Lisa 2, Macintosh XL
|CPU:||5 MHz Motorola MC68000|
|Maximum RAM:||2 MiB|
|Supported OS:||Lisa OS, MacWorks|
|Introduced:||January 19 1983|
|Discontinued:||April 29 1985|
|MSRP:||$9999 (Lisa), $3499 (Lisa 2) (US)|
Often cited (incorrectly) as the first computer in the world to sport a graphical user interface (GUI), the Apple Lisa (later Lisa 2 and Macintosh XL) brought GUIs to the masses and led the way for the nascent Macintosh project before quickly being surpassed and consigned to history.
Having built itself into one of the major players in the burgeoning home-computer industry, Apple were keen to continue pushing the boundaries of what was possible. With the Apple ][ being a runaway success, the company was looking to expand into other markets. The Apple /// was not only the company's attempt to move into the business market, but an evolution of the ubiquitous command-line driven machines. What Apple wanted to do was build something revolutionary, not evolutionary.
While Apple was busying itself with the Apple /// and churning out Apple ][s as fast as it could, elsewhere in the industry massive leaps were being made and research projects and institutes around the world were developing not only new technology and applications for that technology but also new ways to make existing technology available to an ever wider audience. Nowhere was this more in effect than at Rank Xerox's Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC). Xerox PARC was concerned solely with developing technology and ideas without having to worry about turning those ideas into commercially viable items. Occasionally the work that was being carried out at Xerox PARC would leak into the wider community and it was through one of these 'leaks' that Apple became interested.
Building on the pioneering work of Doug Engelbart – and his research team at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) – the PARC team had been working on a different way for users to use computers. Instead of the command-line, the PARC engineers had developed the Xerox Alto, a self-contained workstation that displayed a stylised version of a desktop, graphically. Using a mouse, users could select items, drag files around and work in a far more intuitive and efficient way than was possible by typing obscure commands into a command-line. The Alto was radical stuff but it was also strictly off limits. Off limits to all but the brightest of the I.T. world's stars, that is.
Having taken much persuading, Apple head honcho, Steve Jobs, bought himself and a select group of Apple staff a visit to the famed PARC (in exchange for Apple stock). What Jobs and his team saw that day would revolutionise how users the world over would use and view computing. Blown away by the GUI, Jobs sent his best and brightest engineers on a second visit to PARC to glean whatever they could. They came away with no code or any idea of how they'd achieve it, but they knew that controlling a computer graphically was now possible.
In autumn 1978, totally separate to the PARC visits, Apple had embarked on the Lisa project. Lisa (rumoured to be named after Steve Jobs' daughter but later explained away as standing for 'Local Integrated Software Architecture') was originally envisaged to be a $2000 business machine with a command-line interface (CLI) aiming to ship by 1981. After the PARC visits in November 1979, the project took a decidedly different path.
Inspired by what they'd seen (and Steve Jobs' 'vision') the Lisa team certainly had their work cut out for them. Not only did they have to re-create what they'd seen but they had to overcome a lot of hurdles that the guys at PARC had never even thought of, and invent elements of the GUI that we now take completely for granted. While many may say that Apple stole the GUI from Xerox, the truth is Apple had to invent just as much as they saw (they invented concepts such as the drop-down menu and scrollbars).
Building the Lisa from a hardware perspective was not a task for the faint-hearted and the Apple engineers had to push the limits of micro-computing to breaking point and beyond. The MOS 6502 CPU used in the Apple ][ was nowhere near powerful enough to run a GUI, so Apple adopted the brand new Motorola 68000 and ran it at an impressive 5 MHz. Coupled with 512 KiB of main memory, Lisa was a beast of a machine. This wasn't the end of the innovation though, merely the start. Lisa used a built-in 12" black and white CRT display that allowed it to display an impressive 720×364 pixel desktop. The system included twin 860 KiB 5.25" floppy disk drives, a mouse, three expansion slots and everything was optimised to allow the GUI to run as quickly as possible.
With development progressing and the engineers (both hardware and software) finalising their work, the entire Lisa system was successfully run on July 30th 1982. It would be nearly six months later (January 19th 1983) before the world would be able to get their hands on what Apple had been playing with when Lisa was announced at the Apple stockholders meeting.
Lisa was revolutionary and most people had never seen or even heard of anything like it. It was easy to use, it was elegant and it was a world away from the clunky command-line machines that came before it. It was also to be the salvation of Apple following the disastrous Apple /// (a disaster that had already seen Steve Jobs removed from the Lisa project and assigned to something called 'Macintosh'). Sadly it wasn't to be.
Lisa certainly was revolutionary but it was so radically different to anything else that was available that there was no software available and Apple hadn't even attempted to interest outside software developers in developing for the machine. Instead Apple did it themselves and Lisa came not only with Lisa OS (Office System as opposed to Operating System) but a complete suite of applications including a spreadsheet, word processor, drawing program, graphing program, file manager, project manager, and a terminal emulator. This didn't come cheap, though, and Lisa weighed in at a not inconsiderable $9999.
Priced as it was, the Lisa faced a very difficult struggle to be accepted and poor sales quickly bore this out. Price wasn't the only problem and, by being on the cutting edge of technology, Lisa soon started developing hardware difficulties. Having been limited by the storage available on standard 5.25" disks, Apple had developed their own 'Twiggy' drives but these quickly proved to be unreliable. Less than a year later, Lisa was re-released as the Lisa 2, alongside the box that the Macintosh team had been working on. It was January 24th 1984 and, even though they didn't realise it at the time, Lisa was dead and buried.
The Lisa 2 shared the same 68000 CPU as the Lisa but the main memory had been cut to 512 KiB from 1 MiB (although it could still be expanded to 2 MiB via the expansion slots) and the infernal Twiggy drives had been replaced with a single 400 KiB 3.5" drive (which proved to be far, far more reliable). With only one floppy drive instead of two, the extra internal space could be put to good use and a hard drive could optionally be fitted inside the case. Three different Lisa 2 models were released: the Lisa 2/5 came bundled with an external 5 MiB ProLine hard drive, the Lisa 2/10 went one better by having a 10 MiB drive installed internally and the plain old Lisa 2 had to make do with just the single 400 KiB floppy drive.
Having realised its pricing mistake, the Lisa 2 was also cut in price with the software bundle becoming optional - this slashed the price from the ludicrous $9999 to $3495 (hardly insignificant but still a lot friendlier). Keen to make up for the disappointment of the original Lisa, Apple even offered to replace, for free, the old machine with a brand new Lisa 2.
Despite all of this, Lisa sales just didn't pick up and soon Macintosh had outsold it by ridiculous amounts (the Mac sold more units in its first 100 days than Lisa had sold in the whole of the previous year). Lisa soon started to become the butt of many a joke and many centred around the machine's lack of speed (the 68000 running at 5 MHz simply wasn't up to the job) and the ponderous way that it seemed to do everything – the Lisa engineers had simply asked too much of the available technology.
The Mac had, seemingly, come from nowhere and stolen Apple's premier product's thunder. Realising that Macintosh was the way forward Apple attempted to cut its losses and make the best of what they had. The Lisa was rebranded as the Macintosh XL (really a Lisa 2 with a 10 MiB hard drive) and shipped with MacWorks - an emulator that allowed Lisa to run Macintosh software (including Macintosh System Software). It worked inasmuch as users could run Mac software but even here there were quirks and Lisa's rectangular pixels made Mac software look awkward (the Mac used square pixels) and it was questionable why anybody would want to buy a Macintosh XL running at 5 MHz when they could buy a Macintosh running at 8 MHz.
With the Macintosh and Lisa divisions merged to form the Apple 32 SuperMicro division, Lisa's fate was sealed (rumours have it that, in the end, Lisa parts simply stopped being ordered so that no more machines could be built) and the last machine rolled off the assembly line on April 29th 1985. The machine that was supposed to revolutionise the way that we worked had been killed by its own sibling and never really had a chance to shine. Lisa was an admirable machine but it was badly marketed, cost too much and was simply realised at the wrong time.
This wasn't quite the end of story, however, and to allow Apple to receive a sizable tax write-off, 2,700 Lisas were buried at the Logan landfill in September 1989 (under the watch of armed security guards). The Lisa legacy was, literally, buried.
- CPU: 5 MHz Motorola MC68000
- ROM: 16 KiB
- Bus Speed: 5 MHz
- Data Path: 24-bit
- RAM Type: (130 ns)
- Standard RAM: 1 MiB (Lisa), 512 KiB (Lisa 2)
- RAM Onboard: None
- Maximum RAM: 2 MiB
- I/O & Expansion
- Serial: 2 (DB-9)
- Built-in Speaker: Beep
- Hard Drive: 5 MiB (Lisa), 10 MiB (Lisa 2)
- Hard Drive Type: ProFile
- Floppy Drive: 2x 860 KiB 5.25" (Lisa), 1x 400 KiB 3.5" (Lisa 2)
- Built-in Display: Internal B&W 12" CRT
- Max Resolution: 720×364 (1-bit)
- Codename: Lisa (Lisa, Lisa 2), Lisa2, Pepsi (Macintosh XL)
- Power: 150W
- Case Style: Lisa
- Dimensions: 18.7" x 13.8" x 15.2" (W x D x H)
- Weight: 48 lbs.
- Other OS Support: Lisa OS, MacWorks
- Introduced: January 19 1983
- Introduced: April 29 1985
- MSRP: $9999 (Lisa), $3499 (Lisa 2) (US)