Last week, a Reddit user says they were browsing a Seattle Goodwill, and spotted a stack of documents with the Apple logo. What they apparently found was a trove of documents from 1979 and 1980 (uploaded here) detailing internal Apple debates about copy protection for early software products. It’s an interesting glimpse into the young company’s efforts to balance the needs of vendors and customers, and features prominent figures like Randy Wigginton, an early Apple employee later involved in developing the Macintosh.
The conversation revolves around Apple’s efforts to enter the market for business software. Wigginton writes in an August 1979 memo that to do that, the company has to have a method for preventing piracy. The project, headed by Wigginton, was dubbed SSAFE, or Software Security from Apple’s Friends and Enemies.
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In planning stages for the project, management projected that Apple could charge software developers a $500-$1,000 fee to implement protection on their programs. Preventing piracy would also encourage the development of more and better-quality software by third parties, which could in turn increase sales of Apple systems. The memos also frequently mention the problem of users altering their programs, a reminder of just how common it was for very early computer users to be hobbyists and programmers themselves.
It’s interesting is that, at least in these documents, there’s minimal concern that security measures would alienate these hobbyists and die-hards. Apple’s clear priority, even before the Macintosh, was to cater to the larger market of users who didn’t know or care exactly how their software worked.
Also pretty fascinating is how the SSAFE project sparred against Apple’s second-most-famous founder, Steve Wozniak. In a November 1979 memo, a member of the team named Joe Shelton details testing protection schemes against “Woz’s hardware assisted procedure to copy the diskettes.” He suggests that this might be a standard for measuring the project’s success:
“If only someone with Woz’s expertise can copy software protected with the current scheme, might it be protection enough?”
The remainder of the documents show continued debates about the kind of software protection that’s practical for Apple’s systems, but the archive ends before detailing much in the way of concrete results. As we know, the business challenge of software piracy has yet to be completely solved, by Apple or anyone else.