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A sidebar to the article “Apple’s bid to stay in the big time,” published in Fortune, February 7, 1983, pp. 40.

Is Lisa really as easy to use as Apple Computer has been vaunting? To find out, George M. Taber, an Apple II owner, recently spent a day testing the new machine for FORTUNE. His report:

The Lisa is not as simple to use as a toaster or a telephone. But for anyone who has gone through the sometimes painful process of learning how to work a personal computer, Lisa is a dream. For those who have yet to touch a computer keyboard, Lisa will save weeks in a technological desert. If a person can get over the sticker shock of a $10,000 personal computer, he or she is likely to find Lisa both powerful and versatile.

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The key to Lisa’s charms is the mouse, the push-button control device that sits next to the computer and tells it what to do. The mouse eliminates clumsy computer commands that have to be typed into other personal machines. Thanks to the mouse, which takes about 15 minutes to master, executives can spend hours at a computer and never touch the keyboard. All instructions to the computer are given by pointing an arrow on the screen to a picture or word and then pushing the button on top of the mouse. The user moves the arrow on the screen by sliding the mouse across the desktop. If he wants to make a printed copy of the memo on the screen, for example, he moves the arrow to the word Print, which appears in the upper lefthand corner, and then presses the button. Presto. A copy is printed. Man has conquered machine. Anyone who can push a button can use Lisa.

Lisa’s simplicity is clearly seen in a powerful tutorial program called the LisaGuide. Most personal computers still use torture-chamber instruction books that seem to be written by engineers for other engineers and that do everything except instruct. The introductory book for the IBM Personal Computer, for example, is so confusing that a guide to the guide has now been published. LisaGuide shows someone how to use the machine with the help of the computer itself. Instructions appear right on the screen in clear English. Then, just in case the lesson is still not understood, there is a demonstration complete with explanation and illustration. In place of the words Syntax Error that appear on the screens of many other personal computers whenever something goes wrong, Lisa shows the picture of a Stop sign and then explains the problem. It takes about 45 minutes to do all the exercises in the LisaGuide.

Lisa is above all a visual machine. The simulated desktop on the monitor screen presents a vivid picture of work in progress. When electronic folders are “picked up” with the help of the mouse, they suddenly zoom up into view, and other folders fade into the background. Lisa is perhaps most impressive turning numbers into graphs. With a few pushes on the mouse’s button, statistics are turned into a bar chart, a pie chart, or a graph. Executives who have to watch the progress of complex development projects through corporate bureaucracies are likely to be infatuated with the flow charts that show a program’s task, deadlines, and potential bottlenecks. The flow chart program may become one of Lisa’s most important innovations.

by George M. Taber

Page added on 22nd January 2005.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Marcin Wichary, unless stated otherwise.