Using Apple /// System Utilities

by Kevin e. Fitzmaurice

(Originally published in On Three Magazine, December 1986)

It's surprising how many people believe the Apple /// and its Sophisticated Operating System (SOS) are beyond comprehension. It's even more surprising because the pathname and other SOS concepts are also used by other machines which are allegedly easier to use. Sure, if you want to do advanced programming on the Apple ///, then you must talk to SOS in both Pascal and Assembly. But that bewildering trip isn't necessary because Apple provided a diskette called System Utilities with every Apple ///.

The Utilities diskette contains all the functions needed to successfully operate your Apple ///. SOS Utilities is the set of tools you need to work with disks and files and to add or change hardware. You need no understanding of programming to use these utilities. There are no cryptic commands to learn as with other systems. Instead, you only need to be able to read and spell at an acceptable level.

Hello, SOS?

First put the Utilities disk in the built-in system disk drive and either turn on your machine, which will cause an automatic cold boot of the disk (reading the disk into memory and executing it without anything else being there), or press CONTROL-RESET, which will also cold boot the disk. Once booted, SOS is awake and ready to talk to you in the form of menus and simple prompts (suggestions). You will see the main menu on your screen. There are only four options for you to choose, and one of these is for quitting or ending your activity. To quit without using this command, simply remove the disk, insert a new one and press CONTROL-RESET.

Since you've just begun, you don't want to quit yet. But now that quitting has been covered, remaining are only three other types of work SOS can do for you: work on your devices (diskettes for the most part); work on files (hard disk files or floppy disk files); and work on SOS's drivers (peripheral interfacing).

Working With Devices

Device handling commands are the top menu choice. To see what these are, either type D or move the cursor with the up and down arrow keys until it is on the D and press either RETURN or ENTER. Doing this presents another menu, but with six choices now.

The first menu choice, "Copy one volume onto another," lets you use SOS to copy the contents of an entire diskette onto another diskette. To do this, either type C (for copy) or move the cursor over that line and press RETURN or ENTER. You are now looking at another screen which prompts you for the name of the disk you want to copy. SOS has already supplied a name for you. You will find that SOS always guesses what names you will enter so you don't have to type them in. In this case SOS has guessed .D2. SOS assumes the disk you want to copy is in disk drive number two (first external drive), which is the most likely place for it. But, you say, SOS listed no name for the diskette (volume name). That is because SOS needs either the name or the drive number, not both. Although you could supply the name, it is easier to remember and type either .D1 or .D2 than the diskette's volume name. If you have the disk in a different drive, then move the cursor with the left arrow key over the 2 and enter the correct number.

Next, SOS asks you the name of the drive with the diskette receiving the copy. SOS suggests .D1, and if that is the case, press RETURN or ENTER. Finally, SOS asks you what name you want the copy to have. If you want it to have the same name as the one you are copying, hit RETURN again. Being the inquisitive system that it is, SOS asks yet another question. (When will it be able to read minds?) This time it asks whether you're sure you want to make the copy to that disk and thereby overwrite all data on it. SOS doesn't know it contains an old mess you would be delighted to get rid of, so tell it to proceed by pressing Y (for yes). You can make copies using only the built-in disk drive, but this is cumbersome and involves constantly shuffling diskettes. Although it's awkward, it can be done, because SOS keeps track of which diskette is which.

The other options from the Device Handling Commands Menu are even simpler to use and work very much the same way. Press ESCAPE once to return to that menu.

You can rename a floppy disk with a more appropriate name using the second, "Rename a volume," option. Simply insert the disk's original name or drive number when prompted and then the new name. SOS does the rest. Those new diskettes you just bought can be set up to work with SOS by using the "Format a volume" option. SOS provides names for your new disks to quicken the formatting process by using the word BLANK followed by two digits. If you are having trouble loading, running or saving data, make sure it is not the fault of bad blocks (groups of 512 bytes each) on the disk. Check for errors with the "Verify a volume" option.

You can produce a listing of the devices (drivers) you have available on any diskette with the "List devices configured" option. You can also set the date and time, which you really should have done immediately after booting the utilities. SOS uses the last date and time it had in memory to mark your files if you don't enter a new one.

Perhaps while in the midst of executing one of the above options you decide you don't want to do it. All you need do is press ESCAPE (the panic button) until SOS returns you to the menu you want. Let's panic and go back to the main menu (hit ESCAPE twice).


Pathnames help you find your file in the hierarchical file structure of SOS. Do you remember the format of a simple outline? Have you used a filing system in which main files are further categorized into single subjects? Can you use the card catalog of your local library? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you already know more than enough to successfully use the hierarchical filing system of SOS. The path through directory levels which SOS must follow to reach a file is that file's complete pathname. The number of directory levels is up to you, within limits.

File pathnames start with either a device or volume name. For example, .PROFILE is the device name for the Profile hard disk drive. To access any file on the Profile you must begin the pathname with the file's device name, .PROFILE, or its directory (volume) name, /PROFILE. All device names begin with a period so SOS will know it is dealing with a device, not an actual file.

SOS must also know where the first name in the path ends and another begins. To accomplish this, you must use delimiters. Delimiters are single characters which SOS knows are never allowed to be part of a file name. These characters are therefore called name separators or delimiters. Other delimiters could have been used, but Apple chose the backward slash (/) as the delimiter for SOS. Now we have .PROFILE/ as the device. It could also be /PROFILE/ if you're using the volume name, or .D2/ if you're using a floppy disk drive.

What follows next may be the name of the file you want. Simply enter it and you have reached the end of your path. But, the next item could also be a subdirectory name. A directory or subdirectory is not a file, but rather a general name for groups of files. Directories and subdirectories can be listed or cataloged to show the individual files they contain. Files cannot be as they are divided no further.

Let's assume you have a subdirectory for your letters. Type in the device name containing the subdirectory, .PROFILE/, followed by the subdirectory name, .PROFILE/LETTERS/, and then add the name of the specific letter you want, .PROFILE/LETTERS/SMITH. This locates the file SMITH in subdirectory LETTERS on the Profile. You summon files using pathnames like this regularly with Apple Writer /// by first pressing CONTROL-L to load your file to the computer screen.

Working with Files

The second area of the Utilities package deals with all kinds of files. Choose Option F, "File handling commands," from the main menu. Here you have seven options for handling files. Beginning at the top again, choose the L option, "List files." SOS now asks what directory you want listed. I use this frequently to see what files are on my Profile. So, why not type .PROFILE over SOS's suggestion. Press RETURN.

You are now asked if you want ALL directory levels. If you want the main directory and only some subdirectory levels listed, type the number of subdirectory levels you want over the default ALL. Next you may choose the device to which the listing will be sent. Here the default is .CONSOLE, meaning the listing will appear on your screen. I usually type over this prompt, entering the printer device or .PRINTER. This produces a hard copy (provided my printer is on) so I can easily reference of all the files on my Profile. Should you make a mistake while typing a device or pathname, correct it by moving the cursor back over the word with the left arrow key and retyping it. Extra spaces after the word will not cause problems. Pressing ESCAPE here returns you to the primary File Handling Commands Menu.

The next File Menu choice is C or "Copy files." Use this to transfer files from disk to disk or even to a different subdirectory on the same disk. The "Copy files" option can also be used to send any SOS file to the printer by merely naming the destination file as .PRINTER. The File Menu also gives the simple options necessary to delete and rename files. Just press D for "Delete files" or R for "Rename files."

A very important option is the M or "Make a new subdirectory" option. Use this to create subdirectories (subordinate to the main directory) on your disk whether it is a Profile or a floppy. If you have Version 1.2 of the System Utilities program, list the device name and then the name you'd like the subdirectory to have. In all other versions, SOS presents a default suggestion. This time it says to leave room for 25 files under your new subdirectory. You can change that by typing the number of files you think you will eventually need over it. A main directory may contain only 51 files, which may be all subdirectories, all files or a bit of each. Subdirectories may have both files and subdirectories under them as well. This allows a true hierarchical file structure to be developed using SOS. Files, of course, can only have actual data under them.

Why bother with subdirectories? First, 51 files seem like a lot on a diskette, but on a Profile the number seems minute. If you create 51 small main files, SOS will not let you create another and you will be left with a vast amount of unusable memory on your Profile. Hence the need for subdirectories. With only one main file you can have 51 subdirectories, and each of those can have an almost limitless number of subdirectories. You conceivably could never need another main file.

Subdirectories look like main directories but are listed under them. Therefore, the directory name must appear before the subdirectory name in the pathname to gain access to the subdirectory and the files or subdirectories under it.

Another reason for using subdirectories is that most software allows you to set a prefix pathname to load or save files. The prefix may be the device name alone or a pathname including the device as well as subdirectory names. Either way, it saves you some typing. Finally, the file names are clearer and more easily defined when made part of an orderly grouping of directories and subdirectories rather than being scattered throughout your disks.

Option W is a safety feature, "set Write protection." Using this you may protect crucial files on a disk which is not write protected while leaving others open to change. Remember, files write protected this way cannot be copied until the write protection status has been changed.

The File Menu's final feature is the P or "set Prefix" option. This is a convenience feature, saving you time and avoiding tedious and repetitious typing. The prefix is the first part of a pathname. Once the prefix has been set, SOS will supply that prefix each time it prompts you for a file name. You may supply a different one at any time and SOS won't object. Most of these operations on files are available from Apple Writer ///, Business BASIC and Pascal as well. In fact, instead of using the Pascal Filer, you may use the SOS Utilities with its superior features from Pascal instead. Simply copy the SYSTEM.START-UP file from the utilities disk to the Profile and rename it SYSTEM.FILER as you do so.

Rules to Remember

While using System Utilities, you will most often use the device name .D1. Device names must always begin with a period followed by a letter, then any combination of letters and numbers up to a total of 15 characters. Volume names are always preceded by a backward slash (/) and must also begin with a letter. They may then contain letters, numbers and periods in any combination but may not exceed a total of 15 characters. Local names (the names of specific files) and subdirectory names both follow the same rules as Volume names. Pathnames are limited to a total of 128 characters so don't use long file names. These rules are quite logical and should pose no problems. The System Configuration Program is the third option in the Main Menu and will be examined in a future issue. It is a powerful tool and deserves an article of its own.

NOTE: You'll find the Apple /// System Utilities Disk in WAP's Public Domain Library. It's disk 3SYS-02.