Re: Birth of the Lisa - copy protection, Lisa serial #'s, GEOS, and other computers of the era

From: Ray Arachelian <ray_at_email.domain.hidden>
Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2005 18:08:47 -0400

Nord, Al wrote:

>Considering the Apple lisa's list price was $10,000.00 it is a miracle
>as many Lisas were sold that there were. Apple had a software serial
>number prom preventing other copies of software installed on other Lisas
>from working. So each Lisa owner had to purchase a legal copy of the
>software they wanted to use.
Um, yes, but didn't LisaOS and the office tools come with the Lisa when you purchased them? Certainly
upgrades were free, but this is no different than Microsoft - except that the Office apps came free with the
machine. Of course, when Lisa became Mac XL, the included software changed.

Also, the Lisa wasn't sold at $10K for too long, they dropped the price pretty quickly, so very
few actually paid that much.

>I remember replacing logic boards and
>having to swap that prom chip so their software would continue to
That's right, the first time you inserted a "virgin" tool disk into a Lisa, it would stamp the serial # on it. You could have of course unserialized them if you read David Craig's compuserve article about where the
serial # is stored on the disk. If that PROM failed, you could have sent it to Apple for a replacement

It's funny, but the old knockoff GEOS did the same thing except that since the C64 did not have a
serial #, it randomly picked a 16 bit serial # and used that the same way.

>The 5 meg Profile HD was also a treat. Apple decided to reverse
>their software writing to hard disk to make the profile HD the only HD
>to work inside the profile. I tried other Seagate st-506 5 meg HD's in
>the profile case but was never sucessful in getting them to write the
>boot track. One company devised a way to write the boot track but they
>charged too much from what I remember.
I'm sure this is still a problem today. You need a special version of a ROM and an Apple II/III to
reformat these old beasts as the ROM in normal profile drives did not support the low level format

If I recall correctly, early Mac OS's (some 6 and 7) refused to install or boot from non-Apple branded
hard drives and CDROM drives too. Of course, these usually came with third party drivers to make
them work.

>The Mac plus also had an external
>HD20 meg drive that used the serial port on the MacPlus.
You mean the external floppy port. I have one of these somewhere in the attic. I remember you
needed a special extension called HD20 to make that work.

>The Mac
>portable used a special controller board to operate their internal HD's
>which failed regularly. I have swapped that controller board and used
>other HD's in the Mac portable but that's another story. Apple sure was
>innovative in their HD selections and often were the only ones
>available. But since the first Apple //e floppy drives sold for $500.00
>with out the controller when they were introduced. Most of the other
>computers were still using the cassette drive to load and run programs
>like the TI-99 and the Comodore 64.
Maybe, but I do recall the Commodore 1540 and 1541 floppy drives which were very slow and
had their own on board 6502 CPU + a little bit of RAM. These were initially very expensive too
(~$500), so you could say that was the market price. Still, you wouldn't want to wait for a program
on tape to load - and even programs on tape had copy protection. (I recall a game for the VIC20
called Swarm that left some data in the tape buffer and executed it. It was impossible to copy it
to tape, but it was very easy to create a loader for it and transfer it to a floppy.)

Much like the Lisa, the C1541 (and future disk drives too) had a CPU inside them. The Lisa has
the equivalent of a stripped down Apple II without RAM, display, etc. as the floppy controller.
The 1541 had a 6504 and a few K of RAM, which could hold small programs that could be used
to either write copy protection to the disk (weird errors, checksum errors, two tracks with the same
ID's, multiple sectors with the same ID, sync-traps, etc.) or they could be used to detect copy
protection, or for fast loaders - there's a story somewhere on the net about how the VIA chip (which
the Lisa also uses) has a broken shift register, so you can't really use it for serial transfers - this is why
the original Vic20, and C64's were so slow accessing the floppy.

Eventually someone wrote a fast load program, and then there were clones of it. GEOS had this
feature built in...

One game had a very dumb protection, I think it was spy hunter, that after it loaded,it paused for
a second to display a logo, then it checked for a disk error on a specific track/sector, then never
looked at the floppy again - so you could easily just time it right and open the floppy door
right before it checked but after it loaded and it worked just fine.

When the C128 came out, you had a machine with a built in monitor (debugger) - so it was very
easy to remove the protection off lots of programs - just press the reset switch and hold runstop
and it would go into C128Mode's monitor. Most of the memory wasn't overwritten, and the
built in monitor program would let you disassemble and edit the program as well as save it to a
floppy. You could crack the C64 GEOS 1.5 this way by rebooting into the C128 monitor
since the "fast loader" it used is what checked for the protection at startup time, but once
it was in memory, it could be started up easily. (I recall they used self modifying opcodes,
at the entry point, but after that, the protection was gone.)

There were also programs that let you capture games on ROM cartridges, and cartridges that
would let you freeze and save a game from memory directly to disk. Worked fine for single
floppy games...

In most every case, all of those machines used some sort of copy protection (now called DRM),
which was of course promptly broken. Each company had their own scheme, etc.

A few years later when the PC came out, staple software such as Lotus 123 and Flight Simulator
all used some form of copy protection or other.

Pretty much every protection method was cracked or broken at some point.

Back to the Lisa, the Lisa did something very interesting. The PROM on which the serial # lives
also contains the timing information for the video display. Although they didn't actually do this,
they could have allowed the serial # to wind up on the display, and it would be detectable by
TEMPEST equipment, so you could tell the serial # of every Lisa from a distance, or if Lisa
video output was recorded, it would be available there too. (Speaking of which, does anyone
know if it's possible to capture video from the RCA plug at all?)

The serial # is very hard to capture, you have to write code that's very careful about timing,
but the Lisa POST has this code built in. What's really funny, is that Lisa OS actually goes
through this routine too instead of just reading the serial # from low memory.

As you can probably tell, I did admire and love GEOS - at the time it allowed the lowly 1MHz
C64 and the slightly beefier C128 act like a Macintosh - they were even able to talk to
Apple LaserWriters, had word processing and publishing programs, etc.. I recall that it was
ported to the Apple II - what's funny is that C64 GEOS programs ran just fine in the 640x200
C128 GEOS CGA mode - it's possible that the Apple II GEOS programs might have been
interchangeable with the C64's - but I don't know. Of course gsOS came out with the Apple IIgs
which looked very much like a Mac, so there wasn't much need for GEOS on the Apple II line.

It was eventually ported to PC's as GeoWorks Ensemble or such, and I think made its way into
some cellphones/PDA's more recently. I think the PC version came out before Win95 and
competed with Windows 3.1 - and was much, much, nicer and faster than Win3.1 and had
better multitasking - of course Win95 killed it. :)

Like the Macintosh GEOS had multiple file forks - but unlike the Mac, you could have as many
as you liked - they were called VLIR - Variable Length Index Record - so each GEOS file was
in a way, a primitive database, but each record could be a different size.

See: for more GEOS info and

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Received on 2005-07-29 15:13:39

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