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Apple’s Lisa is 40!

January 19, 2023.

Apple Lisa ad, 1983.

Apple Lisa ad, 1983. © Apple.

On January 19, 1983, Apple, then led by John Sculley, released the Lisa, its new GUI (graphical user interface) computer operable with a mouse. The concept was revolutionary at a time when all operating systems, such as CP/M and MS/DOS, relied on lines of commands. In 1979, Steve Jobs was invited to Xerox’s PARC research center to have a look at Alto, a GUI prototype. Apple’s cofounder immediately saw the potential of this new way of interacting with a computer, and couldn’t understand why Xerox was hesitant to push the technology further. He got started on a project to design a similar computer for business use, built upon the powerful Motorola 68000. Lisa featured many technological innovations, but its initial price of 9,995 USD (about 30,000 in today’s dollars), combined with companies’ reluctance to think outside the box, made this computer a commercial failure. But it wasn’t a total loss. Jobs, squeezed out of the Lisa team in 1981, salvaged many of Lisa’s features and included them in the Macintosh project. LisaGraf graphics routines, for example, were renamed QuickDraw and easily carried over to the Mac, which was also equipped with a 68000 processor. While Lisa didn’t meet with the hoped-for success, all computers owe her a debt of gratitude: Apple invented the menu bar with drop-down menus, double-clicking and even copy-paste, which the Lisa first implemented. In recognition of this ground-breaking computer that made IT history, Apple has authorized the Computer History Museum to release the Lisa source code.

Ars Technica, Tom Warren, “Revisiting Apple’s ill-fated Lisa computer, 40 years on.”

IEEE Spectrum, Hansen Hsu, “The Lisa was Apple’s best failure.”