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🔥 Very RARE Historic Vintage APPLE Computer LISA Demo VHS Tapes, 1980s - WOW
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🔥 Very RARE Historic Vintage APPLE Computer LISA Demo VHS Tapes, 1980s - WOW
Price: US $3500.00
These are Important and Very RARE Historic Vintage APPLE Computer LISA Demo VHS Tapes (3), acquired from the deceased estate of a prominent computer store owner in the 1980's, and one of the very first Apple Computer distributors in Los Angeles, California. I also purchased several near-mint Apple computers from this estate, which may be listed in the future. These three video tapes are titled as follows:
1. Apple Computer, Inc. Retail Salesperson Holiday Selling Season Video September 1987 - 10 minutes.2. Apple Computer Lisa Flash color dub 6.26 3. Apple Computer Lisa Demo color dub 15.37
The two tapes that mention the Lisa computer were created by Television Associates in Mountain View, California, for duplication and distribution to Apple Store owners in California. The original 1983 Lisa Demo video has been uploaded in the past to YouTube and is viewable there. I am unsure what the "Lisa Flash" video contains, and I have found no other examples of this video mentioned online. These Lisa tapes date to 1983 but were created and produced in 1982. The Holiday Selling Season video from 1987 appears to be very scarce as well, and I can find no other mentions of it online. These tapes were created in very limited numbers for internal distribution and were not regarded as valuable pieces of Apple's history as they are now considered today. These are the only original Apple Lisa video tapes to have ever been offered for sale since the history of the Internet. These pieces belong in the Computer History Museum, in Mountain View, California or another museum institution. Priced to Sell. These items are being sold as historical artifacts and collectibles, and not as pieces of usable visual media. These are sold by me as non-functional VHS tapes / Untested. (That was a liability disclaimer for me as the seller. I'm sure they would work just fine in a VHS player; I just don't own one and haven't tried to it out.) You can put these in your dusty old VHS player if you like, but if the tape jams in your machine, don't come crying to me. I bear no responsibility. If you like what you see, I encourage you to make an Offer. Please check out my other listings for more wonderful and unique items!
About the APPLE LISA:
Before Macintosh there was Lisa and its incredible demo video

Sitting in the shadow of the revolutionary Apple Macintosh is the Mac's lesser-known sibling, the Lisa. The Pete Best of the Apple world, Lisa was released in 1983 and discontinued three years later, left behind in the dust of the Macintosh's overwhelming popularity.

Its major failing was the insane $9,995 price tag, roughly $23,866 in todays dollars. Just one year later the similarly powered Macintosh 128K hit the market at just $2,495. Ultimately, the Lisa's price tag left it out of reach for most consumers. In spite of its powerful graphic capabilities, a number of odd quirks coupled with that crazy price tag kept it from ever truly picking up steam.

While Lisa was eventually driven from the market by its more reasonably priced sibling, it's legacy lives on in this incredibly dated demo video. Set against a delightfully 80s John Carpenter-styled keyboard soundtrack, the Lisa demonstration video walks you through the work process of a well-manicured caricature of a businessman. Just listen to him purr "you see, Lisa's screen is special."

Our narrator wouldn't feel out of place in a Die Hard rip off, but the work he demonstrates shows a device already attuned to the needs of future office workers. Powerful spreadsheets that be translated into graphs? Heck, yes! Even while typing with only one finger from each hand, the Lisa allows him to do hours of work in no time flat. It's interesting to note that the video presents the idea that the increased productivity gains offered by computers would lead to more leisure time for workers. There's something adorable about that level of optimism. Even though the Lisa only lived a few short years, it's important she not be forgotten. RIP Lisa.


When Apple showed off two new computers to Boston computer nerds in 1983, it was historic in ways both obvious and unexpected.

On the evening of January 26, 1983, as a technology-smitten Boston University freshman, I attended the monthly meeting of the Boston Computer Society, which included a demo of Apple’s brand-new Lisa system. Though I know that I came away enormously impressed, I don’t exactly recall the event like it was yesterday. Actually, just one element was permanently etched onto my brain cells: the moment when the Lisa’s bitmapped, proportional, user-selectable typefaces flashed on screen. It was a mind-bender given that other PCs–like my beloved Atari 400–were capable only of displaying a single fixed-width font of no elegance whatsoever.

In the subsequent three and a half decades, I either forgot about or misremembered every other aspect of the night. For instance, I didn’t realize that the same evening included a demo of the Apple IIe. (I recalled attending that, but not that it was paired with the Lisa one.) I thought that the meeting was held at Boston University’s Morse Auditorium. (Nope: New England Life Hall.) I wasn’t even sure if Steve Jobs had presided over the affair. (He didn’t, but was there a year later to show off the original Mac at a BCS meeting.)

Now, thanks to the miracle of the internet, I can relive every minute of that 1983 meeting. It was videotaped at the time by BCS member Glenn Koenig, who–with the help of the Computer History Museum-has digitized his work and made it available, along with other vintage BCS meetingson YouTube. And here it is, beginning with BCS president/impresario Jonathan Rotenberg promising us “two major new computers, one of which I think you will agree is truly revolutionary.” That would be the Lisa, whose graphical environment was heady stuff indeed in the era of purely text-based interfaces.

As you might understand, I got a Proustian rush from revisiting the Lisa and Apple IIe demos I witnessed in person when I was 18, as one of 1,500-plus attendees who filled the hall and overflow space to capacity. We were the first members of the general public to see the machines, one week after Apple formally announced them at its annual meeting in Cupertino at De Anza College’s Flint Center. And in retrospect, we were unimaginably fortunate. After all, lots of Apple aficionados would kill to get into the one of the company’s current product launches, but only members of the press, VIPs, and various other invited guests need apply.

What I didn’t realize until I watched the video is that seeing the meeting all over again wasn’t just an act of personal nostalgia. Between them, the IIe and Lisa, and the way Apple explained them to us BCS members, are full of lessons that remain resonant in the era of the iPhone.


The fact that Apple chose to introduce two new computers to the public at a Boston Computer Society meeting was no shocker–actually, it would have been more surprising if it had done so anywhere else. Rotenberg had cofounded the organization at the age of 13 in 1977, the same year that the Apple II and its archrivals, Radio Shack’s TRS-80 and Commodore’s PET 2001, hit the market. At first, its membership could squeeze into his high school’s library. But as interest in personal computers exploded, so did the BCS. The group had 3,000 members by the end of 1981 and 7,000 in early 1983, and its influence spread far beyond the Boston area.

BCS meetings became a key communications vehicle for the entire PC industry. At one of the first ones I attended, in 1979–when the proceedings had migrated from Rotenberg’s school’s library to its more spacious cafeteria–Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston showed VisiCalc,the first spreadsheet. Available only for the Apple II at first, the software helped sell that machine to business users, thereby becoming the killer appthat defined the concept of killer apps. (Later on, Bricklin and Frankston’s company, Software Arts, subsidized Koenig’s videotaping of BCS meetings such as the Apple IIe/Lisa one.)

“By 1983, most companies felt that it was almost part of the product rollout process to present it to the largest user organization, to get the response and reaction,” Rotenberg recalls. “It was really where the rubber hit the road in terms of the vendors having to face consumers,” adds David Needle, who attended BCS meetings, including the Apple IIe/Lisa one, both as a member and as a reporter forInfoWorld.

Apple was particularly invested in the opportunity to show BCS members its new products. “The idea that demonstration was an essential part of the education of the consumer started with the Apple II,” says Regis McKenna,the legendary marketing guru responsible for introducing the Apple IIe and Lisa, among countless other products from Apple and others, to the world. “Primarily because there was no prior product in the home or general use that was anything like a computer.”

“I remember the enthusiasm and the intelligence of the crowd,” says David Larson, who presided over the Apple IIe section of the January 1983 meeting as director of marketing for the Apple II line, a job he held until 1985. “It was a joy to be able to tell the world what we were doing. And to do it to a crowd like that who cared, and knew what we were talking about, was really cool.”

The Lisa portion of the meeting, meanwhile, was presented by John Couch, who joined Apple in 1978 and was in charge of the machine as the company’s VP of personal office systems. Couch left the company in 1984–and then returned in 2002 as VP of education, a position he retains to this day.


In a way that feels like a prototype of Steve Jobs’s later habit of saving “one more thing” for the end of a keynote, the BCS meeting began with the Apple IIe before getting to the far more groundbreaking Lisa. “The Apple IIe really came as a bonus,” Rotenberg says. “The meeting was originally just going to be the Lisa.”

As an update to 1979’s Apple II Plus–which was itself an improved version of 1977’s groundbreaking Apple II–the IIe was what its name suggested: a refinement of a refinement. The classic beige Apple II industrial design remained intact, tweaked only by shoving the Apple logo over to the left. The fact that it remained compatible with a gigantic existing base of Apple II software and add-ons was a major selling point.

Today, Larson describes the Apple IIe as “just a better version of the old thing that costs about the same money.” As its marketing honcho, he had to convince prospective buyers that the device was a signficant upgrade despite its familiar looks—much as the company must do to this day when people grumble that new iPhones look much like last year’s iPhones. One of Apple’s ads confronted this challenge directly, declaring that the IIe was “the same old Apple II. Except for the front, back, and inside.”

Much of what was new about the Apple IIe involved solving nagging problems and giving people more stuff as standard equipment. Both the Apple II and II Plus provided only upper-case characters unless you installed a third-party modification, which was anachronistic even in 1983; the IIe finally added lower-case ones. It also came with 64KB of RAM, which, though only .000008 the capacity of today’s most basic MacBook, was generous for an 8-bit microcomputer.

At the BCS meeting, Larson touted the IIe’s new keyboard as offering “Selectric-style” layout—high praise at the time—and said it would make for an inviting transition for typewriter fans. (Even in 1984, after the Apple IIe’s release, only 8.2% of U.S. households had a PC, which meant that the IIe’s principal competition was not using a computer at all.) The keyboard also moved the Reset button, which people had a tendency to hit when they were trying to press Return, to safer territory.

Another prime design goal of the IIe was invisible to the consumer: It was made to be easy to manufacture. Larson told the BCS members that when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak launched the Apple II, they’d devised a computer that they could hand-assemble in a garage rather than one that could be mass-produced by the tens of thousands. Consequently, the company reengineered the IIe from the ground up, reducing the number of integrated circuits from the II Plus’s 110 to just 31.

Apple said that downsizing the chip count improved reliability, which it did. But the biggest benefit was that it made the IIe less expensive to manufacture, and therefore more profitable. “The standard cost of that box dropped 60 or 70 percent,” Larson recalls. “They were radically cheaper. And we were selling the hell out of them. The margin was just extraordinary.”

Apple did sell the hell out of the IIe. According to Apple II History,it was moving 60,000 to 70,000 systems a month soon after the machine’s debut–more than twice the number that the Apple II Plus, itself a hit, had sold. And unlike most of today’s gadgets, which are lucky to remain viable for a year or so before making way for something newer and shinier, the IIe just kept selling.

In April 1984, Apple announced the Apple IIc.(It was also featured at a BCS meeting which I have murky memories of attending.) Though its guts were similar to those of the IIe, the compact, snow-white case–crafted by Frogdesign’s Hartmut Esslinger—was radically different and sleeker. The IIc ditched expansion capabilities in favor of striving for appliance-like simplicity; offered LCD and battery options that turned it into a pseudo-portable computer; and generally catered to computing newbies rather than the enthusiasts and business users who made the IIe one of the industry’s mainstays.

Just as today’s Apple simultaneously offers both the familiar iPhone 8 and forward-looking iPhone X, it sold the Apple IIe and IIc and let customers decide which one spoke to them. The two models coexisted for four years–with the more expandable IIe outselling the sealed-up IIc–whereupon the IIc was discontinued. The IIe then outlivedanothermajor Apple II rethink, the vaguely Mac-like Apple IIgs.

Even in 1991, eight years after the Apple IIe’s release, the aging machine was such a standard in schools that Apple released an add-in cardto allow Macs to run Apple IIe programs. Only in 1993 did the company finally discontinue the IIe, bringing the 16-year Apple II era to an end.

The Apple IIe’s decade-plus of existence makes it the longest-running Apple product of all time; it’s a little as if 2008’s iPhone 3G was still on sale today. Moreover, it may be the company’s most underappreciated computer, an enduring cash cow whose profits helped ensure that the failure of the Lisa–and disappointing sales for the Mac in its early days–weren’t existential crises for Apple.

With its emphasis on refinement over revolution–to excellent effect–what the IIe reminds me of most of all are the “s” model iPhones such as the 5s and 6s. They too lack novelty and therefore don’t get enough credit from tech pundits. (The Register’sAndrew Orlowski on the iPhone 5s:“Apple, you’re BORING us to DEATH.”) In 2017 as in 1983, consumers seem to understand the value of such products even if the technorati do not. I suspect that will continue to be the case when the company gets into future product categories that aren’t yet even a twinkle in its eye.


After Larson wrapped up his half-hour Apple IIe demo, the BCS meeting segued directly into the Lisa demo by Couch and a colleague, which lasted more than twice as long. Though the news was big, the affair lacked the glitz of later Apple events such as Jobs’ Mac demo at BCS just a year later, which introduced the new computer to the strains of theChariots of Firetheme. Couch began by quoting lofty praise for Lisa from publications such asTime(“It may change forever the way people communicate with machines”) but then informed the audience that he was going to spend more time showing than telling.

“The kind of prosaic feel of the Lisa presentation, compared to Macintosh, was somewhat by design,” says Rotenberg. He emphasizes that the Lisa was aimed at businesses, not hobbyists; Apple’s goal was to ingratiate itself with buttoned-down corporate buyers, who still didn’t take the company all that seriously. Glitz wouldn’t have impressed them as much as a straightforward walkthrough of useful features, which was what Couch delivered.

The features that Couch and his colleague show off couldn’t be more mundane by today’s standards. They include pointing and clicking with the mouse (“an ingenious cursor-positioning device”); dragging and dropping; multiple fonts at user-selectable sizes; a user interface that was consistent across the spreadsheet, word processor, and other apps; and a “wastebasket” which let you retrieve files after you’d deleted them. Virtually everyone is still on use on every modern PC, but they were a revelation in 1983–especially if you hadn’t paid close attention to the work being done at Xerox's PARC labthat so profoundly influenced the Lisa and every other computer with a graphical interface to come.

Apple IIe marketing chief Larson says he marveled at the Lisa all over again when he watched the BCS meeting on YouTube: “How many of those user interface standards were set at that time, and are still in use today?” Rotenberg adds that the demo “doesn’t feel as earth-shaking as the Macintosh was a year later. But then you go back and remember that none of this existed yet. This was the first glimpse of the future of personal computers. And then it starts to come back how amazing it was to see that in person.”

You can tell from Koenig’s video of the BCS meeting that the folks in the audience were amazed, even though you don’t get to see them until Couch fields some questions after the demo. Throughout, as they see elements for the first time, they applaud; they laugh; there’s even a gasp or two. Unlike many a modern tech launch event, the BCS crowd wasn’t filled with plants who’d been instructed to whoop it up. The reaction is heartfelt and spontaneous, and it’s coming from discerning computer users, not pushovers. (A year later, when Apple showed the Mac at a BCS meeting–presumably to many of the same people who’d been at the Lisa event–the still-novel cut and paste feature got applause all over again.)

One thing that doesn’t come up during the demo is the Lisa’s starting price: a daunting $10,000, or about $25,000 in current dollars. “A couple of thousand dollars, that was pretty typical,” says Needle. “But the Lisa really set a high-water mark, unless you were used to buying minicomputers. $10,000 for a personal computer, that just seemed crazy.”

As Needle’s InfoWorld report on the BCS eventmentions, a BCS member buttonholed an Apple representative to ask whether it was true that an unannounced machine that the magazine spelled “MacIntosh” would cost only $2,000. The rep sidestepped the question, but the fact it got asked is evidence that even as it was being introduced to the world, Lisa faced competition from the Mac, which incorporated many of its features into a smaller, cuter computer with an innovative 3.5″ floppy drive.

When the Macintosh did show up a year after the Lisa, it cost $2,500–a price that was much higher than initially planned, but low enough to make the computer accessible to many individuals and businesses who’d never have bought a Lisa. It also had Steve Jobs, who had taken up the project after being ousted from the Lisa effort. Third-party software developers such as Microsoft embraced it. And it was boosted by a marketing campaign that was almost as iconic as the computer itself.Though the Mac got off to a slow start, it gained traction in a way that the Lisa never did.

The Lisa remained on the market, but was trapped in a vicious circle: Businesses weren’t buying it because it was too expensive, which meant third-party software developers had little incentive to support it, which left potential buyers even less intrigued. Apple slashed its price and tried rebranding it as the Macintosh XL before pulling the plug in 1986, a little over three years after the first units arrived in stores. (The Mac, in case you didn’t know, is very much still with us.)

More than three decades after its demise, the Lisa isn’t exactly forgotten, but it’s most famous for being unsuccessful and short-lived. That strikes me as being terribly unfair, especially after watching the BCS video. Though it was a commercial failure, it bulged with ideas that went on to transform personal computing and that remain as relevant as ever. Any of us who attended that 1983 meeting would have instantly recognized this century’s Macs–and, for that matter, its Windows PCs–as being, essentially, souped-up Lisas.

For years, I’ve beaten myself up for not making timeto attend the January 1984 BCS meeting at which Steve Jobs demoed the Macintosh, in an expanded version of the presentation he gave at Apple’s annual meeting in Cupertino a few days earlier. I don’t recall what kept me from going, but it’s possible that I expected not to be dazzled by the Mac, given that so many of its features were holdovers from the Lisa that had impressed me so much a year earlier.

I’m still sorry I wasn’t in the audience for Jobs’s Mac show. But I’m more grateful than ever that I was there for the Lisa. It really did blow our minds. And thanks to Koenig’s video, that meaningful moment in tech history is preserved forever.

Title:Lisa Demo (University of California)Creator:Apple Computer, Inc.Subject:Apple Computer, Inc.Description:A demo video of “Lisa”, an early personal computer developed by Apple.Date:1982-01-07Format:NTSCStock Manufacturer: ScotchMoving Imagecolor1 video track, 2 audio trackstereo; Ch1, Ch21/2" VHS-C videocassette00:15:59:101 Tape of Status: Copyrighted.Copyright Statement: Copyright Statement: (statement forthcoming).Collection:Apple Computer Inc. Records, 1977 - 1998.
Happy 40th Birthday to Lisa! The Apple Lisa computer, that is. In celebration of this milestone, CHM has received permission from Apple to release the source code to the Lisa software, including its system and applications software.
What is the Apple Lisa computer, and why was its release on January 19, 1983, an important date in computer history? Apple’s Macintosh line of computers today, known for bringing mouse-driven graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to the masses and transforming the way we use our computers, owes its existence to its immediate predecessor at Apple, the Lisa. Without the Lisa, there would have been no Macintosh—at least in the form we have it today—and perhaps there would have been no Microsoft Windows either.
Before the 1970s and even into the early 1990s, a majority of personal computer users interacted with their machines via command-line interfaces, text-based operating systems such as CP/M and MS/DOS in which users had to type arcane commands to control their computers.
The invention of the GUI, especially in the form of windows, icons, menus, and pointer (WIMP), controlled by a mouse, occurred at Xerox PARC in the 1970s, on the Alto, a computer with a bitmapped graphics display designed to be used by a single person, i.e. a “personal computer,” despite the research prototype’s high cost. Key elements of the WIMP GUI paradigm, especially overlapping windows and popup menus, were invented by Alan Kay’s Learning Research Group for their children’s software development environment, Smalltalk.
In 1979, a delegation from Apple Computer, led by Steve Jobs, visited PARC and received a demonstration of Smalltalk on the Alto. Upon seeing the GUI, Jobs instinctively grasped the potential of this new way of interacting with a computer and didn’t understand why Xerox wasn’t marketing this technology to the public. Jobs could see that all computers should work this way, and he wanted Apple to lead the way by bringing this technology out from the research lab to the masses.

Apple had already been working on a computer in its own R&D labs to leapfrog the company’s best-selling, but command-line-based, Apple II personal computer. It was code-named “Lisa” after Lisa Brennan (now Brennan-Jobs), Steve Jobs’ child with a former high school girlfriend, whom he initially refused to acknowledge as his own. The code-name stuck, and a backronym, Local Integrated Systems Architecture, was invented to obfuscate the connection to Jobs’ daughter.Unlike the Apple II, which was aimed at the home computer market, the Lisa would be targeted at the business market, would use the powerful Motorola 68000 microprocessor, and would be paired with a hard drive.

After the PARC visit, Jobs and many of Lisa’s engineers, including Bill Atkinson, worked to incorporate the ideas of the GUI from PARC into the Lisa. Atkinson developed the QuickDraw graphics library for the Lisa, and collaborated with Larry Tesler, who left PARC to join Apple, on developing the Lisa’s user interface. Tesler created an object-oriented variant of Pascal, called “Clascal,” that would be used for the Lisa Toolkit application programming interfaces. Later, by working with Pascal creator Niklaus Wirth, Clascal would evolve into the official Object Pascal.

A reorganization of the company in 1982, however, removed Jobs from having any direct influence on the Lisa project, which was subsequently managed by John Couch. Jobs then discovered the Macintosh project started by Jef Raskin. Jobs took over that project and moved it away from Raskin’s original appliance-like vision to one more like Lisa—a mouse-driven GUI-based computer but more affordable than the Lisa.

For a few years, both the Lisa and Macintosh teams competed internally, although there was collaboration as well. Bill Atkinson’s QuickDraw graphics became part of the Macintosh, and Atkinson thus contributed to both projects. Lisa software manager Bruce Daniels actually left the Lisa project to work on the Macintosh for a period of time, greatly influencing the direction of the Mac towards the Lisa’s GUI. Larry Tesler’s work on the object-oriented Lisa Toolkit application frameworks would later evolve into the MacApp frameworks, which used Object Pascal. Owen Densmore, who had been at Xerox, worked on Printing on both the Lisa and the Macintosh.

The Lisa’s user interface design underwent many different versions before finally arriving at the icon-based desktop metaphor familiar to us from the Macintosh. Nevertheless, the final Lisa Desktop Manager still has a few key differences from the Mac. One was a document-centric rather than application-centric model. Each program on the Lisa featured a “stationery pad” that resided on the desktop, separate from the application icon. Users tore off a sheet from the stationery pad to create a new document. Users rarely interacted with the application’s icon itself, but rather with these stationery pads. The idea of centering the user’s world around documents rather than applications would reemerge in the 1990s with technologies such as Apple’s OpenDoc and Microsoft’s OLE.


Lisa was released to the public on January 19, 1983, at a cost of $9,995. This was two years after Xerox had released its own commercial GUI-based workstation, the Star, for $16,595, which was similarly targeted towards office workers. The high price of both machines compared to the IBM PC, a command-line based PC which retailed for $1,565, doomed them both to failure. But there were other significant problems too. The Lisa’s sophisticated operating system, which allowed multiple programs to run at the same time (“multitasking”) was too powerful even for its 68000 processor, and thus ran sluggishly. The Lisa shipped with a suite of applications, including word processing and charts, bundled with the system, which discouraged third party developers from writing their own software for it. The original Lisa shipped with a floppy drive (“Twiggy”), designed in-house, that was unreliable.


Announced in the famous Superbowl ad, the Apple Macintosh shipped in January 1984 for $2,495. Eliminating a hard drive, multitasking, and other advanced features, and a greatly reduced memory made it much more affordable than the Lisa. An innovative marketing program created by Dan’l Lewin (today CHM’s CEO) that sold Macintoshes at reduced prices to college students contributed significantly to the Mac’s installed base. The advent of Postscript-driven laser printers like the Apple LaserWriter in 1985, combined with the page layout application PageMaker from 3rd party software company Aldus, created a brand-new killer application—desktop publishing—for the Macintosh. This new market would grow to a billion dollars by 1988, and the Macintosh became the first commercially successful computer with a graphical user interface and a product-line that continues to this day.

The Lisa 2 series, consisting of two models, Lisa 2/5 and 2/10, priced at $3,495 and $5,495, respectively, was announced alongside the Macintosh in January 1984. Lisa 2 replaced the original Lisa’s twin Twiggy floppy drives with a single Sony 3.5” floppy drive, the same drive that was in the Mac. In January 1985, the Lisa 2/10 was rebranded as the Macintosh XL with MacWorks, an emulator that allowed it to run Mac software, but despite improved sales this product was killed off in April 1985 to focus on the Mac.

The release of the GUI-based Lisa and its successor the Macintosh inspired several PC software companies to create software “shells” that would install GUI environments on top of MS-DOS command-line based IBM PCs. The first of these was VisiOn, released in late 1983 by VisiCorp, the publisher of the first spreadsheet program VisiCalc. This was followed in 1985 by GEM from Digital Research, the company behind the command-line based CP/M operating system. Microsoft followed with Windows the same year.

THE INFLUENCE OF INNOVATIONBoth GEM and Windows were released after the Macintosh and were influenced by user interface elements from the Mac. Though Windows was first released in 1985 it was not widely used by most PC users until 1990’s Windows 3.0. Between Windows and the Macintosh, GUIs have become the primary user interface paradigm on personal computers.

Despite the Lisa’s failure in the marketplace, it holds a key place in the history of the GUI and PCs more generally as the first GUI-based computer to be released by a personal computer company. Though the Xerox Star 8010 beat the Lisa to market in 1981, the Star was competing with other workstations from Apollo and Sun. Perhaps more importantly, without the Lisa and its incorporation of the PARC-inspired GUI, the Macintosh itself would not have been based on the GUI. Both computers shared key technologies, such as the mouse and the QuickDraw graphics library. The Lisa was a key steppingstone to the Macintosh, and an important milestone in the history of graphical user interfaces and personal computers more generally.

Revisiting Apple’s ill-fated Lisa computer, 40 years on
On its 40th anniversary, we look back at the machine that brought the GUI to personal computers.

Forty years ago today, a new type of personal computer was announced that would change the world forever. Two years later, it was almost completely forgotten.

The Apple Lisa started in 1978 as a new project for Steve Wozniak. The idea was to make an advanced computer using a bit-slice processor, an early attempt at scalable computing. Woz got distracted by other things, and the project didn’t begin in earnest until early 1979. That’s when Apple management brought in a project leader and started hiring people to work on it.

Lisa was named after Steve Jobs’ daughter, even though Jobs denied the connection and his parentage. But the more interesting thing about the Lisa computer was how it evolved into something unique: It was the first personal computer with a graphical user interface (GUI).

The vision takes shapeGUIs were invented at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center(PARC) in the early 1970s. The Alto workstation, which was never sold to the public, had a bitmapped screen that mimicked the size and orientation of a piece of paper. PARC researchers wrote software that displayed windows and icons, and they used a mouse to move a pointer on that screen.
Jef Raskin, an early Apple employee who wrote the manual for the Apple ][, had visitedPARC in 1973. He believed that GUIs were the future. Raskin managed to persuade the Lisa project leader to change the computer into a GUI machine. However, he couldn’t convince Jobs, who thought Raskin and Xerox were incompetent.

Raskin altered his approach and got graphics programmer Bill Atkinson to propose an official tour of PARC in November 1979. Because Jobs thought Atkinson was great, he agreed to come along. Jobs’ visit to PARC became the stuff of legend, a tale of a brilliant visionary seeing the future of computing for the first time. But in reality, Atkinson was already working on LisaGraf—the low-level code that would power the Lisa’s GUI—months before Jobs saw the PARC demo.

The Lisa’s hardware changed as well. The team abandoned the bit-slice processor and adopted Motorola’s new 68000 CPU. The 68000 was a 16/32-bit chip and used a 24-bit address bus, giving it a maximum of 16 megabytes of memory. This was fine, as memory prices were still sky-high in 1980, and most computers of the day had a maximum of 64 kilobytes of RAM.

In January 1981, senior leadership at Apple got tired of Jobs’ constant interference and micromanagement of the Lisa project and officially removed him from the team. Jobs seethed, then took over a smaller skunkworks project being run by Raskin. This would become important later.

By early 1982, the Lisa hardware was mostly finalized. However, the software was still in flux. A team of designers—including Larry Tesler, who had left PARC to join Apple—had been busy doing tons of research, prototyping, and testing. The main question they had was: How should the Lisa’s GUI actually work?


How many times in your life have you clicked “OK”? I personally have lost count. From my first clicks on a Macintosh in the 1990s, it’s been the ubiquitous language of assent for computing — an agreement to countless decisions, large and small.

At the birth of Apple’s desktop computing revolution, this was not the plan. The year was 1982, and a small team was testing a design dubbed the Lisa: Apple’s first stab at a machine built around images and buttons, not the text of a command line. A simple “OK” seemed inappropriately casual for a machine that, unlike Apple’s earliest homebrew machines,was catering to office workers. If you wanted to execute a command, you hit a button labeled “DO IT” —simple, straightforward, professional. Or so the team thought until they started putting people in a room with it.

“It wasn’t clear what they were having trouble with,” wrote Apple engineer Andy Hertzfeld later. But when a few users encountered the dialog box, they would freeze up: hitting the “cancel” button, backing out, and, in one case, getting visibly angry with the machine. The problem, the team realized, was the button’s font and spacing. Users weren’t seeing the two-word, uppercase phrase Apple had written. They were being asked to make a decision — often on one of the first computers they’d ever used — and seeing the machine calling them a dolt. OK, the Lisa team decided, might be a little bit informal… but at least it didn’t accidentally insult their customers.

The Apple Lisa, which celebrated its 40th birthday this month, is remembered as a glorious failure. Launched in 1983 for nearly $10,000 (about $30,000 today), it was available for less than four years, making it a quickly discontinued stepping stone between Apple’s early homebrew computers and its bestselling Macintosh. At the same time, it was a trailblazing attempt at one of the first graphical user interfaces — a machine that set the model for the computers we use today.

But the Lisa was also something more. Built on foundations laid by early computing pioneers, it represented one of the first attempts at a commercial computer built for humans, expressed in the form of changes like the “OK” button. The Lisa was one of the earliest machines designed to be instantly understandable, thanks not only to the intuitions of its inventors but also their careful observation of newcomers to computing. Along the way, it helped create not only the specific conventions of the desktop but a style of design that we now take for granted, even as it sits on the cusp of a fundamental change.

To understand how, we have to jump back a few more years to a pair of secret meetings in a Xerox research lab.

The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center holds a legendary role in computing history. In its 1970s and 1980s heyday, PARC produced a series of groundbreaking inventions: the ethernet protocol; the laser printer; and one of the first computers with a full-fledged graphical operating system, the Xerox Alto. It’s the Alto that helped set the Lisa team down its final path and gave it some key members, including lead designer Larry Tesler.

The Alto grew out of ideas birthed at the Stanford Research Institute, whose head, Douglas Engelbart, is widely credited with inventing the mouse and many other elements of modern computing. The first mouse was a simple one-button box, its technology patented under the name of an “x-y position indicator for a display system.” But it turned a computer’s screen from something like a high-tech sheet of paper to a full-fledged space with its own geography, setting the stage for the changes to come.

Tesler and some other PARC team members were former disciples of Engelbart, and they packaged these elements in a remarkably small design that could be produced at scale. Much of the Alto’s software —email, word processing — looks familiar in a way that the command lines of even significantly newer machines don’t.

But as recounted in books like Michael Hiltzik’sDealers of Lightning, Xerox executives ignored or outright feared many of PARC’s inventions, worried they would undermine its juggernaut photocopier business. (A major exception was the laser printer, which would pay off its investment many times over.) Then, as PARC struggled to get resources for the Alto, the co-founder of a then-small startup called Apple finagled a pair of software demos — and ended up seeing the Alto’s full capabilities, which outstripped their own early attempts at a visual interface.

Conversely, some of the Alto’s key players started questioning their loyalties. “I was getting better questions from the Apple management than I ever got from the Xerox management. It was clear that they actually understood computers,” Tesler recalled in an oral history with the Computer History Museum. “Xerox was basically still a copier company.” Soon after, Tesler and a few other PARC employees quit to join Apple, while Xerox translated the Alto into its own office computer, the Xerox Star.

Apple took some concrete elements from the Alto, like a heavier emphasis on the mouse. But through Tesler especially, it also committed to a couple of broader ideas. The first was the importance of what was dubbed modeless computing. Many early graphical interfaces were built with powerful layered sets of commands, which users could switch between by activating different “modes.” Modes were a huge element of Engelbart’s vision — a way to achieve vastly augmented intelligence.

The tradeoff was that users needed a base of arcane knowledge to really master modes, and the consequences of failure could be punishing. In the Alto’s mode-based word processor Bravo, you could enter a powerful editing shortcut mode and use a mere four keystrokes to select the entire document (e), delete it (d), and then move back into insert mode (i) and type a new letter that would irrevocably overwrite the file. But that also meant you could destroy an entire project by forgetting you’d opened edit mode and typing “edit.”

Tesler was a devoted opponent of modes, and he redoubled his commitment to that philosophy at Apple. “Why have people spend six months to become a user?” Tesler asked. “Why don’t we spend six months or six years even, if that’s what it takes,to make it really easy so people can learn it in six hours?”

The second idea was relying on tests to figure out how people were actually using computers. At the birth of the Lisa, “the phrase ‘human interface’ wasn’t in the terminology,” recalls Annette Wagner, who designed the Lisa’s icons before becoming one of Apple’s early Computer Human Interface team members. “There were no user interface designers.” Under Tesler, however, Apple began setting up formal tests of its designs. It would put new users in front of the Lisa and ask them to talk through what they were doing. The vision that emerged was the computer as a place — and, more specifically, an office.

The surface of a secretary’s desk isn’t the only — or necessarily the best — possible metaphor for computers. Engelbart’s early ’60s demo introduced many of the core ideas of visual interfaces without it. The Alto itself was built on a concept called the Dynabook, whose creator, Alan Kay, imagined it as an educational computer designed for children who might have never seen the inside of an office. During the Lisa’s development, interface designer Bill Atkinson took inspiration from the MIT Spatial Data Management System, a personalized computing environment known as “Dataland” with a map that users could fly over using a joystick. In the ’80s, Amiga released an operating system built on the metaphor of a utility workbench.

But by then, the major computing players were pitching their wares to an audience of administrative assistants and other office workers. “Engelbart’s idea was that the computer was a tool for augmenting the human mind, allowing us to solve the big problems in the world, in society,” says Hansen Hsu, historian at the Computer History Museum. It introduced the idea that knowledge workers could vastly amplify their capabilities with a better interface. At Xerox and then Apple, that idea was translated into creating the desktop of the future.

The benefits weren’t just practical — they were cultural. At computing havens like MIT, typing was an accepted part of coding. But in the business world, it was associated with secretarial — or women’s — work, not something executives should bother with. When PARC arranged demos for Xerox executives, the Alto’s graphics let it compose a visual application called “SimKit” that would let them simulate running a business without ever touching the keyboard. “It was all mouse-pointing and mouse-clicking,” recalled PARC researcher Adele Goldberg inDealers of Lightning. “We knew these guys wouldn’t type. In those days, that wasn’t macho.”

Even without the Lisa or the Xerox Star, the idea could have ended up seeming obvious. As the Lisa team worked to nail down its design, they stumbled across a 1980 IBM research concept called Pictureworld, which imagined a then-nonexistent powerful computer that hewed as close to a desktop as possible:you wouldn’t just hitsendon an email — you’d put it inside a virtual envelope and drop it in an outbox. But the IBM report portrayed Pictureworld as theoretical, and publicly, it made computers sound personable by describing their behind-the-scenes value for banking or flight-booking. “If living with computers makes you nervous, consider another unnerving possibility. Living without them,” warns one early ’80s ad above some clipart of a man hiding from a bank of mainframes.

And without testing, Apple’s vision of a “desktop” might have looked almost nothing like the one users expect today. The original Lisa design, for instance, didn’t use the now-ubiquitous system of files and folders. It considered the idea and discarded it as inefficient, settling instead on a text-based filer that asked increasingly specific questions about how and where to create, save, move, or delete a file.

The filer was considered the best system on paper, but as the team watched people use it, they realized it wasn’t any fun. The constant prompting, wrote designers Roderick Perkins, Dan Smith Keller, and Frank Ludolph in a 1997 retrospective, “made users feel that they were playing a game of Twenty Questions.” They raised their concerns with Atkinson, and the group workshopped an alternative that drew from Dataland and Pictureworld, then brought it to Lisa engineering manager Wayne Rosing.

But there was a problem: Twenty Questions had already been locked into the Lisa, and the deadline to ship was looming. Rosing didn’t want other teams to start adding new systems, and according to Herzfeld, he also had a bigger fear: if Apple co-founder Steve Jobs learned about the idea before it actually functioned, he might delay the entire schedule to work it out.

The result was a subterfuge that wouldn’t sound out of place inHalt and Catch Fire. Atkinson and the interface team spent two weeks building a prototype in secret, hastily quitting whenever they heard Jobs approaching. Jobs realized they were hiding something, made them show it off, and promptly fell in love with it — but, fortunately for Rosing, onlyafterthey’d hammered out most of the kinks.

Icons and folders didn’t, the team learned, make creating or moving files around more efficient. But users universally preferred them to playing Twenty Questions. They invited people to explore the interface with the kind of familiarity they might grant a physical space. “The screen became, in some sense, real,” the Lisa’s creators wrote later. “The interface began to disappear.”

To look at the Lisa now is to see a system still figuring out the limits of its metaphor. One of its unique quirks, for instance, is a disregard for the logic of applications. You don’t open an app to start writing or composing a spreadsheet; you look at a set of pads with different types of documents and tear off a sheet of paper.

But the office metaphor had more concrete technical limits, too. One of the Lisa’s core principles was that it should let users multitask the way an assistant might, allowing for constant distractions as people moved between windows. It was a sophisticated idea that’s taken for granted on modern machines, but at the time, it pushed Apple’s engineering limits —and pushed the Lisa’s price dramatically upward. And as Apple was wrapping up the Lisa, it was already working on another machine: the cheaper, simpler Macintosh.

“The problem that both Xerox and Apple ran into with a $10,000 machine is that the users end up being secretaries, and no company is going to want to buy a $10,000 machine for a secretary,” says Hsu. “It really needed the Macintosh to bring that cost down to a quarter of that.”

And after all that, says Hsu, the real breakthrough for graphical interfaces wasn’t that it made the virtual world more familiar — it was that you could more easily push things into thephysicalone. “It wasn’t really until desktop publishing became available, with PageMaker and PostScript and the laser printer, that [you got] a compelling use case for a graphical user interface-based computer — something that you could not do with a command-line-based computer.”

Non-graphical interfaces never completely went away. At Apple, modes were resurrected in the form of keyboard shortcuts, a system that’s hugely powerful but mysterious enough that even the most experienced users will periodically find themselves surprised. Sure, engineers regularly dip into the command line 40 years after the Lisa’s launch. But for most people, a graphical system is all they’ve ever known.

The metaphor of the desktop has slowly given way in the past years. The skeuomorphic approach that made Apple’s early computers so powerful became widely derided on the iPhone, where it took the form of faux-pine paneling and yellow legal pads —until Apple gave it up for a "flat" look in 2013.

But the logic of user testing has turned into a standard part of computing, including at Apple. “The whole idea of what you see is what you get, having an icon-driven user interface, paying attention to whether somebody could use something or not —all of that, I think, came out of the Lisa, whether the Macintosh team wanted to admit it or not,” Wagner says.

And the future of computing may be even more user dependent. Over the past years, Meta has pushed the development of a nerve-reading wristband controller that learns and adapts to users rather than the other way around. Natural language systems — like Apple’s own Siri as well as newer tools like ChatGPT — are supposed to be so intuitive they’re like speaking with a person… even if we’re likely adapting to themas much as they are to us.

As for the Lisa, “certainly the ideas were in the air” for graphical computing in the 1980s, Hsu says. But “the extent that those ideas would have become as dominant as they are, I think, is a different question. We could live in a world where maybe half the world still uses command line interfaces, and half the world uses graphical user interfaces. Who knows?”

The Apple Lisa was a design revolution — and it still feels like one today

The Lisa helped create the design language for computers as we know them. Here’s what it’s like to use one.

The Apple Lisawas not, by nearly any definition, a hit product. Released in 1983, the ambitious but flawed machine was instantly overshadowed by Apple’s follow-up, the 1984 Macintosh — which helped cement the computer as a fixture in homes and offices worldwide.

But the design language of the Lisa is the design language of modern computers. It was one of the first machines to use the metaphor of a desktop, including things like folders, icons, and application windows that mimicked sheets of paper. Apple drew inspiration from outside sources, particularly the Alto, a groundbreaking machine developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. But iterated on the formulawith obsessive user testing that adapted to first-time users’ intuitions. The result is something that, 40 years later, feels strange and familiar at the same time.

There’s a dwindling number of Lisas in the world, but I was lucky enough to get my hands on one, thanks to a generous (and prolific) Apple hardware collector. It was a chance to explore what made the Lisa so special... while, admittedly, getting an inkling of why so many people picked a Mac instead. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had on a computer for years.

Apple Lisa

The Apple Lisa was a personal computer designed at Apple Computer, Inc. during the early 1980s. Officially, “Lisa” stood for “Local Integrated Software Architecture”, but it was also the name of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ daughter.

The Lisa project was started at Apple in 1978 and evolved into a project to design a powerful personal computer with a graphical user interface (GUI) that would be targeted toward business customers.

In September 1980, Steve Jobs was forced out of the Lisa project, so he joined the Macintosh project instead. Contrary to popular belief, the Macintosh is not a direct descendant of Lisa, although there are obvious similarities between the systems and the final revision, the Lisa 2/10, was modified and sold as the Macintosh XL.

The Lisa was a more advanced (and far more expensive) system than the Macintosh of that time in many respects, such as its inclusion of protected memory, cooperative multitasking, a generally more sophisticated hard disk based operating system, a built-in screensaver, an advanced calculator with a paper tape and RPN, support for up to 2 megabytes of RAM, expansion slots, and a larger higher resolution display. It would be many years before many of those features were implemented on the Macintosh platform. Protected memory, for instance, did not arrive until the Mac OS X operating system was released in 2001. The Macintosh, however, featured a faster 68000 processor (7.89 MHz) and sound. The complexity of the Lisa operating system and its programs taxed the 5 MHz Motorola 68000 microprocessor so that the system felt sluggish, particularly when scrolling in documents.


While the documentation shipped with the original Lisa only ever referred to it as The Lisa, officially, Apple stated that the name was an acronym for Local Integrated Software Architecture or “LISA”. Since Steve Jobs’ first daughter (born in 1978) was named Lisa Jobs, it is normally inferred that the name also had a personal association, and perhaps that the acronym was invented later to fit the name. Hertzfeld states that the acronym was reverse engineered from the name “Lisa” in autumn 1982 by the Apple marketing team, after they had hired a marketing consultancy firm to come up with names to replace “Lisa” and “Macintosh” (at the time considered by Rod Holt to be merely internal project codenames) and then rejected all of the suggestions. Privately, Hertzfeld and the other software developers used “Lisa: Invented Stupid Acronym”, a recursive backronym. It is also important to note that Lisa team member Larry Tesler’s daughter is named Lisa.


The Lisa was first introduced in January 19, 1983 at a cost of $9,995 US ($21,482.26 in 2008 dollars). It is one of the first commercial personal computers to have a GUI and a mouse. It used a Motorola 68000 CPU at a 5 MHz clock rate and had 1 MB RAM.

The original Lisa has two Apple FileWare 5¼ inch double-sided floppy disk drives, more commonly known by Apple’s internal code name for the drive, “Twiggy”. They have a capacity of approximately 871 kilobytes each, but required special diskettes. The drives have the reputation of not being reliable, so the Macintosh, which was originally designed to have a single Twiggy, was revised to use a Sony 400k microfloppy drive in January 1984. An optional external 5 MB or, later, a 10 MB Apple ProFile hard drive (originally designed for the Apple III) was also offered.

The first hardware revision, the Lisa 2, released in January 1984 priced between $3,495 and $5,495 US, was much less expensive than the original model and dropped the Twiggy floppy drives in favor of a single 400k Sony microfloppy. It was possible to purchase the Lisa 2 with a ProFile and with as little as 512k RAM. The final version of the Lisa available includes an optional 10 MB internal proprietary hard disk manufactured by Apple, known as the “Widget”. In 1984, at the same time the Macintosh was officially announced, Apple announced that it was providing free upgrades to the Lisa 2 to all Lisa 1 owners, by swapping the pair of Twiggy drives for a single 3½ inch drive, and updating the boot ROM and I/O ROM. In addition, a new front faceplate was included to accommodate the reconfigured floppy disk drive. With this change, the Lisa 2 had the notable distinction of introducing the new Apple inlaid logo, as well as the first Snow White design language features.

There were relatively few third-party hardware offerings for the Lisa, as compared to the earlier Apple II. AST offered a 1.5 MB memory board, which when combined with the standard Apple 512 KB memory board, expanded the Lisa to a total of 2 MB of memory, the maximum the MMU could address.

Late in the product life of the Lisa, there were third-party hard disk drives, SCSI controllers, and double-sided 3½ inch floppy-disk upgrades. Unlike the Macintosh, the Lisa features expansion slots. It is an “open system” like the Apple II.

The Lisa 2 motherboard is a very basic backplane with virtually no electronic components, but plenty of edge connector sockets/slots. There are 2 RAM slots, 1 CPU slot & 1 I/O slot all in parallel placement to each other. At the other end, there are 3 ‘Lisa’ slots, parallel to each other. This flexibility provides the potential for a developer to create a replacement for the CPU ‘card’ to upgrade the Lisa to run a newer CPU, albeit with potential limitations from other parts of the system.


The Lisa operating system features cooperative (non-preemptive) multitasking and virtual memory, then extremely advanced features for a personal computer. The use of virtual memory coupled with a fairly slow disk system makes the system performance seem sluggish at times.

Based in part on advanced elements from the failed Apple III SOS operating system released 3 years earlier, the Lisa also organized its files in hierarchal directories, making the use of large hard drives practical. The Macintosh would eventually adopt this disk organizational design as well for its HFS filing system. Conceptually, the Lisa resembles the Xerox Star in the sense that it was envisioned as an office computing system; consequently, Lisa has two main user modes: the Lisa Office System and the Workshop. The Lisa Office System is the GUI environment for end users. The Workshop is a program development environment, and is almost entirely text-based, though it uses a GUI text editor. The Lisa Office System was eventually renamed “7/7”, in reference to the seven supplied application programs: LisaWrite, LisaCalc, LisaDraw, LisaGraph, LisaProject, LisaList, and LisaTerminal.

Third-party software

A significant impediment to third-party software on the Lisa was the fact that, when first launched, the Lisa Office System could not be used to write programs for itself: a separate development OS was required called Lisa Workshop. An engineer runs the two OSes in a dual-boot config, writing and compiling code on one machine and testing it on the other. Later, the same Lisa Workshop was used to develop software for the Macintosh. After a few years, Macintosh-native development system was developed. For most of its lifetime, the Lisa never went beyond the original seven applications that Apple had deemed enough to do “everything.”


In April 1984, following the success of the Macintosh, Apple introduced MacWorks, a software emulation environment which allowed the Lisa to run Macintosh System software and applications. MacWorks helped make the Lisa more attractive to potential customers, but did not enable the Macintosh emulation to access the hard disk until September. In January 1985, re-branded MacWorks XL, it became the primary system application designed to turn the Lisa into the Macintosh XL.

Business blunder
The Apple Lisa turned out to be a commercial failure for Apple, the largest since the Apple III disaster of 1980. The intended business computing customers balked at Lisa’s high price and largely opted to run less expensive IBM PCs, which were already beginning to dominate business desktop computing. The largest Lisa customer was NASA, which used LisaProject for project management and which was faced with significant problems when the Lisa was discontinued.

The Lisa is also seen as being a bit slow in spite of its innovative interface. The release of the Apple Macintosh in 1984, which received far better marketing, was the most significant factor in the Lisa’s demise. The Macintosh appeared, on the surface due to its GUI and mouse, to be a wholesale improvement and was far less expensive. Two later Lisa models were released (the Lisa 2 and its Mac ROM-enabled sibling Macintosh XL) before the Lisa line was discontinued in April 1985. In 1986, Apple offered all Lisa/XL owners the opportunity to turn in their computer and along with US$1,498.00, would receive a Macintosh Plus and Hard Disk 20 (a US$4,098.00 value at the time).

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