By Walker Archer
D. Proni is the founder of Econ Technologies and the creator of the pegasus Internal SCSI hard disk drive, AE FAX, Signature GS, AutoArk, and Universe Master.
II ALIVE: By the way, what does the “D.” stand for?
D. PRONI: Duilio. A fine Italian name. But people have so many problems with it that I’ve just been going by “D.” for several years now.
II ALIVE: How did you first become involved with the Apple II?
D. PRONI: I became involved with the Apple back in 1980. I was in high school and decided I needed to learn to program a computer. After checking out the alternatives, I ended up with an Apple II+. I started off with Applesoft BASIC, progressed to assembly language, and relied on my Apple II system for several years, until late 1986 when I finally stepped up to an Apple IIGS. At that point I decided to start writing utilities for the Apple IIGS.
II ALIVE: What were some of the first programs you wrote?
D. PRONI: They were programming-oriented. The reason for that was that I had purchased the Apple IIGS to get me through college. I was taking computer science courses, and I was appalled at the lack of IIGS programming utilities compared to other systems I was using in school. I wrote text libraries that performed high speed screen updates and some standard Unix-type utilities, and a few other libraries. These programs were published by 360 MicroSystems.
II ALIVE: So most of the products that you developed at that time were marketed to developers?
D. PRONI:” Developers, and people who program for a hobby. The developer after-market was never very strong for the IIGS. I think the marketing of the Uos never really convinced mainstream developers-the Microsofts and Borlands and Lotuses-to write for it.
II ALIVE: What happened to 360 MicroSystems?
D. PRONI: They went out of business. The IIGS stuff was really just a sideline for them; they did a lot of development on other platforms. Also, I had some disagreements with the management of 360. and when the company crashed I knew I wanted to start a company of my own and try to do things better.
II ALIVE; You mean Econ.
D. PRONI: Right. Like I said, the developer market wasn’t too strong. Hobbyists may have liked what we were writing, but they didn’t really bave the funds to buy all of it. So you couldn’t make a very good living writing that stuff. Also, I was appalled by the number of companies that were leaving the IIGS market. I thought that was pretty stupid, since there were still plenty of IIGS users out there. That’s why I decided to start producing products that to keep the million or so Apple nos users happy.
II ALIVE: What part of the manufacturing business do you find to be the most rewarding?
D. PRONI: I like keeping people happy with their IIGS. People have told me that they were just about to give up on the IIGS until they saw a new product announcement for something they just had to have. I want to keep the new products coming. I’d say that keeping people involved with the Apple II, and not going to the Macintosh or MS-DOS, is definitely the most rewarding part.
II ALIVE: If Apple were to miraculously make one dramatic improvement to the IIGS, what would you like to see them do?
D. PRONI: A lot of people complain about speed, but I feel the biggest weakness of the IIGS is its video capabilities. They were impressive back in 1986 compared to hi-res, but we really need support for larger monitors and higher resolutions. Even a 9″ Macintosh screen has more dots on it than a IIGS screen, which makes it much easier to see what you’re doing. If better video support were added to the IIGS, we’d see a whole new generation of applications.
II ALIVE: Do you think that small companies like Econ can continue to thrive doing this type of development for the GS?
D. PRONI: It’s been possible from the day I started Econ, and it’s still possible! 1 hear rumors all the time about how some big company was looking into doing such and such a product, but for various reasons they scrapped the idea. Those are the kinds of products that we want to develop at Econ. We’re addressing both the lack of horsepower and the video problems of the IIGS right now, and hopefully, by the end of this year. we’ll have two pretty significant hardware products that will solve these limitations.
II ALIVE: That sounds great! What else do you have in store for 1993?
D. PRONI: Well, there are also two versions of the SoundMeister stereo card in the works, and a major update for Universe Master which will add an optimizer. Those should be out early in 1993. I have some other ideas. too, but nothing I can talk about right now.
II ALIVE: Do you find that there are more advantages or disadvantages to being a small vendor?
D. PRONI: Being a small vendor does have both advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages appear in terms of resources, both human and monetary. Our full time staff consists of two people. Part time adds an additional three bodies, but they can only help so much when they are working six hours two or three days a week. Not having deep pockets really inhibits what you can do. The advantage is that you have lower overhead, and therefore you don’t need as many sales to be profitable. This makes it possible to do small niche-market products that a bigger company would laugh at. Also, it’s much easier to keep in touch with the market when the person who owns the company and designs the products also talks to customers on the phone every day.
II ALIVE: So you’d say that your direct contact with customers has really helped Econ?
D. PRONI: It does help a lot. I think many developers wear blinders. Either they don’t see an obvious product opportunity, or they invest a lot of resources into a product that their customers don’t really need or want. The really big companies are used to creating markets for their products, and that just doesn’t work in the IIGS arena. IIGS users don’t let manufacturers tell them what they need. That really caused a lot of companies to scale back their efforts in the IIGS market or get out of it entirely, just because they didn’t understand how the market works. which happened because they didn’t stay in touch with their customers. Few of those firms would consider entering or returning to the IIGS market at this point, and they’d think anyone who started a new Apple II company was crazy. So being small-and a little crazy-has allowed us to stick around, look for opportunities, and take advantage of a product’s potential to the fullest. without having to worry that a big company’s going to step on one of our products with a competing product. Now is definitely the time for small Apple II companies to find a niche.
II ALIVE: What is the biggest challenge of bringing a finished product to the Apple II market?
D. PRONI: Getting it done! (Laughs) More seriously, though, I’d have to say marketing is the biggest challenge. It’s getting more difficult. Every day some marketing channel or another seems to dry up, with magazine circulations falling off. That’s one of the reasons we’re so excited about II Alive. You’re an energetic group of people who still believe in the Apple II market, and in that respect you’re a lot like us here at Econ. Both of us have a stake in the Apple ll because we make a living from it. A magazine like inCider doesn’t really have that stake. because they’re owned by a publishing conglomerate. If inCider stops being profitable, IDG can just stop publishing the magazine and put the staff on some other project. The editors still get to eat. With II Alive. though. if the Apple market dies out, that directly affects Quality’s business. So we both have a dual personal and financial commitment to the Apple II market. We’re really looking forward to advertising in II Alive. Just getting the word out on new products is pretty challenging without an outlet like that.
II ALIVE: While other companies are abandoning the Apple Il market, why have you chosen to continue supporting it?
D. PRONI: First and foremost. because I’ve been an Apple II user since 1980. I’m a self-declared aficionado. I really love the machine and would bate to see it fall into disuse. I realize that nothing is truly forever in the computer industry, and that twenty or thirty years down the road the Apple II probably won’t be around, but the Apple II still is a very powerful machine for individuals. We haven’t yet realized its full potential. I’d hate to see the Apple II abandoned now. when there are still many enthusiasts like me out there. These people are the diehards. The folks who were going to give up on their Apple II’s at the first sign of its demise are already gone. The rest of us know that as long as people are using the machine, there will be companies around to support them, and vice versa. We at Econ are developing applications to help these people get the most out of their computers. The Apple IIGS has capabilities built into it that the Macintosh and PC people are just now starting to address. One good example of that is sound cards for the PC.
II ALIVE: Any final comments?
D. PRONI: My advice to the Apple II users is that they shouldn’t give up on their computers just because Apple has. It’s still a great piece of hardware. and as long as there are companies like Econ supporting it, you’ll keep finding new ways to get the most out of your machine. Our main goal for 1993 is to keep releasing new hardware and software products to keep the II alive.