The Apple Lisa
Look at the computer that is sitting in front of you. It doesn't matter if it is a Macintosh, Windows PC, or iOS/Android device. You are using something that was indirectly influenced by the Apple Lisa. Just think about that as you read the rest of this article. You may be asking, "What is the Apple Lisa?" The Apple Lisa was a computer that Apple began developing in 1979 and released in 1983. It may have been the single biggest influence to modern day technology since the invention of the microprocessor.

Let's take a little history lesson. Xerox used to be a huge technology company that specialized in all sorts of areas. Most notable is their work in the field of printers/copiers, to the point where their name was used as a verb "Let me go make a Xerox of that." What if I told you they invented most of the technology that went into the Lisa? Xerox and Doug Engelbart are responsible for the creation of the mouse. It was nothing like what Apple released in 1983 but Xerox technically came up with the concept first. Instead of a ball, the Xerox mouse featured 2 wheels: Up - Down, Left - Right. It also featured a wood box with 1 red button. In a world where all computers were essentially driven by a command line operating system, this was a breakthrough in how a user interacted with their computer. The first computer to feature Xerox's revolutionary new mouse and graphical interface was the Xerox Star 8010. While the Star 8010 was not released until 1981, the technology had been in development for the past decade. Here's the fun thing about the star: Xerox's board hated it. In the late 70s, Xerox's engineers presented the Star to the board and the board hated the idea of having this extra gizmo attached to the computer, and they really hated the name "mouse." Mouse was the name given to the device because of its small form factor and wire that resembled a tail. Word of this technology reached Apple, as well as Steve Jobs, and they felt compelled to go check it out. Xerox's board rejecting the project allowed Apple and its team to get a hands-on demonstration of the technology. If Xerox had been intending to sell the Star, they would not have let Apple into their headquarters. Steve Jobs has famously said that Xerox showed them three things that day, "GUI (Graphical User Interface), Objected Oriented Programming, and Networking," but was so blinded by the first item that he did not see the next two. Xerox sold Apple their technology that day and Apple took its concepts to their development lab in order to work on their next big thing.

Getting back to the Lisa, it has one of the most interesting computer designs. The Apple II had a typewriter design where the keyboard was integrated into the case of the computer. In comparison, the Lisa had a built-in monitor that sat a few inches out from the rest of the computer creating a little area you could push the keyboard into when you weren't using it. The Lisa's monitor is off-center to make room for the disk drive array on the right side of the computer. The keyboard was a separate device from the rest of the computer and the connection Apple decided to use with Lisa has never been used in any other computer to date, so getting a working keyboard on Lisa today is insanely difficult. A popular advertising campaign with the Macintosh was "Never Trust a Computer You Can't Lift." Most of the computers Steve Jobs has had a hand in designing have a handle. Look at the Macintosh, it has a handle. The original iMac, it has a handle. Even the iMac today has a handle, it is also the wire organizer on the back. The Lisa, no handle. I feel that this slogan was a subtle jab from Steve Jobs to the rest of Apple for the failure of the Lisa. Aesthetics aside, the Lisa was an excellent design. It looks great and it's functional. The Lisa is completely modular; the disk drives are all on a cage that can be popped out with one screw. The logic board assembly can just be pulled out, as well as the power supply.

The Lisa has a really extreme system under the hood. Apple decided to look towards Motorola for its microprocessor. Apple chose the Motorola 68000 CPU running at 5MHz. This allowed Apple to create and run their graphical interface as well as address memory quicker. Lisa also included 1 MB of RAM (Random Access Memory). This was unheard of in the early 80s! The third major technology in the Lisa was the bitmap display. Apple could address specific pixels on the screen and this is what led to the Lisa's GUI to be crisp and precise. Remember, back in the early 80s (that is for my editor's husband), computers were operated by command line interfaces. The concept of having a mouse cursor on the screen with little images (icons) that you could point to and "click" on was unheard of. Like I mentioned before, Apple's keyboard that was used with the Lisa was actually made by a different company, and then Apple put an Apple design case over it. This keyboard used a five and a quarter inch audio jack to connect the keyboard to the rest of the Lisa. (I am currently trying to figure out how to write an emulator for a modern day computer to connect via the audio jack to emulate key strokes.) The Lisa keyboard also used little pieces of conductive foam to make contact with the keyboard controller board. Over time, the foam has broken down and will no longer make that connection. So, even if you were to find a Lisa keyboard on the aftermarket, there is a really good chance it wont work. This is easily fixable with new foam though. The keyboard was also unique because it had pull out cards on how to use the Lisa. Apple wanted to make this computer the easiest thing to use ever.

The Lisa mouse was different from the Xerox mouse because it used a small rubber ball to track the mouse cursor. This allowed the cursor to move diagonally on the screen. The mouse also had one button. Apple is famous for having a one button mouse and they sorta still do today. The user has to manually enable secondary click in System Preferences to turn on right-click functionality on macOS. The mentality behind this decision was to make it easy for users to click on an object by not confusing them with which mouse button they need to press. The Lisa mouse connected via a standard serial connection which allows the Lisa to use a Macintosh mouse. Lisa mice are incredible hard to find these days, and, when you do, they generally go for $5000 each. So, using a Mac mouse is a good compromise.

The Lisa had a few different ways to store information. The Lisa 1 had two 5" Twiggy floppy drives on the right side of the computer in the drive cage but the Lisa 2 offered a single 3.5" diskette drive. Now, what is a Twiggy disk drive? It was an Apple-designed 5" floppy disk that boasted a larger storage size but they turned out to be highly unreliable and were never used in any other computer. Later models of the Lisa included an internal 10MB Apple Widget hard drive. 10MB of disk space in the early 80s was unheard of and it cost the user! Those who regretted not investing in one at the original time of purchase could later purchase a 5 or 10MB ProFile external hard drive. However, the ProFile hard drive had to be booted before the Lisa could be turned on or the Lisa would not acknowledge its existence.

In 1983 when the Apple Lisa went on sale, it cost a whopping $10,000 and that price tag is one of the main reasons it was a commercial failure. Now, why on Earth did a single computer cost 10 grand? It's because of the technology that was required to run the Lisa operating system. Remember that 1MB of RAM Lisa came with? That's one of the big reasons. Another reason is that it used the Motorola 68000 microprocessor. The Lisa needed really high part specifications in order to run. It wasn't until the Macintosh that the technology was scaled down in a more affordable package. The Lisa 2 was never an official product but was instead sold as an upgraded package to Lisa 1 owners. This included a new 3.5" diskette drive and a new front plate. Apple later released the Lisa 2, 2/5 and 2/10 along side the Macintosh in the beginning of 1984. The Lisa 2 was a standard Lisa system with 512KB of RAM and a single 3.5" diskette drive. The Lisa 2/5 included the same 512KB of RAM and 3.5" diskette drive but also included a 5MB to 10MB ProFile hard drive. The Lisa 2/10 was the Cadillac of Lisa systems. It included a 3.5" diskette drive and a whopping 10MB internal Widget hard disk but still included that same 512KB of RAM. Lisa 2/10 also included a built-in composite video out on the logic board so the Lisa could be connected to a TV or projector. Unfortunately, Apple removed the ProFile port from the back of the unit so there was no way to have multiple hard drives. The Lisa 2 started at $5,495.

Like I mentioned earlier, the Apple Lisa was a commercial failure due to, in part, to the price and the lack of available software. The Lisa could not run Apple II software just like how the Macintosh could not run Apple II or Lisa software. Apple attempted a few upgrades to the Lisa to make it more attractive to businesses but it never caught on. The attitude of people of the time seemed to be, "Why buy a Lisa when the Apple II is a fraction of the cost?" Apple stopped production of the Lisa in 1986 and sold off many of the units to Sun Remarketing at heavily discounted prices. The remaining Lisa systems were thrown away in an unmarked dump in Ohio. After the failure of the Lisa, Steve Jobs went to work on the Macintosh and that eventually led to Steve getting fired from Apple.

After the Macintosh was released in 1984, the Lisa operating system was instantly out of date. While LOS included many features that wouldn't be introduced on the Macintosh until macOS 7, such as multi-windows and file sharing, the macOS was cleaner and easier to use. The macOS also ran more software titles by its second year, while the Lisa was essentially confined to just seven applications. Apple released a piece of software called MacWorks that allowed the Lisa to boot a macOS diskette. MacWorks required the 3.5" disk drive, so this forced Lisa 1 owners to upgrade. MacWorks did lack in hardware support for the Lisa in version 1 as it only supported 512KB of RAM. Also, users could not install macOS on the ProFile or Widget hard drives. Version 2 allowed for users to boot macOS 5 which supported installing the operating system to the hard drive as well as access to 1MB of RAM. Apple discounted MacWorks in version 3 and Sun Remarketing (the savior of the Lisa) updated the software to MacWorks XL. MacWork XL did require users to install a custom board in their Lisa but gave the macOS far more support for the Lisa. MacWorks XL also supported macOS 7!

As the Lisa aged, its users found other upgrades for the system. Unofficially, the Lisa could be upgraded to 10MB of RAM! Users also found a way to modify the picture tube to support the Mac's square pixels instead of the Lisa's rectangular pixels. This upgrade made it impossible for LOS (Lisa Office System) to boot but allowed for the macOS to run at a higher resolution. One of the most extreme upgrades to the Lisa was the X/ProFile expansion board. This allowed users to swap out their Widget hard drives for a standard IDE hard drive. Users could install hard disks well into the gigabytes and made it possible for macOS 7 to run. These boards are hand made and run $300 on the aftermarket, but well worth it if you wish to get the most out of your Lisa. The Lisa also has three expansion bays on the rear of the system. Users could install sound, SCSI, graphics, etc cards and get even more power out of their system. Lisa also had a serial port on the rear of the system so, theoretically, users could access the Internet with the correct software and adapters. The Lisa did run a Motorola 68000 CPU at 5MHz while the Macintosh ran the same at 8MHz. I am curious if anyone has swapped out the chips to support the faster clock speed, but I also do not know if the Lisa itself is what regulates that. The "modern day" upgrade I currently use is the Floppy Emu. Each unit is handmade and sold for around $100. This plugs into the floppy port on a 68K Macintosh, Lisa, or Apple II (each system requires a different firmware). The Floppy Emu takes disk image files stored on a standard SD card and translates them into information the computer can understand. The computer thinks they are a regular floppy disks so there is no incompatibility. This makes it super convenient to test/install software on an older computer without the hassle of mounting the image to a physical floppy disk.

Remember how I mentioned in the beginning how the computer you are reading this article was indirectly influenced by the Apple Lisa? The Lisa was the development platform for the Macintosh. The Macintosh was essentially a skinned down version of the Lisa (they had to figure out how to make it more affordable) so all of Lisa's technology eventually went into the Macintosh and the Macintosh was what directly influenced Microsoft's Windows (that's a story for another article.) As macOS and Windows evolved there came a few new players into the GUI world, such as all the flavors of Linux that are floating around out there. Even Apple's latest release of macOS still include elements from LOS such as the menu bar and pull down menus. LOS had even included keyboard commands such as ⌘C and ⌘V (copy and paste.) These are still used in macOS today and, since Windows copied the command keys on the Mac (only they use Control C and Control V), they are directly influenced by the Lisa.

Lisa systems are incredible hard to come by and even harder to find working. I was very fortunate to find a broken Lisa 2/10 for $500 but, since I was able to get it working again, it is estimated to be worth $7000. A working Lisa 1 system generally goes for $12k on the aftermarket. As I stated earlier, the Lisa mouse goes for stupid amounts of money and it's near impossible to find a working Lisa keyboard. I have a series of Lisa videos on YouTube that I will link at the end of this article. So let's talk about the thing that I am sure is on your mind. Who's Lisa? Why is this Lisa so special to have a computer named after her? Lisa is Steve Jobs' first daughter's name. In the early 1980s, Steve Jobs' girlfriend Chris-Ann Brennen discovered she was pregnant with his child. Steve denied this for many years but named a computer after his ex-girlfriend's daughter. I think that he knew that was his daughter deep down but was too afraid to admit it. Steve originally wanted this girl to be named Claire and evidence has been pointed to Steve having early plans on releasing the Apple Claire computer. Chris-Ann fought for the name Lisa. In the early days of the project, Steve said Lisa stood for Logical Integrated Systems Architecture. I won't judge Steve on the decision he made by denying fatherhood, as I have never been in that situation, but, at the very least, he did eventually make up with Lisa and she become part of his family in the late 90s. Why did I wait until the very end of the article to explain the naming of the computer? Steve never admitted that the Apple Lisa was named after his daughter until the end of his life in the Walter Isaacson biography. The Apple Lisa remains my favorite Apple computer to date, and, in my opinion, is one of the most influential computers of all time.
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