The Apple Lisa

Apple Lisa – 1983


Local Integrated Software Architecture

Officially, “Lisa” stood for “Local Integrated Software Architecture”, but it was also the name of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ daughter. The Lisa is the first commercial computer with a Graphical User Interface (GUI).

Prior to the Lisa, all computers were text based. The Lisa was the first personal computer to offer a mouse-based way of navigating with point and clicks.


Apple lisa Retro Computer

Above: Apple Lisa mouse driven computer with a graphical environment.



Xerox Parc Inspiration

This was an amazing advancement in a user-friendly computer system. Apple got the idea and functional specifications from visiting Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).


Apple 2 Circuit board.

Above: The Apple Macintosh was well ahead of the IBM PC and the Xerox Parc Alto was well ahead of the Macintosh.


Xerox’s management did not see the point in the Parc system and laughed at the idea of a mouse. Apple ran with the Graphical User Interface and a mouse.

To think that Xerox developed the Parc in 1973! This ‘Alto’ computer was never sold to the public, and in 1981 the ‘Star’, which cost $17,000, was far too expensive and sold poorly.


Apple 2 Circuit board.

Above: The graphical display of the Xerox Parc Alto


Although Apple spent an incredible amount of time and money developing the Lisa, four years and $50 million, it turned out to be an unpopular system due to its high price and had little application support. Additionally, it was rather slow, as the large and complex operating system was a huge burden on the 5MHz CPU.

In addition to the external 5 Megabyte “Profile” hard drive, the Lisa has two internal non-standard 871K 5.25 inch “Twiggy” floppy drives. Unfortunately, the floppy drives were slow and unreliable.

After selling about 6,500 Lisa computers, Apple offered an upgrade path for Lisa owners, replacing the two “Twiggy” drives with a single 400K 3-1/2 inch Sony floppy drive. The new drive holds half as much data as the old one, but is much more reliable. This new Lisa is referred to as the Lisa 2/5, with the “5” representing the external 5 Meg Profile drive.

Apple also released the Lisa 2/10, with an internal 10 Meg “Widget” hard drive. The System I/O board was redesigned to support the new hard drive, and the parallel port was lost in the process. The external Profile HD cannot be used with this system unless a parallel port expansion card is installed.


$9,995 or $22,000 in Today’s Dollars

The base price for the Lisa was a staggering $9,995, which is over $22,000 in today’s dollars. The upgrade from the original Lisa 1 is called the Lisa 2 / 5 and was free to Lisa owners until June 1984, after which it cost $595.

To upgrade from the Lisa 1 to the Lisa 2 / 10, the cost was $2495. An additional 512KB of RAM could be purchased for $1495. Keep in mind that these are 1983-85 dollars and are considerably more now.

About a year later, Apple again changed the Lisa. It would now be known as the Macintosh XL, and run the Macintosh operating system instead of the original Lisa OS.

Sales did pick-up, but Apple discontinued the Lisa line with 100,000 units sold after two years. By this time, the popular and cheaper Macintosh line of computers was available, of which Apple sold 70,000 in the first three months.


Politics & Economics

The Apple Lisa was a victim of politics as well as economics. With the advent of the portable, robot-manufactured Macintosh, the handmade desktop-sized Lisa became too costly to produce and was dropped from the Apple line.


Apple 2 Circuit board.

Above: Apple Lisa motherboard


The Apple Lisa was technician-friendly – once the back panel is removed. The entire electronics assembly slides out in one piece, and the circuit boards are easily removed from their sockets. The power supply is just as easy to remove and replace and is held in place by a single thumb-screw, and slides out with just a tug.


Lisa Becomes the Macintosh

In 1985, the Apple Lisa was dropped due to poor sales and development costs. After a few years of heavy development, the Macintosh XL was released replacing the Lisa and it cost considerably less than the Apple Lisa. In fact, the Apple Lisa could easily be converted to a Mac with a ROM replacement.


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