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Apple’s new computer moves users into the age of easy computing

Reprinted from Personal Computing 2/83, pp. 181-182. This is the first part of the bigger article “Hardware of the month.”

LISA, the long-awaited, new Apple personal office computer, has finally arrived. As promised, it represents a considerable step forward in ease of use.

That giant step has been made by drastic changes in both hardware and software. The greatest overall difference is the use of what Apple dubs GMT – graphics/mouse technology – as opposed to conventional keyboard/text technology. The only other computer system currently on the market with similar technology is the Xerox 8010 (also known as the Star), an executive workstation intended for larger network installations.

Visually, LISA has the overall friendly look associated with previous Apple products. The primary physical difference is a “mouse” – an electromechanical control device, about the size of two cigarette packs, which the user moves around the top of a desk. Moving the mouse in a given direction moves the on-screen cursor in the same direction. When the cursor is at the desired position on screen, the user signals by pushing a button on the mouse. The mouse, while it’s a simple addition, allows some fundamental changes in the user interface. All LISA software makes use of the mouse. The user can choose functions on the screen – say, word processing or spreadsheeting – simply by positioning the cursor with the mouse and pushing a button. Or he can enter a whole series of commands, even changing screen contrast or type style, without ever touching the keyboard.

All of the applications available from Apple for LISA run under a single organizing program called the Desktop Manager, which uses a bar across the top of the screen to list which applications are active. With the mouse, the user can choose a specific application that causes a pulldown menu to descend, and then select functions within the application’s menu. On the right side of the screen appears a column of “icons” – small graphic presentations ranging from a tiny file cabinet to a wastebasket – that are used in various ways. When one requests a given file, the “page” appears from the file cabinet and grows to fill the screen. When a disk is inserted into the integral drive, a tiny disk appears on screen.

A final aspect of the screen display reflects the designers’ desire to emulate the way people really work at a desk: specifically, at more than one project at a time. For example, in the middle of doing a word-processing function, the user can call up a page of a spreadsheet with the aid of the mouse. Then he can use the word processor to edit, format a table, and even enhance the project with spacing or different type fonts.

LISA hardware is built around the 16-bit 68000 processor, with 512k of memory as standard (expansion up to 2Mb is promised for the near future). In addition, two disk drives are integral, providing a total 1.72Mb of storage capacity. The high-resolution, bit-mapped screen (364 lines by 740 dots) has a black-on-white display (further enhancing the sense of “paper” on a “desk”), which provides extremely high-quality graphics, as well as 11 different typefaces, each available in 16 different fonts. The detachable keyboard, which fits beneath the cantilevered console for storage, has a standard typewriter layout, along with a numeric keypad. All keys can be programmed to act as function keys.

The 12-inch monitor screen uses a high-efficiency phosphor, plus a rapid refresh rate to reduce flicker and eye fatigue. The screen automatically dims and blanks if left unattended for long periods of time. The entire unit is constructed in modules, most of which can be removed by the user. Apple plans an extensive service system based on replacement modules – either through express delivery or carry-in availability. Standard interfaces include two serial ports, one parallel port, and three slots for expansion boards. Finally, the unit has efficient convection cooling, thus eliminating the need for a fan.

At the time of introduction, six application packages will be available for LISA – all fully utilizing the graphics/mouse capability, and completely integrated for sharing data and moving material among applications. Applications include:
LisaWrite – a sophisticated word-processing system, which displays exactly what the final document will look like, including type fonts.
LisaCalc – a spreadsheet capable of presentations as large as 256 rows by 256 columns that can be learned in less than a half hour.
LisaList – a data-base manager, which includes a built-in, quality-control mechanism to monitor for entry accuracy.
Lisa Project Manager – an innovative program that helps schedule and track complex projects on the basis of three types of visual flow charts.
LisaDraw – an unusually versatile graphics tool. It creates lines, boxes, and circles with only two moves of the mouse, and it makes even more complex shapes with drawing aids, such as rules and guides. Tables from LisaGraph and charts from the Lisa Project Manager can be moved into LisaDraw for editing and customizing, simply by using the mouse.
LisaGraph – a full graph-generating capability. Beginners can learn it in less than a half hour and gain proficiency within two hours.

Apple plans to offer additional application packages in the future, and its engineers are also completing a “tool kit” to allow independent third-party software writers to create “LISA-type” applications. The kit will allow for full use of the pull-down menus, mouse, and font styles.

Documentation for the LISA system will be extensive, beginning with an “Apple Guide,” providing interactive, computer-based instruction in the handling of the Desktop Manager. Each application program will include a 20-page “Getting Started” text; a “Cookbook,” a reference guide with brief entries; and a “Tutorial,” aimed at support staff, to generate “intense competence” in a three- to four-hour time frame. Some video presentations as well as a direct telephone line to the Apple staff may also be available.

Ultimately, the LISA system will emphasize networking and data communications. The newly announced Apple-Net (which Apple will also offer to other vendors for a minimal licensing fee), will be an Ethernet-compatible baseband network system that permits up to 128 nodes (including Apple IIs and IIIs), using Twinax cable at distances up to 2000 feet. The initial cost will be less than $400 per node. At the time of introduction, LISA will offer one terminal emulator package with full VT100, VT52, and TTY compatibility. Additional emulators will be offered during 1983, ultimately allowing LISA to communicate with a range of mainframes and minicomputers in a variety of configurations.

At first shipping, peripherals offered will include a modem with auto-dial and answer capabilities, the already-introduced ProFile hard disk, and two printers – one dot matrix and one letter quality. The letter-quality printer will provide professional-quality text and graphics, including fonts up to 1/3 inch. All printer options are selected from a checklist on LISA. In addition, the printing format defined for each document is stored with it for future use. Like the letter-quality printer, the dot-matrix printer offers unusually easy setup (“from carton to printing in 10 minutes”) as well as the ability to specify the resolution of both graphic and text output. Both printers offer “background printing,” which allows the user to work on other tasks while the system prepares a document.

At press time, prices for LISA were not firmly set. Apple predicts a base price for the console (with 512k memory, two floppies, and the Desktop Manager software) of $7000 to $10,000. Each application will cost between $300 and $500. Some lower-cost arrangements of software bundles with hardware will probably be available. (See The Birth of LISA, page 88, for more background.)

For more information: APPLE COMPUTER, INC., 20525 Mariani Ave., Cupertino, CA 95014; (408) 996-1010.

Page added on 2nd October 2006.

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