Suburban Chicago Newspapers 4/25/01

This article by Donna DeFalco was published in the Fox Valley Villages section of the online Suburban Chicago Newspapers web site on 4/25/01. The Online Managing Editor, Gregory T. Matthews, has graciously allowed me to reproduce it here. The article describes an Apple II user group in Illinois that still meets and shares information about how they use their Apple II computers.

Back to basics

Pioneer Apple computers still hold appeal for members of area club

By Donna DeFalco, STAFF WRITER

For more information about the group, visit Membership is $20 per year per family and is open to anyone interested in the Apple II computer.

They’re a hard-core group of users — Apple IIe users, that is.

In this age of ever-faster computers with increasing gigabytes of memory, youngsters might not remember the days of the 5 1/4-inch floppy disk.

But the 25 members of the Aurora Area Apple Core hold those memories near and dear to their hearts, right next to the keyboard, mouse, floppies, central processing unit and assorted software.

Club members from throughout the suburbs attend the meetings. The group meets at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month in the basement of the former Suburban Bank Building, at 900 N. Lake St. in Aurora. The knotty pine paneling, linoleum floor and ironwork plant holder, reminiscent of the 1950s, is a perfect backdrop for a group dedicated to nostalgic computing.

Unlike some for whom nostalgia just fades away, this group is dedicated to using the Apple IIe and Apple IIgs, home computers created in the 1980s. Howard Katz of Batavia, a member for 10 years, is director of the Lost Classics project, which seeks to turn formerly copyrighted software into “freeware” for Apple owners to use.

“I go through the steps of actually finding the copyright,” Katz said.

After he receives permission from the copyright holder, the software can be legally uploaded to file transfer protocol sites. A list of companies from which freeware can be downloaded is listed on the Lost Classics Web site, at

Rory McMahon, 35, a St. Charles resident, remembers taking Apple IIe classes in high school.

“I’m into retro computing,” McMahon said. “I enjoy the classic machines. They seem to have more personality. It’s fun to find nuances you haven’t found before.”

Frank Bihlmayer, 73, is a longtime member from St. Charles.

“The Apple is what gave birth to the Mac (Macintosh computer),” Bihlmayer said.

At a recent evening meeting, Bihlmayer gave a demonstration of a program called Print Shop, an early desktop publishing program. On an Apple IIgs, commands to move forward, backward or preview appeared at the bottom of the 13-inch monitor rather than in the pulldown menu of today’s Windows applications.

Print Shop, used to design signs and make cards, features 90 color graphics that can be inserted into the documents.

“It’s an excellent program,” Bihlmayer said after a message alerted him that the printer wasn’t hooked up. “It doesn’t tell you if you’ve done good, only if you’ve done bad.”

Bill Swiss, 77, of Oswego is the editor of the club’s newsletter and is a longtime Apple owner. He bought his first Apple IIe in 1985 and joined the club in 1988 as one of the first members. To demonstrate what Print Shop can do, he held up a sign bordered with green tyrannosaurus rex and blue triceratops dinosaurs that says, “Don’t be a dinosaur.” Using a dot-matrix printer, the sign appeared on paper with tear-off sprocket holes.

Apple computer users are far from extinct, club members said.

“There’s a guy in Germany who came out with an ethernet card for the Apple IIe. Hard-drive systems are being made,” Katz said of the primitive machines that when introduced had no internal data storage capacity.

The group’s newsletter is designed on an Apple IIgs, and both Katz and club President Fred Kraus cruise the World Wide Web using a text-based browser.

“I don’t have to wait for graphics to load,” said Kraus, a 42-year-old Buffalo Grove resident. “I don’t have the flashing messages. I go to ABC News. I don’t want to see the pictures — I want to read the news.”

Katz said the club’s Web site is designed for both text and graphics.

“The trick is to design it for the most number of users,” he said.

The chances of picking up a computer virus are reduced by using a text-based product, Kraus said.

Bihlmayer said the Apple IIe was “the” machine of its day. A group of Caterpillar employees started the club, which in its heyday had about 100 members.

Today, the Apple hobbyists — who Katz comprise the last all-Apple II user group in Chicago — share software and solutions to problems they have with their computers.

“We are using a computer platform that has not been produced for over 15 years,” Katz said. “There are still a lot of people out there who are using it. They pick it up from a garage sale, but they don’t know how to use it.”

Kraus added: “That’s why the users groups were formed. It’s lower tech from the IBMs of today, but you can fix it.”

“Today you’re not buying a computer,” Katz quipped. “You’re buying a toaster.”


Reprinted by arrangement with

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