Seeking reverse-engineers - Apple II VisiCalc

Jeff Walther trag at
Thu Jan 29 16:25:36 CST 2009

>Date: Thu, 29 Jan 2009 09:07:20 -0600
>From: John Foust <jfoust at>
>Subject: Re: Seeking reverse-engineers - Apple II VisiCalc

>     At 01:00 PM 1/28/2009, Tim McNerney wrote:
>>     >I am looking for volunteers to help reverse-engineer and document
>> Apple II VisiCalc.
>>     >I have three versions of the Apple II software.  I know one of them
>> still boots (1983?)
>>     >and have some confidence that the other two versions (1979 and
>> 1981) work too.
>>     >I have been in contact with both Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin.
>>     >Of course you ask, well then why do you need volunteers?
>>     >The answer is because no one can find the sources.
>     No matter how many times I hear stories like this, or lived through
>     stories like this, I still shake my head and can't understand how the
>     source code gets lost.  All these corporations, all the lawsuits, all
>     the programmers, all the marketing money, and so often no one, NO ONE,
>     preserves arguably the most important bits.

What I find particularly irritating, is that the loss of the source code,
arguably, defeats the implicit reason that copyright and patent protection
exists in the first place.   The U.S. constitution states:

"To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for
limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their
respective writings and discoveries;"

Now one could argue that securing the exclusive rights promotes progress
all by itself.  But the fact that it is meant to be for a limited time,
implies to me that at some point the full benefit of that advancement
should become available to everybody.   If no copy of the source code is
required to be filed with the government, then the copyright and/or patent
laws are not securing the benefits of that progress for society at the end
of the exclusive period.

Patents have become similarly lame.  Chips get patented with no
description language at any level required to be filed.   Sigh.

Bad congress.  Bad bad congress.  No cookie.

Jeff Walther

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