Microsoft SoftCard

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MS SoftCard.jpg
Microsoft SoftCard
Manufacturer Microsoft
Year 1980
Type Z80 Coprocessor Card
Original Price
Compatibility II, II+, IIe, IIGS

Microsoft's first hardware product was the SoftCard, a Z80 coprocessor card that allowed the CP/M operating system to be run on an Apple II. CP/M (which stands for Control Program/Microprocessors, Control Program/Monitor or Control Program for Microcomputers, depending on who you ask) was a popular OS for Intel 8080/Zilog Z80 based systems, and ran on many early microcomputers. It was written in the late 1970's by Gary Kildall, founder of Digital Research, Inc.

The SoftCard let the Apple II user tap into a large library of popular software that was only available for CP/M at the time such as Wordstar, Turbo Pascal, and dBase. Microsoft also sold several programming languages that ran under CP/M, including BASIC, COBOL, and FORTRAN.

The SoftCard did not have any memory on it, and instead used the memory installed in the Apple II. To increase the memory in the Apple II, Microsoft sold the Microsoft RAMCard, a 16K memory expansion card that was compatible with Apple's Language Card.

The SoftCard was compatible with most of the standard Apple II expansion cards, such as 80-column video cards, printer cards, serial cards, but they had to be installed in certain slots. Generally, if the Apple II configuration worked with Apple Pascal, it would work with CP/M.

The four DIP switches on the card should all be in the down (OFF) position. No other configuration is necessary. Once the card is installed in an unused expansion slot, usually slot 4 or 7, booting an Apple CP/M disk will utilize the Z80 processor on the card. CP/M version 2.2 is supplied on the system disk included with the SoftCard. Several standard CP/M file utilities are included, such as format, copy, ed, and PIP, a file & disk utility. The system disk also holds two versions of BASIC. MBASIC is Microsoft's standard BASIC for CP/M. GBASIC includes extensions to make use of the Apple II's graphics abilities. There is also a program called APDOS that copies files from Apple DOS diskettes to Apple CP/M diskettes.

Most other Z80 cards made for the Apple II were clones of the SoftCard, although there were some exceptions.

In 1982, Microsoft released a SoftCard for the Apple III, called the SoftCard III. In 1983, the SoftCard was updated to take advantage of the then new Apple IIe's additional features, such as the 80-column card, extended memory, and double-hi-res graphics. This new card was called the Premium SoftCard IIe.[1]

Resources

The documentation supplied with the SoftCard consisted of two volumes:[2]

Volume I, Part 1&2 - Introduction, Installation and Operations - Includes Registration, Warranty and Copyright information, plus an introduction to the SoftCard system and to some of the special terms used in this manual. Read the 'Installation and Operations' section before you attempt to install or use the SoftCard. It explains how to install the SoftCard and how to bring up CP/M and Microsoft BASIC. This section includes all the information you need to get started using Apple CP/M.
Volume I, Part 3 -Software and Hardware Details - Contains detailed information about Apple CP/M features, including I/O configuration and assembly language programming, and the technical specifications of the SoftCard itself.
Volume I, Part 3 - CP/M Reference Manual - Describes features and operation of the CP/M Operating System, Version 2.2, in detail.
Volume II, Part 1 - Microsoft BASIC Reference Manual - Explains all of the features of Microsoft BASIC Version 5.0 in detail. Enumerates the differences between Applesoft and Microsoft BASIC and describes the additional features of GBASIC, a version of Microsoft BASIC that includes Apple high-resolution graphics.
Volume II, Part 2 - Software Utilities Manual - Includes instructions for using the software utilities included in the SoftCard system to format disks; copy disks; convert a 16-Sector disk to 13-Sector; download programs from other CP/M systems to the Apple; transfer Apple DOS files to CP/M; configure CP/M for a 56K system; and configure I/O for your particular system and peripherals.

CP/M 2.2 System Disk supplied with the SoftCard. This is an image of a 5.25" Apple CP/M format diskette. (Use Asimov, DiskMaker, or a similar program to create a bootable disk.)

Magazine advertisements for the SoftCard:

1981 SoftCard Ad that appeared in magazines in 1980.
1983 SoftCard Ad that appeared in Byte Magazine, December 1983 issue[3]
1986 SoftCard Ad that appeared in Personal Computing, May 1986 issue[3]

Apple CP/M programs are available for download from Call A.P.P.L.E.'s Apple II CP/M Library and the Asimov Apple II FTP site.

Read more about the Softcard on Steven Weyhrich's excellent Apple II History site.

Paul Schlyter has Apple II CP/M and General CP/M references, as well as links to other CP/M resources on his Apple II Stuff page.

More Apple CP/M information is on John Baker's Everything you wanted to know about Apple CP/M but were afraid to ask pages.

References

  1. PC Magazine, The Secret History of Microsoft Hardware] (Retrieved 12-Sep-2012)
  2. Manuals provided by Paul R. Santa-Maria
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ad from 'Attached' Vintage Computer Advertisements site
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