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Lisa was Apple’s fourth personal computer, announced on January 1983 and shipped later that year. It came after Xerox Star (1981) and almost concurrently with early GUI applications on PERQ 1, but before VisiOn (later that year), Macintosh (1984) and Windows 1.0 (1985).

Lisa was a unique computer in many respects. It had many advanced features in its operating system (virtual file names, multitasking, virtual memory), interesting hardware (Twiggy drives, ImageWriter), but, most importantly, one of the first implementations of graphical user interfaces in commercial computers – indeed, the first implementation if we’re talking about personal computers (both Xerox Star and PERQ were technically workstations).

Lisa’s Office System was home for many GUI firsts: one-button mouse, pull-down menus, the concepts of dragging and double-clicking, trashcan on the desktop, and windows and scroll bars as we know them today. (On the other hand, radio buttons, sliders and tabs were sadly absent.)

You can learn more about Lisa by following various materials collected in this spotlight. There are many rarities here: screenshots of first and last Office Systems (sometimes recreated pixel-by-pixel from photographs), vintage articles, Lisa rarities, posters created for this occassion, and many more. Since the information on Apple’s ambitious computer is somewhat scarce and scattered around the Internet, I hope this will give Lisa a little bit more of the recognition it deserves.

The original model of Apple Lisa with ProFile hard drive and a dot matrix printer
This image can be zoomedThe original model of Apple Lisa with ProFile hard drive and a dot matrix printer

Lisa timeline

(This timeline was combined from different, sometimes conflicting sources, therefore it might not be 100% accurate.)

October 1978 Lisa project is proposed
30 July 1979 The Lisa project, a $2,000 computer similar to Apple III, begins. Expected release date is November 1980, later moved to March 1981
August 1979 First Lisa application is prototyped on Apple II
October 1979 First dedicated Lisa hardware (based on a bit-sliced processor) Dec 1979 visit at Xerox?
February 1980 The hardware based on Motorola 68000 processor is built for the first time
March 1980 Lisa project changes directions, including many features from Xerox Alto
April 1980 Lisa Marketing Requirements Document is published
mid-1980 Steve Jobs hires 15 ex-Xerox employees to work on Lisa
September 1980 Lisa user interface standards document is published
January 1981 Steve Jobs is forced out of the Lisa project and joins the Macintosh group
February 1982 First implementation of Cut and Paste between applications
30 July 1982 The Lisa applications work together for the first time
1 September 1982 Lisa is declared ready for market
19 January 1983 Lisa is announced with a $9,995 price tag
June 1983 Lisa begins shipping
July 1983 Apple starts marketing Lisa
September 1983 Lisa is released without bundled software for $6,995
24 January 1984 Lisa 2 is announced alongside Macintosh, three models are available (Lisa 2, Lisa 2/5, Lisa 2/10)
January 1985 Lisa 2/10 is renamed Macintosh XL, other configurations are dropped
29 April 1985 Macintosh XL (Lisa) is discontinued
30 May 1985 Last Lisa is produced at a Carrollton, Texas factory
1989 Apple dumps many remaining Lisas at the Logan landfill in Utah

Lisa models

original Lisa Lisa 2 Lisa 2/5 Lisa 2/10 Macintosh XL

January 1983


external 5 MB ProFile hard disk (not pictured),
two Twiggy drives
Lisa 2

January 1984


512 KB RAM,
no hard disk,
one 3.5-inch drive,
slightly different faceplate
Lisa 2/5

January 1984


external 5 MB ProFile hard disk
Lisa 2/10

January 1984


internal 10 MB Widget hard disk,
slightly different internal design
Macintosh XL

January 1985


essentially a renamed Lisa 2/10 with MacWorks (Mac OS emulator) as a default OS, and sometimes a modified ROM (with square pixels among other changes)

Office System versions

Lisa OS 1.0 from 1983 (initial release)
Lisa OS 1.2
Lisa OS 1.4, which introduced more bugs than it repaired, and was effectively recalled from the market
Lisa OS 2.0, default system for Lisa 2
Lisa OS 7/7 3.0 from 1984, with integrated LisaTerminal (hence “7/7” – seven applications working as one), new Desk menu, tighter font kerning, spellchecker, and many other changes
Lisa OS 7/7 3.1 (final release)

Future imperfect

Lisa had not had an especially successful life, and one of the most violent deaths of any computer products. Only a couple of dozen hundreds Lisas were sold, and the product was discontinued mere two years after introduction. The reasons for its demise were: high price, slow speed and introduction of the much more attractive, if more limited Macintosh in early 1984. Five years later, Apple buried many of their unsold Lisas at a landfill in Utah in order to receive the tax write-off.

It might be ultimately pointless, but nevertheless interesting to play the spreadsheet game and ask “what if?” Specifically, “what if Lisa was not a commercial failure?” A glimpse of that could be seen in last chapter of Kurt J. Schmucker’s book, but let’s go much further.

Would we get to see:
the rise of Macintosh? (it was developed concurrently with Lisa, but to much extent was an independent project)
“platinum” edition of Lisa’s GUI? (the platinum version of Macintosh GUI, with pseudo-3D look, was released with Mac OS 8)
the move to square pixels? (Lisa had rectangular pixels which sooner or later were likely to become a huge problem)
iLisa? (instead of iMac in 1998)
Office System X? (Lisa’s operating system was much more advanced than Macintosh System and it’s possible such revolution as Mac OS X would not be necessary)
Windows as it is today? (which was based largely on original Macintosh GUI, and not document-centric Lisa interface)
Steve Jobs’ departure and glorious return to Apple?

Unfortunately, we’ll never get answers to these questions. However, in a way, some of Lisa’s inventions are present in each of today’s computers.

And we’re still waiting for the others to come back.

Marcin Wichary

Page added on 22nd January 2005.

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