Want that Apple II experience? Now you can run over 500 rare 1980s programs in your browser

A group of hackers skilled at breaking Apple II copy-protection schemes is helping save old education and productivity software.


As well as arcade-type games, the Internet Archive's Apple II collection includes educational games and productivity software.

Image: Internet Archive

After creating a living museum for ancient Windows games, apps, and malware, the Internet Archive has reached a new milestone in its Apple-related preservation efforts, now hosting a rare collection over 500 Apple II programs from the 1980s and 1990s.

The 500-plus set of programs have been supplied to the Internet Archive by a group of hackers known as 4am, which aim to crack rare Apple II programs and preserve them as closely as possible in their original form minus copy protections.

The group hosts cracked games on the Internet Archive, which through an emulation program allows people interact with the programs through a modern browser.

The 4am-cracked programs are a subset of the Internet Archive's much larger Apple II software library. But as archivist Jason Scott explained in a blogpost, the 4am collection plays a special role in balancing out a library that is skewed towards popular arcade games.

How these communist-era Apple II clones helped shape central Europe's IT sector

In the days of communism, many Romanian and Bulgarian children, who now are among the countries' leading technologists, learned to code on replicas of Apple II and ZX Spectrum machines.

As he notes, the bias towards arcade games is essentially a by-product of copy protection, which has ensured that only programs with legions of hackers dedicated to cracking copy protection will survive the test of time.

Also, many of the Apple II programs have been modified by hackers, sometimes simply to signal who cracked them.

4am's "agnostic approach" to the programs attempts to reverse the situation by targeting cracking efforts at unduplicated Apple II programs, such as educational games and productivity software, which might otherwise be forgotten.

"If the copy protection on a floppy disk-based Apple II program was strong and the program did not have the attention of obsessed fans or fall into the hands of collectors, its disappearance and loss was almost guaranteed," Scott noted.

"Because many educational and productivity software programs were specialized and not as intensely pursued/wanted as games in all their forms, those less-popular genres suffer from huge gaps in recovered history. Sold in small numbers, these floppy disks are subject to bit rot, neglect, and being tossed out with the inevitably turning of the wheels of time."

Even though cracking old programs might be legally dubious, 4am's efforts in some cases have been appreciated by the software's creators.

It may even offer an opportunity to revive forgotten games for today's mobile devices. One of the creators of the Classifying Animals With Backbones educational program has even considered revamping the program with better graphics if a non-profit or publisher would back the project.

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