Apple Lisa

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Apple Lisa.jpg
Lisa, with an Apple ProFile external hard disk sitting atop it, and dual 5.25-inch "Twiggy" floppy drives
Also known asLocally Integrated Software Architecture
DeveloperApple Computer Inc.
ManufacturerApple Computer Inc.
TypePersonal computer
Release dateJanuary 19, 1983; 36 years ago (1983-01-19)
Introductory priceUS$9,995 (equivalent to $25,143 in 2018)
DiscontinuedAugust 1986 (1986-08)
Units sold10,000[1]
Operating systemLisa OS, Xenix
CPUMotorola 68000 @ 5 MHz
PredecessorApple II Plus
Apple III
SuccessorMacintosh XL

Lisa is a desktop computer developed by Apple, released on January 19, 1983. It is one of the first personal computers to offer a graphical user interface (GUI) in a machine aimed at individual business users. Development of the Lisa began in 1978,[2] and it underwent many changes during the development period before shipping at US$9,995 with a five-megabyte hard drive. The Lisa was challenged by a high price, insufficient performance, insufficient software library, crash-prone operating system, unreliable Apple FileWare ("Twiggy") floppy disks, and the immediate release of the cheaper and faster Macintosh — yielding lifelong sales of only 10,000 units in two years.

In 1982, after Steve Jobs was forced out of the Lisa project,[3] he appropriated the existing Macintosh project, which Jef Raskin had conceived in 1979 and led to develop a text-based appliance computer. Jobs immediately redefined Macintosh as a cheaper and more usable version of the graphical Lisa. Macintosh was launched in January 1984, quickly surpassing Lisa sales, and assimilating increasing numbers of Lisa staff. Newer Lisa models were introduced that addressed its faults and lowered its price considerably, but the platform failed to achieve favorable sales compared to the much less expensive Mac. The final model, the Lisa 2/10, was modified as the high end of the Macintosh series, the Macintosh XL.[4]

Considered a commercial failure but with some technical acclaim, the Lisa introduced a number of advanced features that would not reappear on the Macintosh for many years. These include an operating system with protected memory[5] and a more document-oriented workflow. The hardware overall is more advanced than the Macintosh, with a hard drive, support for up to 2 megabytes (MB) of random-access memory (RAM), expansion slots, and a larger, higher-resolution display. The main exception is that the 68000 processor in the Macintosh is clocked at 7.89 megahertz (MHz) and the Lisa's is 5 MHz. The complexity of the Lisa operating system and its associated programs overtaxes the slower processor enough that users perceive it to be sluggish. The workstation-tier price and lack of technical application library made it unviable for the technical workstation market.




Though the documentation shipped with the original Lisa only refers to it as "The Lisa", Apple officially stated the name was an acronym for "Locally Integrated Software Architecture" or "LISA".[6] Because Steve Jobs' first daughter was named Lisa Nicole Brennan (born in 1978), it was normally inferred that the name also had a personal association, and perhaps that the acronym was a backronym invented later to fit the name. Andy Hertzfeld[7] states the acronym was reverse engineered from the name "Lisa" in late 1982 by the Apple marketing team, after they had hired a marketing consultancy firm to come up with names to replace "Lisa" and "Macintosh" (at the time considered by Jef Raskin to be merely internal project codenames) and then rejected all of the suggestions. Privately, Hertzfeld and the other software developers used "Lisa: Invented Stupid Acronym", a recursive backronym, while computer industry pundits coined the term "Let's Invent Some Acronym" to fit the Lisa's name. Decades later, Jobs would tell his biographer Walter Isaacson: "Obviously it was named for my daughter."[8]

Research and design[edit]

The project began in 1978 as an effort to create a more modern version of the then-conventional design epitomized by the Apple II. A ten-person team occupied its first dedicated office, which was nicknamed "the Good Earth building" and located at 20863 Stevens Creek Boulevard next to the restaurant named Good Earth.[9] Initial team leader Ken Rothmuller was soon replaced by John Couch, under whose direction the project evolved into the "window-and-mouse-driven" form of its eventual release. Trip Hawkins and Jef Raskin contributed to this change in design.[10] Apple's cofounder Steve Jobs was involved in the concept.

At Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center, research had already been underway for several years to create a new humanized way to organize the computer screen, today known as the desktop metaphor. Steve Jobs visited Xerox PARC in 1979, and was absorbed and excited by the revolutionary mouse-driven GUI of the Xerox Alto. By late 1979, Jobs successfully negotiated a payment of Apple stock to Xerox, in exchange for his Lisa team to receive two demonstrations of ongoing research projects at Xerox PARC. When the Apple team saw the demonstration of the Alto computer, they were able to see in action the basic elements of what constituted a workable GUI. The Lisa team put a great deal of work into making the graphical interface a mainstream commercial product.

The Lisa was a major project at Apple, which reportedly spent more than $50 million on its development.[11] More than 90 people participated in the design, plus more in the sales and marketing effort, to launch the machine. BYTE credited Wayne Rosing with being the most important person on the development of the computer's hardware until the machine went into production, at which point he became technical lead for the entire Lisa project. The hardware development team was headed by Robert Paratore.[12] The industrial design, product design, and mechanical packaging were headed by Bill Dresselhaus, the Principal Product Designer of Lisa, with his team of internal product designers and contract product designers from the firm that eventually became IDEO. Bruce Daniels was in charge of applications development, and Larry Tesler was in charge of system software.[13] The user interface was designed in a six month period, after which, the hardware, operating system, and applications were all created in parallel.

In 1982, after Steve Jobs was forced out of the Lisa project,[14] he appropriated the existing Macintosh project, which Jef Raskin had conceived in 1979 and led to develop a text-based appliance computer. Jobs redefined Macintosh as a cheaper and more usable Lisa, leading the project in parallel and in secret, and substantially motivated to compete with the Lisa team.

In September 1981, below the announcement of the IBM PC, InfoWorld reported on Lisa, "McIntosh", and another Apple computer secretly under development "to be ready for release within a year". It described Lisa as having a 68000 and 128KB RAM, and "designed to compete with the new Xerox Star at a considerably lower price".[15] In May 1982 the magazine reported that "Apple's yet-to-be-announced Lisa 68000 network work station is also widely rumored to have a mouse."[16]


Lisa's low sales were quickly surpassed by the January 1984 launch of the Macintosh. Newer versions of the Lisa were introduced that addressed its faults and lowered its price considerably, but it failed to achieve favorable sales compared to the much less expensive Mac. The Macintosh project assimilated a lot more Lisa staff. The final revision of the Lisa, the Lisa 2/10, was modified and sold as the Macintosh XL.[4]


The high cost and the delays in its release date contributed to the Lisa's discontinuation although it was repackaged and sold at $4,995, as the Lisa 2. In 1986, the entire Lisa platform was discontinued.

In 1987, Sun Remarketing purchased about 5,000 Macintosh XLs and upgraded them. Some leftover Lisa computers and spare parts were available until recently when Cherokee Data (who purchased Sun Remarketing) went out of business.[when?] In 1989, with the help of Sun Remarketing, Apple disposed of approximately 2,700 unsold Lisas in a guarded landfill in Logan, Utah, in order to receive a tax write-off on the unsold inventory.[17]

Timeline of Lisa models



The IO board in an Apple Lisa with a Macintosh XL UV-EPROM installed

The Lisa was first introduced on January 19, 1983. It is one of the first personal computer systems with a graphical user interface (GUI) to be sold commercially. It uses a Motorola 68000 CPU clocked at 5 MHz and has 1 MB of RAM.

The Lisa computer real-time clock uses a 4-bit integer and the base year is defined as 1980, and the software won't accept any value below 1981 so the only valid range is 1981–1995. Thus it has a "1995 problem".[18] The real-time clock depended on a 4 x AA-cell NiCd pack of batteries that only lasted for a few hours when main power was not present, often causing the packs to burst open and leak corrosive alkaline electrolyte that could ruin the circuit boards.[18]

The integrated monochrome monitor had 720*364 pixels on a 12" screen.


The original Lisa, or Lisa 1, has two Apple FileWare 5.25-inch double-sided floppy disk drives, more commonly known by Apple's internal code name for the drive, "Twiggy".[19] They have a capacity of approximately 871 kB each, but proved to be unreliable[20] and required non-standard diskettes. (The Macintosh on the other hand was launched the next year with a single Sony 400 kB 3.5" "microfloppy" floppy disk drive.) An optional external 5 MB or, later, a 10 MB Apple ProFile hard drive (originally designed for the Apple III), was available. With the introduction of the Lisa 2/10, an optional 10 MB internal proprietary hard disk manufactured by Apple, known as the "Widget", was also offered.

Lisa 2[edit]

Lisa 2

The first hardware revision, the Lisa 2, was released in January 1984 and was priced between $3,495 and $5,495 US.[4][21] It was much less expensive than the original model and dropped the Twiggy floppy drives in favor of a single 400k Sony microfloppy.[22] The Lisa 2 has as little as 512 kB of RAM. The Lisa 2/5 consists of a Lisa 2 bundled with an external 5- or 10-megabyte hard drive.[23] In 1984, at the same time the Macintosh was officially announced, Apple offered free upgrades to the Lisa 2/5 to all Lisa 1 owners, by swapping the pair of Twiggy drives for a single 3.5-inch drive,[24] and updating the boot ROM and I/O ROM. In addition, the Lisa 2's new front faceplate was included to accommodate the reconfigured floppy disk drive. With this change, the Lisa 2 had the notable distinction of introducing the new inlaid Apple logo, as well as the first Snow White design language features. The Lisa 2/10 features a 10MB internal hard drive (but no external parallel port) and a standard configuration of 1MB of RAM.[23]

Developing early Macintosh software required a Lisa 2.[25] There were relatively few third-party hardware offerings for the Lisa, as compared to the earlier Apple II.[citation needed] AST offered a 1.5 MB memory board, which – when combined with the standard Apple 512 KB memory board – expands the Lisa to a total of 2 MB of memory, the maximum amount that the MMU can address.

Late in the product life of the Lisa, there were third-party hard disk drives, SCSI controllers, and double-sided 3.5-inch floppy-disk upgrades. Unlike the original Macintosh, the Lisa features expansion slots; conversely, like the Apple II, it is an "open system". The Lisa 2 motherboard has a very basic backplane with virtually no electronic components, but plenty of edge connector sockets and slots. There are two RAM slots, one CPU upgrade slot, and one I/O slot all in parallel placement to each other. At the other end, there are three "Lisa" slots in parallel.

Macintosh XL[edit]

Macintosh XL

In January 1985, following the Macintosh, the Lisa 2/10 (with integrated 10 MB hard drive) was rebranded as Macintosh XL. It was given a hardware and software kit, enabling it to reboot into Macintosh mode and positioning it as Apple's high-end Macintosh. The price was lowered yet again, to $4,000 and sales tripled, but CEO John Sculley said that Apple would have lost money increasing production to meet the new demand.[26] Apple discontinued the Macintosh XL, leaving an eight-month void in Apple's high-end product line until the Macintosh Plus was introduced in 1986.


A screenshot of the Lisa Office System 3.1

Lisa OS[edit]

The Lisa operating system features protected memory,[27] enabled by a crude hardware circuit compared to the Sun-1 workstation (c. 1982), which features a full memory management unit. Based, in part, on elements from the failed Apple III SOS operating system released three years earlier, the Lisa's disk operating system also organizes its files in hierarchical directories, as do UNIX workstations of the time which were the main competition to Lisa in terms of price and hardware. Filesystem directories correspond to GUI folders, as with previous Xerox PARC computers from which the Lisa borrowed heavily.

Conceptually, the Lisa resembles the Xerox Star in the sense that it was envisioned as an office computing system. Consequently, Lisa has two main user modes: the Lisa Office System and the Workshop. The Lisa Office System is the GUI environment for end users. The Workshop is a program development environment and is almost entirely text-based, though it uses a GUI text editor. The Lisa Office System was eventually renamed "7/7", in reference to the seven supplied application programs: LisaWrite, LisaCalc, LisaDraw, LisaGraph, LisaProject, LisaList, and LisaTerminal.

The operating system – rather than the applications themselves – is incapable of supporting the demands of advanced users and is prone to crash then restart under heavy load from large, complex spreadsheets or graphs produced from them. Apple's warranty said that this software works precisely as stated, and Apple refunded an unspecified number of users in full for their systems. These operating system frailties, and costly recalls, combined with the very high price point, led to the failure of the Lisa in the marketplace.


Within a few months of the Lisa's introduction in the US, fully translated versions of the software and documentation were commercially available for the British, French, West German, Italian, and Spanish markets, followed by several Scandinavian versions shortly thereafter. The user interface for the OS, all seven applications, LisaGuide, and the Lisa diagnostics (in ROM) can be fully translated, without any programming required, using resource files and a translation kit. The keyboard can identify its native language layout, and the entire user experience will be in that language, including any hardware diagnostic messages.

Although several non-English keyboard layouts are available, the Dvorak keyboard layout was never ported to the Lisa, though such porting had been available for the Apple III, IIe, and IIc, and was later done for the Macintosh. Keyboard-mapping on the Lisa is complex and requires building a new OS. All kernels contain images for all layouts, so due to serious memory constraints, keyboard layouts are stored as differences from a set of standard layouts; thus only a few bytes are needed to accommodate most additional layouts. An exception is the Dvorak layout that moves just about every key and thus requires hundreds of extra bytes of precious kernel storage regardless of whether it is needed.[citation needed]

Each localized version (built on a globalized core) requires grammatical, linguistic, and cultural adaptations throughout the user interface, including formats for dates, numbers, times, currencies, sorting, even for word and phrase order in alerts and dialog boxes. A kit was provided, and the translation work was done by native-speaking Apple marketing staff in each country. This localization effort resulted in about as many Lisa unit sales outside the US as inside the US over the product's lifespan,[citation needed] while setting new standards for future localized software products, and for global project co-ordination.[citation needed]


In April 1984, following the release of the Macintosh, Apple introduced MacWorks, a software emulation environment which allows the Lisa to run Macintosh System software and applications.[28] MacWorks helped make the Lisa more attractive to potential customers, although it did not enable the Macintosh emulation to access the hard disk until September. In January 1985, re-branded MacWorks XL, it became the primary system application designed to turn the Lisa into the Macintosh XL.

Third-party software[edit]

A screenshot of the Apple Lisa Workshop

A significant impediment to third-party software on the Lisa was the fact that, when first launched, the Lisa Office System could not be used to write programs for itself. A separate development OS, called Lisa Workshop, was required. During this development process, engineers would alternate between the two OSes at startup, writing and compiling code on one OS and testing it on the other. Later, the same Lisa Workshop was used to develop software for the Macintosh. After a few years, a Macintosh-native development system was developed. For most of its lifetime, the Lisa never went beyond the original seven applications that Apple had deemed enough to "do everything",[citation needed] although UniPress Software did offer UNIX System III for $495.[29]


An original Apple Lisa at work, Apple Convention, Boston, Spring 1983

BYTE wrote in February 1983 after previewing the Lisa that it was "the most important development in computers in the last five years, easily outpacing [the IBM PC]". It acknowledged that the $9,995 price was high, and concluded "Apple ... is not unaware that most people would be incredibly interested in a similar but less expensive machine. We'll see what happens".[11]

The Apple Lisa was a commercial failure for Apple, the largest since the failure of the Apple III of 1980. Apple sold approximately 10,000[1] Lisa machines at a price of US$9,995 (equivalent to about $25,100 in 2018),[30] generating total sales of $100 million against a development cost of more than $150 million.[1] The corporate target market was reluctant because of the machine's poor price-performance ratio. The high price put the Lisa in the price realm of technical workstations, but without much of a technical application library. Lisa's implementation of the requisite graphical interface paradigm was novel but costly, sapping much of the computer's resources away from high end usage, and did not make business sense at that time. The largest Lisa customer was NASA, which used LisaProject for project management.[31]

The Lisa was largely unable to compete with the less expensive IBM PC, which was dominating business desktop computing, in part due to the x86 platform's backward compatibility with the CP/M operating system and many existing business software applications originally written for CP/M or BASIC.

The 1984 release of the Macintosh with half the price and better performance, was the end of the Lisa's viability. The Lisa 2 and its Mac ROM-enabled sibling the Macintosh XL are the final two releases in the Lisa line, which was discontinued in April 1985.[32] The Macintosh XL is a hardware and software conversion kit to effectively reboot Lisa into Macintosh mode. In 1986, Apple offered all Lisa and XL owners the opportunity to return their computer, with an additional payment of US$1,498, in exchange for a Macintosh Plus and Hard Disk 20.[33] Reportedly 2,700 working but unsold Lisa computers were buried in a landfill.[34]


The Macintosh project, led by Apple's cofounder Steve Jobs, borrowed heavily from the Lisa's GUI paradigm and directly took many of its staff, to create Apple's ultimate flagship platform of the next several decades and progenitor of the iPhone.

Apple's culture of object-oriented programming on Lisa contributed to the 1988 conception of Pink, the first attempt to rearchitect the operating system of Macintosh.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c O'Grady, Jason D. (2009). Apple Inc. ABC-CLIO. p. 72. ISBN 9780313362446. By most accounts, Lisa was a failure, selling only 10,000 units. It reportedly cost Apple more than $150 million to develop Lisa ($100 million in software, $50 million in hardware), and it only brought in $100 million in sales for a net $50-million loss.
  2. ^ Christoph Dernbach (October 12, 2007). "Apple Lisa". Mac History. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
  3. ^ Simon, Jeffrey S. Young, William L. (April 14, 2006). iCon : Steve Jobs, the greatest second act in the history of business (Newly updated. ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley (retrieved via Google Books). ISBN 978-0471787846. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Linzmayer, Owen W. (2004). Apple confidential 2.0 : the definitive history of the world's most colorful company (2nd ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: No Starch Press (retrieved via Google Books). p. 79. ISBN 978-1593270100. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  5. ^ Lisa Operating System Reference Manual. p. 34.
  6. ^ O'Grady, Jason D. (2009). Apple Inc. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0313362446. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  7. ^ Andy Hertzfeld (2005). "Bicycle". Revolution in the Valley. O'Reilly. p. 36. ISBN 0-596-00719-1.
  8. ^ Isaacson, Walter (2011). Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-4516-4853-9.
  9. ^ Hertzfeld, Andy (October 1980). "Good Earth". Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  10. ^ "History of Apple's Lisa". October 6, 2005.
  11. ^ a b Williams, Gregg (February 1983). "The Lisa Computer System". BYTE. p. 33. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  12. ^ "Robert Paratore".
  13. ^ Morgan, Chris; Williams, Gregg; Lemmons, Phil (February 1983). "An Interview with Wayne Rosing, Bruce Daniels, and Larry Tesler". BYTE. pp. 90–114. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  14. ^ Simon, Jeffrey S. Young, William L. (April 14, 2006). iCon : Steve Jobs, the greatest second act in the history of business (Newly updated. ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN 978-0471787846. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  15. ^ Freiberger, Paul (September 14, 1981). "Apple Develops New Computers". InfoWorld. pp. 1, 14. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  16. ^ Markoff, John (May 10, 1982). "Computer mice are scurrying out of R&D labs". InfoWorld. pp. 10–11. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  17. ^ McCollum, Charles (October 16, 2011). "Editor's Corner: Logan has interesting link to Apple computer history". The Herald Journal. Retrieved February 24, 2014.
  18. ^ a b "The little-known Apple Lisa: Five quirks and oddities". January 30, 2013. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  19. ^ Linzmayer, Owen W. (2004). Apple confidential 2.0 : the definitive history of the world's most colorful company (2nd ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: No Starch Press (retrieved via Google Books). pp. 77–78. ISBN 978-1593270100.
  20. ^ Linzmayer, Owen W. (2004). Apple confidential 2.0 : the definitive history of the world's most colorful company (2nd ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: No Starch Press (retrieved via Google Books). p. 78. ISBN 978-1593270100. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  21. ^ "Mac GUI :: Re: MACINTOSH opinion and request".
  22. ^ Mace, Scott (February 13, 1984). "Apple introduces Lisa 2; basic model to cost $3,500". InfoWorld. 6 (7): 65. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  23. ^ a b Pina, Larry (1990). Macintosh Repair & Upgrade Secrets (1st ed.). Carmel, IN, USA: Hayden Books. p. 236. ISBN 0672484528.
  24. ^ Mace, Scott (February 13, 1984). "Apple introduces Lisa 2; basic model to cost $3,500". InfoWorld. 6 (7): 66. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  25. ^ da Cruz, Frank (June 11, 1984). "Macintosh Kermit No-Progress Report". Info-Kermit mailing list (Mailing list). Kermit Project, Columbia University. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  26. ^ "Apple's LISA meets a bad end". InfoWorld. 7 (22): 21. June 3, 1985. ISSN 0199-6649. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  27. ^ Lisa Operating System Reference Manual. p. 50.
  28. ^ "The Lisa 2: Apple's ablest computer". BYTE (Dec 1984): A106–A114. Archived from the original on October 4, 2006.
  29. ^ "Unix Spoken Here / and MS-DOS, and VMS too!". BYTE (advertisement). December 1983. p. 334. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  30. ^ "A Look Back at Apple Products of Old". Technologeek. August 19, 2013. Archived from the original on November 5, 2013. Retrieved September 8, 2015.
  31. ^ Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
  32. ^ "Back in Time", A+ Magazine, Feb 1987: 48–49.
  33. ^ "Signal 26, March 1986, circulation 45,013".
  34. ^ Tiwari, Aditya (April 21, 2016). "Why Are 2700 Apple Lisa Computers Buried in a Landfill?".

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