AppleLink was the name of both Apple Inc.'s online service for its users, and the client software used to access it. Prior to the advent of the internet, Applelink was a popular service for Mac and Apple IIGS users. The service was offered from about 1986 to 1994 to various groups, before being superseded by their short-lived eWorld.
The original AppleLink, which went online in 1985, was a service available only to Apple employees and dealers. Apple's consumer 800 number in fact touted this fact, promoting your dealer as the place to turn for help because of his access to AppleLink. In the late 1980s the service was also opened up to software developers, who could use it both as an end-user support system, as well as a conduit to Apple development for questions and suggestions.
AppleLink used client software that extended the desktop metaphor of the Finder to encompass the areas on the remote server site. These were displayed as folders and files just as local folders and files were. In addition, there was a set of public bulletin boards, and the ability to use email via the service -- although only between AppleLink users. File transfer for drivers and system software was another important role, and for this Apple created the AppleLink Package format to combine the two forks of a Macintosh file into one for storage and sending.
The "back end" of the AppleLink system was hosted on General Electric's Information Services (GEIS) mainframes. AppleLink translated the user's GUI actions into commands that were sent into the service's command line and interpreted the results. GEIS charged fairly substantial charges, both to Apple for maintaining the service at about $30 million a year, as well as to the end-users for connection fees of about $15 an hour during business hours. Repeated attempts to negotiate a lower cost failed, and Apple management chaffed at paying for a service that had no obviously measurable income.
Eventually they approached Steve Case of Quantum Computer Services, who ran a somewhat similar system for users of the Commodore 64. They reached an agreement in which Apple and Quantum would develop a new system known as AppleLink Personal Edition, which would be intended for end-users until all existing AppleLink content could be moved over and the system proved itself stable enough for support services as well. Apple users were generally disappointed that the new service did not give them access to the "real" AppleLink, and eventually the service was shut down after a short period of time.
Quantum retained rights to the software, and released a version for both the Mac and Microsoft Windows machines in 1989, calling the new service America Online as Apple owned the AppleLink name. In 1991 the service had grown substantially, and the company was renamed as America Online Inc.
Apple, encouraged by AOL's success, decided to re-enter the market and again approached AOL to host a private-label system known as eWorld. By this time AOL had grown to be both much larger than GEIS and more reliable, so all AppleLink content was to be moved over as well, allowing the GEIS service to be shut down. The eWorld software was basically a version of the original AOL software with custom graphics, giving it a distinctive look. The system was ready for launch in 1994.
However by this point the rapid rise of the internet generally killing off all smaller online services and BBS's, and online systems were generally seen as antiquated. Apple was never able to turn a profit on eWorld, and shut it down after a little over a year of operation. Subsequently Apple moved all of its services to a pre-existing website, apple.com.
- Today in Apple history: AppleLink Personal Edition is the precursor to AOL by Luke Dormehl, Cult of Mac. 2019-05-20.
- AOL, eWorld and an LC 580 by John Ward, Vectronic's Apple World. 2003-07-23. Archived 2003-10-04.
- AppleLink at Wikipedia