No other machine in Lisa’s price range approaches its versatility, innovation,
Reprinted from Byte, issue 12/1984, pp. A106-A114.
Lisa may be the most underrated machine in the history of the microcomputer
industry. The recently introduced Lisa 2 line is more versatile and powerful than
any other machine in its under-$7000 price category. In spite of this,
the technical press remains preoccupied with Macintosh and the public remains
enthralled with IBM.
Granted, Apple’s marketing efforts on behalf of Lisa 2 have been less then
herculean. And a dearth of software support still hobbles the entire Lisa line.
Yet I see Lisa as the premier Apple offering. I’ve taken the time to look
closely at this innovative, and now cost-effective, computer. There is simply
no other machine in Lisa’s price range that approaches its versatility,
innovation, and power.
|Photo 1: The Lisa 2 is an aesthetically attractive machine that occupies a minimum of desk space. An internal 10-megabyte hard disk provides plenty of storage. Those needing less storage capacity can purchase the machine with an external 5-megabyte Profile hard disk.|
The three Lisa models – Lisa 2, Lisa 2/5, and Lisa 2/10 – differ only
in the amount of attached hard-disk storage they offer (none, 5, and 10
megabytes, respectively). The least expensive model, the Lisa 2 ($3495), is
akin to a wide-screen Macintosh with half a megabyte of main memory. The
unit also sports a single 3½-inch disk drive (400K-byte capacity) for
external storage. The only apparent purpose for this stripped-down Lisa is
to provide a vehicle that will run Macintosh software with four times the memory
capacity of the Macintosh. No other commercially available software will run on
the Lisa 2. The Lisa 2/5 ($4495) adds an external 5-megabyte hard disk. The
2/10 ($5495) provides an internal 10-megabyte hard disk.
When it comes to expanding Lisa’s hard-disk capacity, there are many ways
to go. The Lisa 2 and 2/5 can be upgraded to 2/10 status for $2795. The Profile
drive on an upgraded 2/5 can be connected through a parallel card ($195) for
a total of 15 megabytes of storage. A 20-megabyte system can also be configured using
all Apple disks for $8680. There is one external parallel port on both the Lisa
2 and the 2/5 that is intended as the connection point for the 5-megabyte Profile
drive. This port (the default port) is internal in the 2/10, since the
hard-disk drive is internal. Any additional drive must always connect via
a parallel card, whether it is augmenting a Profile drive or a 10-megabyte drive.
Lisa now supports a 70-megabyte drive manufactured by Priam and distributed
by Tecmar. UNIX and XENIX users have the option of attaching drives from Corvus
and Sunol in sizes from 20 to 100 megabytes.
All models of Lisa have two serial ports intended for use with printer and
modem. Currently, no printers other than the Apple-provided dot-matrix and
letter-quality printers run with Apple-developed software. Both the ImageWriter
(dot-matrix) printer and the letter-quality printer connect through the serial
ports (the Macintosh software expects a dot-matrix printer to be connected to
serial port B only). UNIX and XENIX users have other printer options.
Lisa 2 has three expansion slots for peripheral cards. So far, however, only
three such cards exist. Apple sells a parallel card providing two ports,
and Santa Cruz Operations sells a serial card offering four ports. The Apple
card is used primarily for attaching additional Profile drives but was originally
used to support the first Lisa dot-matrix printer that required a parallel
interface. The serial card is primarily used for supporting terminals under multiuser
(UNIX or XENIX) operating systems. The Priam disk is attached through a
special-purpose interface card.
Unlike Macintosh, Lisa has both a high-resolution bit-mapped display and
a character-generator display that supports a standard 24 by 80 screen. Having
a standard screen-display option permits some conventional software to run on
Lisa without display output conversion. This feature is critical to
XENIX and UNIX users.
Lisa operating environments
The 11 different operating environments available on Lisa fall into three broad
categories: those supporting business applications, those supporting business
applications and software development, and those used purely for
Three distinct user environments focus on business applications only. These
are the Office System with fully integrated applications, the Office System
with QuickPort applications, and an application-oriented shell running under the
Lisa Operating system.
The original Lisa software consisted only of applications that were fully
integrated into the Office System. The QuickPort applications available on Lisa
2 are a new kind of application that share some, but not all, of the Office
System facilities. The Lisa operating system also supports multiple shells
for the purpose of creating separate user environments.
The Office System contains three elements: Desktop Manager, LisaGuide, and
Lisa 7/7, a seven-function integrated program. Desktop Manager is actually
a user-oriented operating system placed on top of a conventional operating
system. The icons and windows and all of the actions taken to manipulate them
are part of the Desktop Manager. LisaGuide is a tutorial program designed to
familiarize users with Lisa’s graphic interface. Lisa 7/7 is Apple’s attempt to
offer an integrated package like Lotus 1-2-3. Given its greatly reduced price
of $695 for all seven functions, 7/7 should be a competitive piece of
software. Current owners of Lisa Office System software can upgrade to the
new release for $150. The seven functions provided include:
|LisaCalc, a 255 by 255 spreadsheet
|LisaDraw, presentation-quality graphics drawing
|LisaGraph, graphs of discrete functions
|LisaList, to display rows of two-dimensional tables
|LisaProject, a cost, time, and resource scheduling program
|LisaTerminal, a communication utility
|the LisaWrite word processor
These applications are called “fully integrated” because they have
access to all the Desktop Manager facilities. The seven functions provided
in Lisa 7/7 include window support, pull-down menus, keyboard and mouse
support, and the transfer of different kinds of
data between the various applications.
Apple now considers Lisa 7/7 a complete integrated office application. In fact,
Apple has discontinued support for the Toolkit, the development tool required
to produce fully integrated applications. That is not a very encouraging outlook
for developers or for users who want extensions to the Office System.
Software developers do have an alternative. It is called QuickPort. As
the name implies, this utility provides a quick way to transport software into
the Office System. QuickPort applications execute in a window on the desktop
but do not have pull-down menus and associated mouse interactions. The window
may be divided into two panels, one for text and one for graphics. The contents
of the graphics panel can be copied onto the clipboard and pasted into any
application that can take graphics information from a LisaDraw document. Information
from the text panel of the window can be copied to the clipboard and taken
to any application that can receive text lines (e.g., LisaTerminal or LisaWrite).
Business applications and software development
Four distinct operating environments support both program development and
business applications. Those are MacWorks, the Workshop from Apple Computer,
UNIX from UniPress, and XENIX from Santa Cruz Operations under license from
Microsoft. MacWorks is simply a program that allows Lisa to run Macintosh
software. The Workshop is very similar to the UCSD Pascal system. UNIX and
XENIX both use shells to provide a command-driven user interface to an
underlying operating system. Users must already have or be willing to
develop proficiency in computers before they can readily operate in any of
these last three environments.
When you start up Lisa under MacWorks, a portion
of the Macintosh operating system adequate to handle disk I/O is loaded into
memory. In fact, the equivalent of the 64K-byte operating-system ROM is
loaded and made accessible in a manner that is transparent to the Macintosh
applications. From this point on, Lisa 2 functions just like a Macintosh, with
two major exceptions – the display screen is larger and the central processing
unit is slower. Lisa’s display area is physically larger than Mac’s
(10½ versus 8 inches diagonally). It also has more pixels in both
directions (720 by 364 versus 512 by 342), and the pixels are shaped differently. The
pixels in Lisa 2 are 50 percent higher than they are wide. Macintosh pixels
are square. These differences combine to provide a larger working area.
Unfortunately, Macintosh graphics appear to be stretched in the vertical direction
when run on Lisa. Text looks surprisingly good, but circles become ellipses
and squares mutate into rectangles. Most nonmathematical shapes are acceptable in
appearance, but if you create graphics on Lisa 2 Using MacPaint, you are
in for a rude surprise. When you print the results, the printer will show the
true form of the object, not what is on the screen.
The central processor on Lisa runs at 5 MHz versus 8 MHz on the Macintosh. The
5 to 8 ratio holds for graphic operations, but the ratio is 5 to 6 for most
The MacWorks program, first available in April 1984, would not function with
Lisa’s hard disk. A version released in September 1984 permits use
of the Profile drive, and Mac files will coexist with Lisa Office System and/or Workshop
files. (They will not coexist with UNIX or XENIX files.) Attempts by Apple to develop
utilities for file transfer between Macintosh and Lisa applications have not been
successful. Developing programs using Macintosh BASIC or some other high-level
language is practical on Lisa because of the extra available memory. However,
these programs must be small enough to run in the Mac’s restricted memory.
Because the Workshop’s user interface is similar to UCSD Pascal’s, Apple
II or III Pascal users will feel at home rather quickly. The program
contains many features not found in UCSD Pascal, including a mouse-driven editor
and sophisticated file-manipulation facilities. The Workshop contains all Lisa and
Macintosh software-development tools supported by Apple Computer. Since Pascal is
the underlying language of Lisa software, all of the operating-system interfaces
are in Pascal form. A 68000 assembler is available that can be used to create
programs and procedures to run in the Pascal environment. A C compiler is also
available, and procedures written in C can be called from Pascal (or vice versa).
Both the Pascal and C compilers have an option to generate code for either Lisa 2
In releases 1.0 and 2.0 of the Workshop, Apple offered the BASIC Plus language
(compatible with Digital Equipment Corp. BASIC) and Cobol (an extension of
ANSI 74). Only BASIC will be offered under release 3.0, but Apple will offer
no technical support. COBOL has been dropped due to an insufficient number of buyers.
Using the Workshop with Pascal, C, and the 68000 assembler, you can develop
conventional keyboard-oriented applications. Further, by using a multitasking operating
system, QuickDraw graphics utilities, and the mouse interaction utilities supplied
by Apple Computer, you can create any kind of environment you like. You
can duplicate all the visual effects and user-interface features you see in the
Office System with the utility software supplied in the various elements of the
Extensive documentation of QuickDraw (the comprehensive graphics package used in
the Office system) is included, along with some sample programs. The documentation
of the operating-system interfaces is also good, and access to low-level information
through these interfaces is excellent.
The UniPress Inc. version of UNIX is based on Bell Labs System V UNIX. The
operating system is supplied with a C compiler, standard UNIX utilities,
and Berkeley enhancements (visual editor, C shell, terminal independent library).
The entire package sells for $1495. Hard disks from 20 to 100 megabytes are
supported, and Ethernet networking is also available. Corvus and Sunol are
the vendors of the hard disks that can be
purchased through UniPress as part of a complete package for Lisa. UNIX will also
work with hard-disk systems supplied by Apple.
Several applications programs are available from UniPress: the EMACS
editor system, the LEX word processor, UNIFY database, /RDB Database Tools, and
the Phact ISAM file system. Of course, many other applications are available for
UNIX, but not necessarily through UniPress. The UniPress system
contains standard UNIX development tools such as a C compiler, text processor,
utilities, and the multiuser kernel. By nature UNIX is a multiuser system.
A single-user run-time system is also available as an option ($495), however.
Additional languages that can be used with the system include FORTRAN, Pascal,
BASIC Plus, RM COBOL, SMC BASIC Four, and Irvine Ada.
XENIX for Lisa 2 is based on UNIX System III and is available from the Santa
Cruz Operation. The system includes the full set of XENIX utilities, the C
shell, the full-screen visual editor, system-administration commands, electronic
mail, and support for UNIX networking. XENIX also provides “vsh,” the
visual shell that serves as a menu interface.
|Photo 2: The four printed-circuit boards that make up Lisa’s electronics are mounted in a sandwich within the card cage. Two memory boards, a CPU board, and an I/O board are included. All assemblies are color-coded and easily removed for servicing.|
From one to four Profile drives can be supported by XENIX in addition to the
10-megabyte built-in disk of the Lisa 2/10. Support for other disks is not
currently available, but future releases will include support for Priam and Sunol
drives. XENIX will support two additional terminals through the two serial
ports on Lisa. Santa Cruz Operations provides a four-port serial board to go
into the standard Lisa slots. Up to two of these may be used to support as
many as eight terminals.
Networking is supported through two separate features, “uucp”
and “Micnet.” The uucp feature provides point-to-point communication
between predetermined locations. Micnet is a full networking facility
for user-to-user communications between a variety of locations. The XENIX
Software Development System can be added to the basic operating system described
earlier. This package supplies the C compiler and various utilities to
support the production of C programs, including an interactive debugger and
a source-code control system.
Software development only
Lisa 2 and Macintosh software development done by Apple so far have taken
place entirely on Lisa, and the tool development by Apple has been extensive.
Pascal Workshop is the host environment for all development work, and
there are four separate development tools currently available. QuickPort is
used to move conventional applications into the Office System. Macintosh
Supplement is used to develop Macintosh software. The Toolkit is an unsupported
system used to develop fully integrated applications for the Office System.
Pterodactyl Software supplies an IBM BASIC Compiler with utilities that is
used to convert BASIC programs written for the IBM PC for use on Lisa.
QuickPort supplies a window on the Desktop in which non-Desktop-integrated
applications can execute in a conventional manner while gaining several
of the Desktop features. All of the window management and icon manipulations
that are part of the Desktop environment are available to users. Inside
the application window, there is no support for pull-down menus or mouse
functions. Any applications desiring those features will have to provide all
the graphics, menu handling, and mouse interaction. All of the utility
software to do these things is supplied in the Workshop via Pascal units.
This means that each developer will have to produce his own set of
logic to create a user interface. It is not even possible to take
advantage of existing functions used by the current Desktop applications.
(These belong to the Toolkit environment.)
The positive side of QuickPort is that conventional applications that are brought
over to Lisa and converted to run under the Workshop can be run on the
Desktop with a minimum of changes. QuickPort is actually an application developed
with the Toolkit – an application designed to run other applications.
QuickPort programs may consist of any combination of Pascal, C, and
assembly-language code. Once a program is running in the Workshop, it can
then be packaged using a special set of libraries supplied by Apple. This
new package is then installed in the Office System.
Each application automatically has a portion of its window devoted to text
display, and the ordinary WRITELN and READLN functions of Pascal are routed
to the window. You can copy text to or from the clipboard just as with
any other desktop application. In addition, you can split the window into
scrollable portions, either horizontally or vertically. The application may specify
a buffer size to control how much information is kept available for
scrolling backwards. Optionally, an application can request a portion of
the window to be set up for graphics. Any QuickDraw graphics performed by
the application will be displayed in the designated portion of the window.
The contents of the graphics panel can be copied out to any other desktop
application that is capable of accepting graphics information (e.g., LisaDraw,
LisaWrite). Thus, QuickPort is a valuable tool if you want to quickly get
an application into a partial Lisa desktop environment. The Toolkit and
QuickPort are the only development tools that produce software for the
Desktop. Applications created with other tools, excluding those for
Macintosh, must run in conventional operating environments like the Lisa
Workshop, UNIX, or XENIX.
The Macintosh Supplement to the Workshop consists of additional libraries
of routines to support the development of Macintosh software. The standard
Pascal compiler, code generator, and linker all have options to support
Macintosh development. This supplement, along with documentation called Inside
Macintosh, is available to interested parties willing to pay $250.
The development approach involves creating the source code on the Lisa 2,
compiling it, and then transferring object code to Macintosh for checkout.
This transfer is typically done by creating a Macintosh disk on Lisa.
An alternate route is through a direct communication line connected to
the serial ports.
IBM BASIC compiler
A BASIC compiler for the Workshop, available from Pterodactyl Software,
converts IBM PC BASIC programs to run on Lisa. Compiled into 68000 code,
converted programs should run considerably faster on Lisa than on a PC.
Given the 1-megabyte Lisa memory, applications could be modified to run
substantially larger problems than on a PC. Communication programs are
also available from Pterodactyl to transfer code from the PC to the Lisa.
Lisa has taken hard knocks for performance, and not without justification.
The first release of the Office System software was quite slow when doing I/O
(input/output). Version 2.0 of the software, which improved the I/O speed
quite a bit, was released in January 1984. I have not seen any comprehensive
comparisons, but company claims indicated a 60 percent reduction in time
for certain operations. My experience is that the average improvement was
more like 40 percent.
|Photo 3: A close-up of the 10-megabyte drive and the Sony Micro-drive on the Lisa 2/10.|
Table 1 contains some of my own performance figures for the Lisa 2/5 and
2/10. The 10-megabyte disk was 10 to 15 percent faster for most operations. All
these tests were run under the Office System, release 2.0. Release 3.0
is not supposed to have any performance improvements, but I have not been able
to verify that the performance is unchanged.
When trying to evaluate the performance of the Office System in absolute terms, you
should take several things into account. “Opening a document” in
Lisa includes more activities than in most systems. The 33 seconds required to
open a 37,000-byte LisaWrite document for the first time after system startup
made me wonder what exactly was going on. Actually, I discovered, quite a
bit. First, the LisaWrite program is being brought into memory and activated.
Second, a copy is made of the requested document. In Lisa you never work
on the original. Since opening an empty document still takes 29 seconds, initiating
LisaWrite accounts for most of the time required by the larger document.
Note that opening the same document the second time takes just 7 seconds.
An additional factor affecting performance is the underlying overhead of a
fail-safe system. The Lisa Office System is capable of recovering all the
data files on the hard disk even if the main catalog is lost or damaged. This
is accomplished by redundant storing of enough information to rebuild the entire
directory. This fail-safe mechanism adds significantly to I/O times.
You might argue that you would rather risk an infrequent loss of data than
suffer speed degradation on each and every I/O operation. That, however, is a
system design issue and not a valid criticism of system performance.
I also ran some tests on the 2/5 and the 2/10 for 11 different Pascal I/O
operations. Here the 10-megabyte disk was never faster than the Profile
drive (contrary to the Office System results). Most operations were about
10 percent slower, and one operation was 50 percent slower. Table 2 shows the
individual results along with a characterization of the type of Pascal I/O
used. I am unable to reconcile these results with those from the Office
System tests. I can only assume that the difference is due to a different
kind of I/O logic used by the Desktop Manager.
It’s fair to say that Lisa 2 gives its owners the freedom to run
a wide variety of operating systems and applications. Its large memory and
ability to use several sizes of hard disks are major factors in its
versatility. Lisa’s uniqueness as new technology has faded. And though
Macintosh has pushed Lisa into the background, it may actually spur interest
in Lisa over the long term. Further, until Macintosh is supplied with
more memory, Lisa is the only practical way to run even moderately large
So far, Apple Computer does not seem inclined to market the Lisa aggressively or
to give full support to Lisa software. In spite of this, I continue to
think that the technology represented by the Office System is a giant
step forward. It may well be that while the industry is not able to embrace
it totally, it will end up adopting Lisa technology in small pieces over
the next few years.