Found at a thrift shop: the last record of a doomed Apple DRM effort from 1979

Redditor Vadermeer was in a local Goodwill Outlet and happened on a trove of files from Apple engineer Jack MacDonald from 1979-80, when he was manager of system software for the Apple II and ///.

MacDonald's files include more than 100 pages of printed and handwritten notes for a scheme to create DRM for the Apple /// (then called the Sara) and the Lisa, a failed precursor to the Mac. These constitute a fascinating, candid and intimate history of the creation of a DRM scheme, a kind of microcosm for all the problems we see with DRM today, in which a platform tries to offer products to its sellers that it knows its customers will hate, and also be able to break.

One of the most amusing back-and-forths is the tick-tock between Randy Wigginton and Steve "Woz" Wozniak, who propose and then demolish rival DRM schemes, while also tearing apart successive versions of Visicalc DRM, which was then the state of the art. New managers come in and write memos saying, basically, "Are you nuts? You've proposed a grotesquely expensive hardware dongle that's going to eat one of the four expansion slots on this computer, that will stop working if the user upgrades their OS, that will require them to bring corrupt floppies back to the store to get a backup to work, and that we think people will be able to break in an hour -- let's go back to the drawing board, shall we?"

It's so neatly packaged and well-documented it could be a Harvard Business Review case-study.


Yesterday at the Seattle Goodwill Outlet, where everything is sold by the pound, I noticed the Apple logo on letterhead sticking out from a bin of books, so I started digging. What I found were the 1979-1980 files of Jack MacDonald, manager of system software for the Apple II and /// at the time

They tell the story of project "SSAFE" or "Software Security from Apples Friends and Enemies." This was a proposal to bring disk copy protection in-house to sell as a service to outside developers. Inter-office memos, meeting notes and progress reports all give a good idea of what a project lifecycle was like. Different schemes and levels of protection are considered, as well as implementation primarily on the Apple II+ and the upcoming SARA (The Apple ///) and Lisa computers. Randy Wigginton is featured prominently throughout, along with mentions of Woz and many other familiar names.

The documents were all a jumble so I've put them in chronological order and scanned the collection, please enjoy.

Apple SSAFE project [Google Docs]


Found Internal Apple Memos about copy protection for Apple II, SARA, LISA [Vadermeer/Reddit]