklin Ace 500, Photo credit: VintageMicros, Inc.

The Franklin Ace 500 was built in a similar fashion to the Apple IIc, with a built-in floppy disk drive on the right side. Like the other Franklin Ace models, the Ace 500 included a numeric keypad and programmable function key (which were used by the version of Microsoft BASIC that came with the Ace 500). It had RGB and parallel ports on the back, and came with a standard 256K of RAM, expandable to 512K. A factory-installed option was a clock/calendar chip.[19],[20],[21],[22]

Apple continued to put legal pressure on Franklin, and although the company had also released two IBM PC clones between 1986 and 1988, the company was finally forced out of the desktop computer business. After 1988, Franklin focused on its handheld computer devices, which the company had begun to release in 1986.


Video Technology, Inc. (later known as VTech) was founded in 1976 in Hong Kong by engineers Allan Wong and Stephen Leung. They wanted to use new and developing technology to build products to sell. In 1978 they released their first product, a portable electronic game built into a single integrated circuit.[23] The company continued to produce games and educational products, and by the early 1980s was working on home computers. The first one released was the Laser 100, a Z-80-based clone of Radio Shack’s TRS-80 Model I. The ROM used in the Laser 100 was almost identical to that of the Model I, and the Microsoft BASIC used in the machine was modified only slightly from that used in the TRS-80. The graphics chip was the same as the one used in the TRS-80 Color Computer.

Laser 3000
Laser 3000 – Photo credit: Bilgisayarlarim, http://bilgisayarlarim.com/VTech/Laser_3000/

By 1983, VTech had set its sights on the Apple II Plus. The company introduced the $499 Laser 3000 that year. It used a 6502A microprocessor at 2 MHz (twice as fast as a stock Apple II), and came with a full 64K of RAM, expandable to 192K, using the same method as that employed by Saturn Systems in their Apple II memory cards. The version of BASIC in ROM was not Wozniak’s Integer BASIC, nor was it Applesoft, but instead was Microsoft’s 6502 BASIC. However, use of a plug-in cartridge containing a “floating point BASIC” made the computer almost identical to an Apple II Plus.

Video output was standard composite, but also had RGB output. The Laser 3000 displayed both standard 40-column text, and via a switch on the bottom of the computer could also display 80-column text. Hi-res graphics were supported, but for some reason lo-res graphics were not. A speaker produced the usual 1-bit sound typical of the Apple II, but also had a 4-channel, 6 octave sound generator.

It supported cassette storage, but also could access floppy disks. A cartridge that plugged into the back of the computer was an MFM (modified frequency modulation) disk controller that had been modified to also do GCR (group code recording, the method that Wozniak used in the Disk II controller and drive). The Laser 3000 also had a built-in Centronics printer interface, and a port for connection of a cartridges for an RS-232 port (for modem use). Also available on a cartridge was an optional CP/M co-processor.

Software bundled with the computer included Magic Window II for word processing, Magic Memory for database, and MagiCalc for spreadsheet. [24]

In Australia and New Zealand, the Laser 3000 was sold by Dick Smith Electronics, as “The CAT”.

VTech created clones of other existing computers, including the IBM PC. As the company advanced its abilities, it decided to improve its Apple II clone, focusing on the Apple IIe. Instead of making Franklin Computer’s mistake of copying the ROM directly, engineers reverse-engineered the ROM, creating a version that had the same major entry points as the IIe ROM, but would not conflict with the ruling from Apple’s legal win over Franklin. To achieve Applesoft compatibility, the company directly licensed Microsoft’s 6502 BASIC, which was legal since Apple did not have an exclusive license for that language. (Presumably, VTech also reverse-engineered the additional entry points for the Apple II-specific code in that language, specifically the parts for management of hi-res graphics.)

Laser 128
Laser 128 – Photo credit: Blake Patterson, The Byte Cellar

VTech announced the new Laser 128 in 1984, the same year as the Apple IIc, and finally shipped it in 1985. Though it was originally planned with a different form factor, it was redesigned to look more like the Apple IIc. It had a white case, and came with a built-in 5.25-inch floppy disk drive that opened on the right side. The Laser 128 came standard with 128K of RAM, as did the Apple IIc. Because of this full memory, the computer was able to duplicate all of the video modes of the IIc, offering 40 and 80-column text, and single and double lo-res and hi-res graphics. Like the IIc, the video port supported a composite monitor, or could be used with digital video devices, such as the IIc RF Modulator or the IIc LCD screen. The Laser 128 also included support for connection of an analog 15Hz RGB monitor, such as the AppleColor RGB used on the Apple IIGS. If RGB output was used, the text font was identical to that of the IBM PC.

The MouseText characters were the same as on the Apple IIc, with the exception of Open- and Closed-triangle characters taking the place of the Open- and Closed-Apple characters. The full keyboard had keys for those triangle characters, as well as a numeric keypad and ten function keys.

The Laser 128 incorporated other ports compatible with the Apple IIc, including one for the Apple IIc mouse, and serial ports. An expansion port on the left side of the computer made it possible to plug in an actual Apple II peripheral card. This naked card could be assigned to either slot 5 or slot 7 (selected by a switch on the bottom of the computer). In the United States, FCC regulations prohibited using a card directly like this, since it was unshielded and could produce radio frequency interference. Instead, Laser sold an optional metal expansion box, connected to the expansion port via a ribbon cable. Into that box it was possible to plug in two Apple II peripheral cards, one for slot 5 and one for slot 7.[25]

Besides the internal 5.25 floppy drive, the Laser 128 had a disk port like what was on the Apple IIc. This could be used to connect a second 5.25 inch disk drive or most of the other storage devices made for the IIc. For those who wanted functionality of a 3.5 inch drive on the original (white) Laser 128, a controller card was required. There were two ways to make this happen:

  • The Laser Universal Disk Controller was introduced after release of the original Laser 128, and was integrated into later models of the Laser 128. This card did not work with the UniDisk 3.5, but did work with AppleDisk 3.5 or similar “non-smart” drives, as well as various Apple-style 5.25 disk drives.
  • The Apple II 3.5 inch Disk Controller card (SuperDrive Controller) could be attached to the expansion slot, which then did make it possible to use a UniDisk 3.5 on the Laser 128.

To provide additional storage, the Laser 128 had 64K of RAM that could be used as a RAMdisk, assigned to slot 5. However, if an expansion card was assigned to slot 5, access to this RAMdisk was disabled.

Within a year of the release of the Laser 128, an updated edition was released, this time in a platinum color.  The disk port worked more like the Smartport on the Apple IIc, and supported daisy-chaining disks to the disk port (but still did not work with the UniDisk 3.5).

Laser 128EX
Laser 128EX – Photo credit: www.1000bit.it

After release and success of the Laser 128, VTech engineers did some redesign to the product, making changes to simplify the manufacturing process and to add some features. In 1988 they released the Laser 128EX, at a retail price of $579.95. It used the 65c02 processor, and offered memory expansion to over 1 megabyte without an external RAM card. To get the extra RAM for the slot 5 RAM card, it was only necessary to add the RAM chips to whatever size was desired. Using an accelerator similar to the TransWarp, the Laser 128EX offered three speeds, 1 MHz, 2.4 MHz, and 3.6 MHz. It continued to offer serial and parallel ports, connectors for RGB or composite video, and the single expansion slot. By this time, VTech had Central Point Software (famous for its Copy II Plus disk copy utility) as a distributor in the United States.[26],[27] Also, the 128EX included built-in functionality of the Laser Universal Disk Controller, allowing several disks to be daisy chained.

A later revision, the Laser 128EX/2, was released in mid 1988 shortly before the Apple IIc Plus. Selling at $549, it offered all of the features of the Laser 128EX, but like the IIc Plus it had an internal 3.5 inch floppy disk drive. Unlike the IIc Plus, the 128EX/2 included a built-in calendar and clock chip, and populated the internal expansion RAM board with 256K. Additionally, the 128EX/2 had an onboard MIDI controller, Passport compatible, which used the Slot 7 space. It used an 8-pin DIN connector with a Y-connector, to allow connection to MIDI instruments. The addition of the MIDI hardware made it impossible to use an expansion card for slot 7, but by the time the 128EX/2 came out, the Expansion Box was simply unavailable anyway.[28]


Basis Microcomputer, GmbH, based in Münster, Germany acted as a distributor for Apple products in Europe until Apple started its own sales and distribution operation. After they were excluded from doing business with Apple, the company decided to engineer its own version of the Apple II. The result was the Basis 108, released in January 1982. Compared to other Apple II clones, the Basis 108 was more expensive; it sold in Germany for 4345 DM (about $2950 US). After Basis Microcomputer set up a subsidary operation in the United States (in Scotts Valley, California), the price for the entry-level Basis 108 was $1949, still well above the price of a genuine Apple II Plus.

Basis 108
Basis 108, Photo credit: A2Clones.com, http://www.a2clones.com/apple_clones_1/basis_108/

Like many clones of the day, the Basis 108 motherboard had both 6502 and Z-80 microprocessors, allowing access to the large library of CP/M software. It came with 64K of RAM, expandible to 128K. The case was made out of beige-painted heavy aluminum, which Basis advertised as being a better heat sink than a plastic case and also better for minimizing radio frequency interference. Video out put was NTSC and composite, but also offered RGB. It produced 40-column and 80-column text (the setting was keyboard selectable), and upper and lowercase display. Following the design model of the IBM PC, it had a detached keyboard with keys appropriate for the German language, a numeric keypad, a better arrangement of cursor controls, and fifteen programmable function keys.

Within the case was space for two front-facing Disk II or compatible drives, and the disk controller was built-in. There were six slots for Apple peripherals, and it came with RS-232 and parallel ports.

An oddity of the Basis 108 was that this Apple II clone was itself also cloned. One of the clones made in Australia was called The Medfly, named after the Mediterranean fruit fly that attacked apples (in fact, the logo on the computer showed a fly attacking a multi-colored fruit, though the fruit was not the shape of Apple’s logo). According to Basis user group newsletters, the original Medfly was not made very well, so Basis Microcomputer decided to jump in and help the company in Australia make it right, so it would not reflect badly on Basis itself. It also made some licensing money for Basis. The Medfly case was irvoy colored, and had a redesigned keyboard.

Other Basis clones included the Cal-400, the Lingo, and the Precision Echo Phase II (which was actually a rebranded Basis 108, sold after the company went out of business). [29],[30],[31],[32]


As mentioned in Chapter 6, the Bell & Howell Apple II sold in the early days of Apple was an officially licensed Apple II, almost identical to the Apple II, other than the black color of the case and disk drives. The ITT 2020 was also licensed to sell Apple II technology, though it was not entirely compatible. But two years after the Apple IIe ceased production there was another legal Apple II that nearly made it to market.

In 1995, toy manufacturer TIger Electronics contacted Apple Computer with the idea of creating a simple, inexpensive Apple II for education. The request went to Rick Spitz, Apple’s vice-president of Apple Learning Strategy. Spitz subsequently contacted Kristi Petters, the Technology Licensing Manager at Apple and asked her to work with Tiger. The function of the licensing group was to find acceptable ways to license Apple technology and bring in additional revenue. Working directly with the co-founders of Tiger Electronics, Roger Shiffman and Randy Rissman, Petters worked out the details of the device to be built, which they decided should be based on Apple IIe technology. Through a third party, she also negotiated a licensing agreement with Microsoft for the Applesoft BASIC language.

The product that was approved, the Tiger Learning Computer, was essentially an Enhanced Apple IIe, with a 65c02 processor and 128K of RAM, running off a 9-volt external power supply. It looked somewhat like a Powerbook, with a lid that tilted up. However, instead of a screen in that lid, it was just a container to hold program cartridges; it was still necessary to plug the Tiger into a television or composite monitor. On the outside of the lid and at the base of the keyboard was a label that read “Apple Technology”, with a single-color Apple logo (this was before Apple’s rainbow logo had been retired).

Video output from the Tiger Learning Computer included 40 and 80-column text, and all of the Apple IIe graphics modes (single and double hi-res and lo-res). It also could create a unique “non-Apple mode” of graphics, which was like hi-res mode but in full 16 colors. [33]

The keyboard was not as well built as with most computers, which would likely be acceptable for the target audience of elementary age children. There was a row of eleven function keys along the top of the keyboard, and the classic Open-Apple and Closed-Apple keys had the words “Player 1” and “Player 2” written on them.

There was a single speaker for standard Apple II sound (no special musical or sound capabilities were added). It had a port for a mouse, but in this case Tiger Electronics borrowed from non-Apple technology and used a PS/2 mouse. It also included a serial port for modem, printer port (with default settings for an Epson FX dot matrix), and a joystick port.

On the sides of the Tiger Learning Computer were cartridge slots. A cartridge inserted on the right was mapped to Slot 6, Drive 1, and on the left to Slot 6, Drive 2. Of the software cartridges initially created, some had two programs (or disk images) on them, which could be selected with a small slider switch on the top of the cartridge. Of, the cartridges available, most were educational, such as MECC’s Grammar Gobble and Picture Chompers, and some Stickybear titles. There was also a limited copy of AppleWorks 4.3 (which has Scantron’s name on it, as they had licensed it from Claris in 1993 and had created the update from AppleWorks 3.0). AppleWorks was crippled somewhat by an inability to save settings to the cartridge, and so these had to be re-entered each time the program was started. Also, the only program segment included was the word-processing module. The menus still showed database and spreadsheets as possible choices, but trying to create one of these would result in an error asking for the disk to be inserted. Another reason that AppleWorks was probably not a good choice was its requirement to be used on a screen that could display 80 columns. Since the Tiger Learning Computer was made to plug into a standard television, 80 columns would be unacceptably blurry.[34]

Tiger Learning Computer retail box
Tiger Learning Computer retail box – Photo credit: Kristi Petters

To store data, one of the cartridges included acted as a 128K RAM disk, which could be formatted either as DOS 3.3 or ProDOS. This would have been smaller than a standard 5.25 floppy disk, which held 140K.

On startup of the computer, it booted from a built-in ROM disk, briefly displayed the ProDOS start screen, and then changed to a graphic icon-based program selector screen. Items on that screen could be selected with the mouse, but after that the mouse was only useful with a program that expected and made use of a mouse; many Apple II programs used a joystick or the keyboard to control them, and were not necessarily mouse-friendly.

The goal for Tiger Electronics was to sell this computer for $149. It was test-marketed from Feb 1996 through April 1997 in four cities in the United States. About 16,000 units were shipped (though it is unclear how many of these actually sold). However, before the company could do a more widespread rollout, Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. One of the first things he did on his return to the company was to cancel the program that allowed licensing the Mac OS. This decision was made in March 1997, and it included licensing even old Apple II technology to outside companies. Tiger Electronics was very unhappy that they could not move forward with this project, but due to a loophole Jobs found in the contract, they had no recourse but to kill the Tiger Learning Computer.[35],[36]


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  33. [33]Rubywand, Tiger is Loose, AOL News, 1997-02-15.
  34. [34]Cavanaugh, Steve, “Tiger Learning Computer Comes To Market”, The Apple Blossom, March 1997.
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6 Comments on “12-The Apple II Abroad / Clones

  1. I don’t think the power frequency (50 or 60 Hz) would make any difference to the power supply as switchmode supplies convert the input to DC as a first step. Did Apple build the first Apple II supplies inhouse and if so are schematics available? later ones were built by Astec. I think Jameco was selling them as late as 1998 or 2000 new.

  2. Interesting article. I’ve been wondering what my machine was. When our father bought it in 1987 we were told it was an Apple //e clone and it looked identical to one – case design, case and keyboard color, etc. except that where the Apple logo is place above the keyboard that area was blank. There may have been a slight difference in the power LED cover and perhaps the Apple keys had a different design, I can’t recall. IIRC the molded area for the logo was there but there was just no logo. As a teen I looked inside and underneath the machine but found no branding of any kind so had no idea who made it. Worked just like an Apple //e though I’m not sure if it had double hi-res graphics…

    • i was a (trained)Apple II Eurplus engineer for a while, as my employer used the old Apples to control some equipment. One day a fellow engineer showed me his Apple IIE clone, which was exactly as described ny Nigel Hill, but we knew wherehe got it – from a street market in Hong Kong! It worked well for about a year, but then the keyboard failed – a number of keys stopped working. I then found that the keyboard was non-standard and used an obsolete prom chip to decode the characters – this chip wasactuallya reject of a type that had been withdrawn by the maker, and the progrmming software was also not available! My friend scrapped the clone, as the main board was also npn-standard and would not accept a standard European model.
      So beware unbranded clones!

      • I’ve heard that before, that although the clones were less expensive, they also had a greater chance of using cheap or reject parts, and that they may not have the longevity of a true Apple product.

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