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Reprinted from Softalk 9/83, pp. 160-163.

Employees of Hughes Aircraft learn about Lisa at Apple’s district office in Culver City, California. The instructors are sales training specialists Sarah Schwartz and national account executive Wayne Norberg, who represents the Hughes account.
This image can be zoomedEmployees of Hughes Aircraft learn about Lisa at Apple’s district office in Culver City, California. The instructors are sales training specialists Sarah Schwartz and national account executive Wayne Norberg, who represents the Hughes account.
Assume that an executive has no time to learn about computers but has ten thousand dollars to spend on a computer that takes no time to learn. Well, almost no time. Where does said executive go to learn about this computer? After all, it isn’t as easy as saying, “Hey, Lisa, plan my budget for fiscal 1984 and watch for cost overruns in production.” To be sure, Lisa talks to the user in a way that should be nonthreatening even to the most practiced technophobe, saying things like, “Excuse me, you asked me to monitor the printer, but there is no printing going on now,” instead of, “Illegal quantity error – break in 320.” The hurdle is generally not in learning to understand Lisa but in learning to talk to her.

Apple is prepared to help its corporate customers over this hurdle with a small, informal training session. The general target audience is comprised of the top 1,300 corporations in the country, although it isn’t limited strictly to this group. The one-day session is available free to Apple’s national accounts: Corporations that are purchasing several Lisas for their top managers can send those managers to Lisa school. Apple has established twelve offices across the country, located in areas expected to have the highest volume of sales, with conference rooms dedicated to Lisa training.

In a typical class, there might be seven “students,” usually all from the same company, each sitting at a Lisa. Apple’s “teachers” know the Lisa inside and out and are good at helping people who don’t. No question is too simple and very few are too complicated. And they have a good assistant teacher in the Lisa itself.

With coffee and doughnuts in hand, the students sit down to a short videotape of an executive using a Lisa in his work and explaining how each of the Lisa programs can help him with his everyday tasks. The tape is more demonstrative than instructive; it serves as an overview of Lisa for those who have never seen her in action and as a refresher for those who have.

It’s not long before students get to try things out for themselves. LisaGuide, one of the programs that come with Lisa, is running on all the machines when the session begins. The tutorial is a gentle introduction to the basics of talking to Lisa. The first concepts are the mouse and the cursor. LisaGuide teaches how to move the mouse and how that movement controls the cursor, which is displayed as a black arrow on the screen. With the mice tamed, LisaGuide shows how certain symbols on the screen can act as buttons and how you can push those buttons by pointing at them with the arrow and pushing the mouse button.

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An important concept for the Lisa beginner to grasp – one designed to make it easier to understand the system as a whole – is that the Lisa screen, sometimes called the desktop environment, is really an extended metaphor for an executive’s desk and other elements of a typical office. There’s the filing cabinet, the file folder, the wastebasket, the clipboard, the clock, the calendar, and the calculator; one wonders why they didn’t actually create scissors and glue pot icons for cut-and-paste operations. Most of Lisa’s tools are used in ways that are analogous to the ways you would accomplish the same goals without a computer. Once people understand the Lisa metaphor, they know as much about Lisa as they might have learned about the Apple II in the first week or two.

With that hurdle cleared, the rest of LisaGuide covers most of the elements of Lisa that are common to all the bundled programs. All the files that Lisa can manipulate are displayed in windows, and windows act like pieces of paper on the desktop. You can have one paper on your desk at a time, or you can have a pile of papers from completely different projects and work on the one on top.

LisaGuide shows how to change the size of a window, move it, put one on top of another, and select which one you’re working with. Just as on your real desk, you can have several different things going on at once. While you’re working, how organized your desk is depends mostly on your preferences and your own inherent talent for organization. When you quit for the day, however, you can tell Lisa to put everything away for you. This is one of Lisa’s big advantages: She can conform to your habits.

Since LisaGuide comes bundled with the computer, you may well wonder what advantage there is to running it in Apple’s classroom rather than your own office. Studies have shown that the average executive is interrupted once every seven minutes; the session at Apple reserves a block of uninterrupted time just for that reason.

A more important advantage is that people are there to help Lisa be your guide. The reason most computers prefer jargon to English is that jargon, if you know it, is a more precise language. For instance, at one point, LisaGuide instructs you to put the cursor over a certain word on the screen. The computer means to superimpose the cursor on top of the word, but someone could just as easily interpret it as saying to move the cursor to the line above the word. Having someone handy who knows the right meaning can avert some frustrating moments.

The nice thing about computer-aided instruction is that learners can go at their own pace. Some finish LisaGuide in forty-five minutes and are ready for more; others take all day. And anyone can ask questions without getting ahead of the rest of the group or slowing them down.

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Once people finish the tutorial, the teachers help them get started with any of the main Lisa programs: LisaCalc, LisaWrite, LisaProject, LisaList, LisaGraph, or LisaDraw. Which to look at first is up to the individual. All the programs are on the ProFile, of course, and the manuals include tutorials that start where LisaGuide leaves off. As before, there’s the security of being able to follow the prescribed path at a comfortable rate, but there’s also greater freedom. The more adventurous tend to make up data from their actual work experience instead of strictly following the examples in the tutorials.

At the end of the session, the Apple people demonstrate some applications that are more advanced than those that most people will get to on the first exposure to the computer. Finally – perhaps this is the most astounding event of the day for anyone who thinks the case of a ten-thousand-dollar computer is inviolate – they take a Lisa apart. Twist a few thumb screws; off comes the back. Flip a catch; there goes the front panel. The disk drives slide easily out through the front; the circuit boards come out the back. As casually as the magician sawing the assistant in half, they break Lisa up into a pile of parts.

For the uninitiated, this can go a long way toward demystifying the computer. A more knowledgeable user may experience an even greater surprise. Lisa, the computer made for people who are least likely to want to pull a computer apart, is designed to be completely modular – far more so than any Apple to come before it, in fact. When a Lisa goes down, the owner’s going to want it back up again fast. Most of the time, Lisa can tell you where it hurts. With parts that are easily removable, what can’t be quickly repaired can be quickly replaced.

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Plenty of people who buy Lisas won’t have the opportunity to go to one of these training sessions. And plenty of people won’t need to anyway. But nobody who buys a Lisa will be without a source of help. More is required of Lisa dealers than is currently required of Apple II and III vendors. Lisa dealers must meet requirements for minimum size and have a large enough staff that some sales can be done in the field. Their salesmen must be suitably trained to support the product after the sale, and the stores are obligated to provide that support. They know Lisa, so they’re prepared to answer questions. They come to you to help with the installation, and in some cases they even make house calls after the sale.

For the most part, Lisa users should be able to get by without extra help, because Lisa helps more than you’d imagine any computer can. What people that already use a computer know, people about to get started on Lisa will quickly discover: It’s just a matter of getting their feet wet. \M

by David Durkee

See also: An illustrated LisaGuide walkthrough
Page added on 2nd October 2006.

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