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Copy The Original: Was Apple Behind Bulgaria's First PC?

The handmade Apple I was Apple's first product, demonstrated in April 1976 in Palo Alto, California.

The handmade Apple I was Apple's first product, demonstrated in April 1976 in Palo Alto, California.

Steve Jobs' resignation last week as CEO of Apple, one of the world's most successful companies, brought some early memories of my student years in communist Bulgaria.

Computers in Bulgaria existed in the early 1980s in a special computer lab at Sofia's eminent Kliment Okhridski University, but were accessible only to selected students and faculty from the physics and mathematics departments.

One of them, Mitko, once sneaked me through the security and showed me a Pravetz 82, the proud child of Bulgarian communist leader Todor Zhivkov's aspirations to become a leading personal-computer producer within the communist bloc.

The glowing green screen of the Bulgarian computer and its ability to play chess made a strong impression on me, even though I won four of the five games played.

Ivan Marangozov, the chief engineer of Pravetz 82 (the number indicates the year the model was developed), initially named the machine IMKO-2, which officially stands in the Bulgarian language for "Personal Micro Computer-2."

There were other, unofficial readings, however, as IMKO-2 could also be deciphered as "Ivan Marangozov copy the original."

Marangozov, who died in 1998, has never admitted to any technological theft but has often been accused of cloning the computer architecture of the popular Apple II model developed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1977.

A look at both, the Apple II and Pravetz 82, shows unmistakable similarities and indeed the Bulgarian PC is almost fully compatible with its American counterpart.

It is not documented whether Apple was aware at the time of any possible infringement of its technical patents in faraway Bulgaria, but considering the absence of intellectual property protection agreements between the Western and the communist worlds, it's highly unlikely that legal action would have been taken even if the company was aware.

The production of the Pravetz computers thrived through the '80s and they were widely used within the Comecon member states. With the fall of communism in Europe in 1989 and the introduction of Western brand computers in Bulgaria, Pravetz PC production rapidly declined and finally ceased at the end of 1990.

-- Nikola Krastev

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