Before affordable floppy disk drives were introduced, cassette tapes were the most commonly used media to store programs and data on early personal computers. While inexpensive, most cassette tape drives were slow (no random access) and sometimes a near masochistic hassle to use.
Some early Apple II users (like me) may recall tweaking their tape recorder volume and tone settings and then using a marker pen, a drop of glue or whiteout to “mark” the optimal settings… a hard lesson learned after someone else twiddled with them (in my case, it was my cousin making his ultimate Styx mix tape). The resulting inopportune load or save failure and re-tweaking could induce unparalleled frustration. Then there were those incidents, when you’d lose track of the tape counter and accidentally overwrite previously recorded programs or data. Whoops.
Fortunately for Apple II users, the cassette era was relatively (and mercifully) short. The Apple Disk II floppy drive introduced in July, 1978 was an instant success and within two years, demand for programs on cassette had all but disappeared. Floppy disks had quickly become the new standard for larger, more capable applications. There was also the desire of some publishers to copy-protect their software which also factored somewhat into their hasty withdrawal from cassette tape. Even though deck to deck recording was rampant, it was nothing like the level of floppy disk piracy which would occur later on.
The era of the affordable disk drive became the harbinger of good times for the Apple II and personal computing in general. The cassette tape belonged to the faded genre of the hobbyist and early adopter, whereas the floppy drive made the personal computer even more accessible and convenient to business, education and the home user. Progress.
Having said all that, you would probably think I was being overly critical of the lowly cassette tape and would be happy to never see another one ever again. Not so fast (literally, no pun intended there), but that’s not the case at all. Cassette tapes were the standard storage medium by which the earliest personal computers were made viable, for without it, users would have been stuck with inferior technologies, ie. paper tape drives, streaming wafer drives, reel to reel tape decks or some other even more complicated or expensive technology. If anything, cassette tape deserves credit for helping make early personal computers affordable and practical. So, when I feel nostalgic about the Apple II, I get equally nostalgic about cassettes.
Which brings us to Antoine Vignau of Brutal Deluxe. Antoine recently began collecting and documenting cassettes from the early Apple years and has amassed quite an impressive collection. The cassette archive has just reached 333 titles with more being added as they become available from other members in the Apple II Community.
Some of the titles are unique to tape, having never been transferred to or made commercially available on disk. The preservation of these rare titles is certainly a worthy and commendable effort. Antoine’s hard work and the generosity of those who have contributed tapes to the project are greatly appreciated.
A number of the tapes have even been recorded into audio files, and can be used with a real Apple II or supporting emulator (such as Virtual II). I’ve tried a few, and found it easier and much less cantankerous than dealing with a real tape. I was able enjoy the nostalgia without too much of the hassle.
I encourage anyone who hasn’t done so, to check out the Brutal Deluxe site and explore this fascinating glimpse into Apple history.