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This Lisa has dual 5.25" "Twiggy" floppy drives and a 5 MB ProFile hard disk.
Also known asLocally Integrated Software Architecture
DeveloperApple Computer
ManufacturerApple Computer
TypePersonal computer
Release dateJanuary 19, 1983; 41 years ago (1983-01-19)
Introductory priceUS$9,995 (equivalent to $29,400 in 2022)
DiscontinuedAugust 1, 1986; 37 years ago (1986-08-01)
Units sold10,000[1]
Operating systemLisa OS, Xenix
CPUMotorola 68000 @ 5 MHz
Memory1 MB RAM,
16 KB Boot ROM
Display12 in (30 cm) monochrome 720×364
InputKeyboard and mouse
Mass48 lb (22 kg)
PredecessorApple II Plus
Apple III
SuccessorMacintosh XL

Lisa is a desktop computer developed by Apple, released on January 19, 1983. It is generally considered the first mass market personal computer operable through a graphical user interface (GUI). In 1983, a machine like the Lisa was still so expensive that it was primarily marketed to individual and small and medium-size businesses as a groundbreaking new alternative to much bigger and more expensive mainframes or minicomputers such as from IBM, that either require additional, expensive consultancy from the supplier, hiring specially trained personnel, or at least, a much steeper learning curve to maintain and operate. Earlier GUI-controlled personal computers were not mass-marketed; for example, the Xerox Alto was manufactured in several thousands only for Xerox and select partners through Xerox PARC from the early to mid 1970s.

Development of project "LISA" began in 1978.[2] It underwent many changes and shipped at US$9,995 (equivalent to $29,400 in 2022) with a five-megabyte hard drive. It was affected by its high price, insufficient software, unreliable Apple FileWare floppy disks, and the imminent release of the cheaper and faster Macintosh.[3]: 79  Only 10,000 Lisa units were sold in two years.

Considered a commercial failure with technical acclaim, Lisa introduced several advanced features that reappeared on the Macintosh and eventually IBM PC compatibles. These include an operating system with memory protection[4] and a document-oriented workflow. The hardware is more advanced overall than the following Macintosh, including hard disk drive support, capacity for up to 2 megabytes (MB) of random-access memory (RAM), expansion slots, and a larger, higher-resolution display.

The complexity of the Lisa operating system and its associated programs (especially its office suite), and the ad hoc protected memory implementation (due to the lack of a Motorola memory management unit), placed a high demand on the CPU and, to some extent, the storage system. As a result of cost-cutting measures designed to bring it more into the consumer market, advanced software, and factors such as the delayed availability of the 68000 processor and its impact on the design process, many said that the Lisa's user experience was sluggish overall. The workstation-tier price (though at the low end) and lack of a technical software application library made it a difficult sale for much of the technical workstation market. Further impediments to the Lisa's acceptance were the runaway success of the IBM PC, and Apple's decision to essentially compete with itself via the lower-priced Macintosh.

In 1982, after Steve Jobs was forced out of the Lisa project by Apple's board of directors,[5] he appropriated the Macintosh project from Jef Raskin, who had originally conceived of a sub-$1,000 text-based appliance computer in 1979. Jobs immediately redefined Macintosh as a less expensive and more focused version of the graphical Lisa.

When Macintosh launched in January 1984, it quickly surpassed Lisa's underwhelming sales. Jobs then began assimilating increasing numbers of Lisa staff, as he had done with the Apple II division after assuming control over Raskin's project. Newer Lisa models were eventually introduced to address its shortcomings but, even after lowering the list price considerably, the platform failed to achieve sales volumes comparable to the much less expensive Mac. The final model, the Lisa 2/10, was rebranded as the Macintosh XL to become the high-end model in the Macintosh series.[3]: 79 




Though the documentation shipped with the original Lisa only refers to it as "The Lisa", Apple officially stated that the name was an acronym for "Locally Integrated Software Architecture".[6] Because Steve Jobs's first daughter was named Lisa Nicole Brennan (born in 1978), it was sometimes inferred that the name also had a personal association, and perhaps that the acronym was a backronym invented later to fit the name. Andy Hertzfeld[7] said that the acronym was reverse-engineered from the name "Lisa" in late 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 Jef Raskin 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, while computer industry pundits coined the term "Let's Invent Some Acronym" to fit the Lisa's name. Decades later, Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson: "Obviously it was named for my daughter."[8]

Research and design

The project began in 1978 as an effort to create a more modern version of the then-conventional design epitomized by the Apple II. A ten-person team occupied its first dedicated office at 20863 Stevens Creek Boulevard next to the Good Earth restaurant, nicknamed "the Good Earth building".[9] Initial team leader Ken Rothmuller was soon replaced by John Couch, under whose direction the project evolved into the "window-and-mouse-driven" form of its eventual release. Trip Hawkins and Jef Raskin contributed to this change in design.[10] Apple's cofounder Steve Jobs was involved in the concept.

At Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center, research had already been underway for several years to create a new humanized way to organize the computer screen, today known as the desktop metaphor. Steve Jobs visited Xerox PARC in 1979, and was absorbed and excited by the revolutionary mouse-driven GUI of the Xerox Alto. By late 1979, Jobs successfully negotiated a payment of Apple stock to Xerox, in exchange for his Lisa team receiving two demonstrations of ongoing research projects at Xerox PARC. When the Apple team saw the demonstration of the Alto computer, they were able to see in action the basic elements of what constituted a workable GUI. The Lisa team put a great deal of work into making the graphical interface a mainstream commercial product.

The Lisa was a major project at Apple, which reportedly spent more than $50 million on its development.[11] More than 90 people participated in the design, plus more in the sales and marketing effort, to launch the machine. BYTE magazine credited Wayne Rosing with being the most important person on the development of the computer's hardware until the machine went into production, at which point he became technical lead for the entire Lisa project. The hardware development team was headed by Robert Paratore.[12] The industrial design, product design, and mechanical packaging were headed by Bill Dresselhaus, the Principal Product Designer of Lisa, with his team of internal product designers and contract product designers from the firm that eventually became IDEO. Bruce Daniels was in charge of applications development, and Larry Tesler was in charge of system software.[13] The user interface was designed in six months, after which the hardware, operating system, and applications were all created in parallel.

In 1982, after Steve Jobs was forced out of the Lisa project,[14] he appropriated the existing Macintosh project, which Jef Raskin had conceived in 1979 and led to develop a text-based appliance computer. Jobs redefined Macintosh as a cheaper and more usable Lisa, leading the project in parallel and in secret, and substantially motivated to compete with the Lisa team.

In September 1981, below the announcement of the IBM PC, InfoWorld reported on Lisa, "McIntosh", and another Apple computer secretly under development "to be ready for release within a year". It described Lisa as having a 68000 processor and 128KB RAM, and "designed to compete with the new Xerox Star at a considerably lower price".[15] In May 1982, the magazine reported that "Apple's yet-to-be-announced Lisa 68000 network work station is also widely rumored to have a mouse."[16] Apple Confidential said, "Finally, and perhaps most damaging, even before the Lisa began shipping in June, the press was full of intentionally-leaked rumors about a fall release of a "baby Lisa" that would work in much the same way, only faster and cheaper. Its name: Macintosh."[3]: 79 


Lisa was launched on January 19, 1983.[citation needed] Its low sales were quickly surpassed by the January 1984 launch of the Macintosh. Newer versions of the Lisa were introduced that addressed its faults and lowered its price considerably, but it failed to achieve sales comparable to the much less expensive Mac. The Macintosh project assimilated a lot more Lisa staff. The final revision, the Lisa 2/10, was modified and sold as the Macintosh XL.[3]: 79 


The high cost and the delays in its release date contributed to the Lisa's discontinuation although it was repackaged and sold at $4,995, as the Lisa 2. In 1986, the entire Lisa platform was discontinued.

In 1987, Sun Remarketing purchased about 5,000 Macintosh XLs and upgraded them. In 1989, with the help of Sun Remarketing, Apple disposed of approximately 2,700 unsold Lisa units in a guarded landfill in Logan, Utah, to receive a tax write-off on the unsold inventory.[17] Some leftover Lisa computers and spare parts were available until Cherokee Data (which purchased Sun Remarketing) went out of business.[when?]

Timeline of Lisa models

See also: Timeline of Apple Inc. products, Timeline of the Apple II family, and Timeline of Apple Macintosh models

PentiumWindows 3.1LinuxNeXTIBM Personal System/2Microsoft WindowsHP LaserJetIBM PCXerox StarAtari 800Commodore PETTRS-80System 7Macintosh LCSystem 6Macintosh IIHierarchical File SystemCompact MacintoshSun RemarketingMacintosh XLApple LisaApple LisaGS/OSMousePaintApple IIGSProDOSApple IIeIII PlusApple II PlusApple SOSApple DOSApple IIIApple II



This Lisa I/O board has a Macintosh XL UV-EPROM installed.

The Lisa was first introduced on January 19, 1983. It is one of the first personal computer systems with a graphical user interface (GUI) to be sold commercially. It uses a Motorola 68000 CPU clocked at 5 MHz and has 1 MB of RAM. It can be upgraded to 2 MB and later shipped with as little as 512 kilobytes. The CPU speed and model was not changed from the release of the Lisa 1 to the repackaging of the hardware as Macintosh XL.

The real-time clock uses a 4-bit integer and the base year is defined as 1980; the software won't accept any value below 1981, so the only valid range is 1981–1995.[18] The real-time clock depends on a 4×AA-cell NiCd pack of batteries that only lasts for a few hours when main power is not present. Prone to failure over time, the battery packs could leak corrosive alkaline electrolyte and ruin the circuit boards.[18]

The integrated monochrome black-on-white monitor has 720×364 rectangular pixels on a 12-inch (30 cm) screen.

Lisa's printer support includes Apple's Dot Matrix, Daisy Wheel, and ImageWriter dot matrix printers, and Canon's new color inkjet technology.

The original Lisa, later called the Lisa 1, has two Apple FileWare 5.25-inch double-sided variable-speed floppy disk drives, more commonly known by Apple's codename "Twiggy".[3]: 77–78  They have what was then a very high capacity of approximately 871 kB each, but are unreliable[3]: 78  and use proprietary diskettes. Competing systems with high diskette data storage have much larger 8" floppy disks, seen as cumbersome and old-fashioned for a consumer system.

Lisa 1's innovations include block sparing, to reserve blocks in case of bad blocks, even on floppy disks.[19] Critical operating system information has redundant storage, for recovery in case of corruption.

Lisa 2

Lisa 2

The first hardware revision, the Lisa 2, was released in January 1984 and was priced between US$3,495 and $5,495.[3]: 79 [20] It was much less expensive than the original model, and dropped the Twiggy floppy drives in favor of a single 400K Sony microfloppy.[21] The Lisa 2 has as little as 512 KB of RAM. The Lisa 2/5 consists of a Lisa 2 bundled with an external 5- or 10-megabyte hard drive.[22] In 1984, at the same time the Macintosh was officially announced, Apple offered free upgrades to the Lisa 2/5 to all Lisa 1 owners, by replacing the pair of Twiggy drives with a single 3.5-inch drive,[21] and updating the boot ROM and I/O ROM. In addition, the Lisa 2's new front faceplate accommodates the reconfigured floppy disk drive, and it includes the new inlaid Apple logo and the first Snow White design language elements. The Lisa 2/10 has a 10MB internal hard drive, no parallel port, and a standard configuration of 1 MB of RAM.[22]

Developing early Macintosh software required a Lisa 2.[23] There were relatively few third-party hardware offerings for the Lisa, as compared to the earlier Apple IIAST 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 amount that the MMU can address.

Late in the product life of the Lisa, there were third-party hard disk drives, SCSI controllers, and double-sided 3.5-inch floppy-disk upgrades. Unlike the original Macintosh, the Lisa has expansion slots. The Lisa 2 motherboard has a very basic backplane with virtually no electronic components, but plenty of edge connector sockets and slots. There are two RAM slots, one CPU upgrade slot, and one I/O slot, all in parallel. At the other end are three Lisa slots in parallel.

Macintosh XL

Macintosh XL

Main article: Macintosh XL

In January 1985, following the Macintosh, the Lisa 2/10 (with integrated 10 MB hard drive) was rebranded as Macintosh XL. It was given a hardware and software kit, enabling it to reboot into Macintosh mode and positioning it as Apple's high-end Macintosh. The price was lowered yet again, to $4,000, and sales tripled, but CEO John Sculley said that Apple would have lost money increasing production to meet the new demand.[24] Apple discontinued the Macintosh XL, leaving an eight-month void in Apple's high-end product line until the Macintosh Plus was introduced in 1986.


A screenshot of Lisa Office System 3.1

Lisa OS

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (March 2019)

The Lisa operating system features protected memory,[25] enabled by a crude hardware circuit compared to the Sun-1 workstation (c. 1982), which features a full memory management unit. Motorola did not have an MMU (memory-management unit) for the 68000 ready in time, so third parties developed their own. Apple's is also the result of a cost-cutting compromise, with sluggish performance. Based, in part, on elements from the Apple III SOS operating system released three years earlier, the Lisa's disk operating system also organizes its files in hierarchical directories. File system directories correspond to GUI folders, as with previous Xerox PARC computers from which the Lisa borrowed heavily. Lisa was designed around a hard drive, unlike the first Macintosh.

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.

Apple's warranty said that this software works precisely as stated, and Apple refunded an unspecified number of users, in full, for their systems. These operating system frailties, and costly recalls, combined with the very high price point, led to the failure of the Lisa in the marketplace. NASA purchased Lisa machines, mainly to use the LisaProject program.

In 2018, the Computer History Museum announced it would be releasing the source code for Lisa OS, following a check by Apple to ensure this would not impact other intellectual property. For copyright reasons, this release does not include the American Heritage dictionary.[26] For its 40th anniversary on January 19, 2023, Lisa OS Software version 3.1's source code is available under an Apple Academic License Agreement.[27][28]


Main article: MacWorks

In April 1984, following the release of the Macintosh, Apple introduced MacWorks, a software emulation environment which allows the Lisa to run Macintosh System software and applications.[29] MacWorks helped make the Lisa more attractive to potential customers, although it did not enable the Macintosh emulation to access the hard disk until September. Initial versions of the Mac OS could not support a hard disk on the Macintosh machines. In January 1985, re-branded MacWorks XL, it became the primary system application designed to turn the Lisa into the Macintosh XL.

Third-party software

A screenshot of the Apple Lisa Workshop

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, called Lisa Workshop, was required. During this development process, engineers would alternate between the two OSes at startup, writing and compiling code on one OS and testing it on the other. Later, the same Lisa Workshop was used to develop software for the Macintosh. After a few years, a 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",[citation needed] although UniPress Software did offer UNIX System III for $495.[30]

Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) offered Microsoft XENIX (version 3), a UNIX-like command-line operating system, for the Lisa 2 — and the Multiplan spreadsheet (version 2.1) that ran on it.[31]


An original Apple Lisa is at work at the Apple Convention in Boston, in early 1983.

BYTE wrote in February 1983 after previewing the Lisa that it was "the most important development in computers in the last five years, easily outpacing [the IBM PC]". It acknowledged that the $9,995 price was high, and concluded "Apple ... is not unaware that most people would be incredibly interested in a similar but less expensive machine. We'll see what happens".[11]

The Apple Lisa was a commercial failure, the company's largest since the Apple III of 1980. Apple sold a total of approximately 10,000[1] Lisa machines at US$9,995 (equivalent to about $29,400 in 2022) each,[32] generating total sales of $100 million against a development cost of more than $150 million.[1] The largest Lisa customer was NASA, which used LisaProject for project management.[33]

The Lisa 2 and its Mac ROM-enabled Macintosh XL version are the final two releases in the Lisa line, which was discontinued in April 1985.[34] The Macintosh XL is a hardware and software conversion kit to effectively reboot Lisa into Macintosh mode. In 1986, Apple offered all Lisa and XL owners the opportunity to return their computer, with an additional payment of US$1,498, in exchange for a Macintosh Plus and Hard Disk 20.[35] Reportedly, 2,700 working but unsold Lisa computers were buried in a landfill.[36]


The Macintosh project, led by Steve Jobs, borrowed heavily from Lisa's GUI paradigm and directly took many of its staff, to create Apple's flagship platform of the next several decades. The column-based interface, for instance, utilized by Mac OS X, had originally been developed for Lisa.[citation needed] It had been discarded in favor of the icon view.

Apple's culture of object-oriented programming on Lisa contributed to the 1988 conception of Pink, the first attempt to re-architect the operating system of Macintosh.

See also


  1. ^ a b c O'Grady, Jason D. (2009). Apple Inc. ABC-CLIO. p. 72. ISBN 9780313362446. By most accounts, Lisa was a failure, selling only 10,000 units. It reportedly cost Apple more than $150 million to develop Lisa ($100 million in software, $50 million in hardware), and it only brought in $100 million in sales for a net $50-million loss.
  2. ^ Christoph Dernbach (October 12, 2007). "Apple Lisa". Mac History. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Linzmayer, Owen W. (2004). Apple confidential 2.0 : the definitive history of the world's most colorful company (2nd ed.). San Francisco, California: No Starch Press. ISBN 978-1593270100. OCLC 1194892877. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  4. ^ Lisa Operating System Reference Manual. p. 34.
  5. ^ Simon, Jeffrey S.; Young, William L. (April 14, 2006). iCon : Steve Jobs, the greatest second act in the history of business (Newly updated. ed.). Hoboken, NJ. ISBN 978-0471787846. Retrieved January 6, 2014.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ O'Grady, Jason D. (2009). Apple Inc. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0313362446. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  7. ^ Andy Hertzfeld (2005). "Bicycle". Revolution in the Valley. O'Reilly. p. 36. ISBN 0-596-00719-1.
  8. ^ Isaacson, Walter (2011). Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-4516-4853-9.
  9. ^ Hertzfeld, Andy (October 1980). "Good Earth". Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  10. ^ Hormby, Tom (October 5, 2005). "History of Apple's Lisa". Low End Mac. Archived from the original on February 20, 2008.
  11. ^ a b Williams, Gregg (February 1983). "The Lisa Computer System". BYTE. Vol. 8, no. 2. pp. 33–50. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  12. ^ "Robert Paratore".
  13. ^ Morgan, Chris; Williams, Gregg; Lemmons, Phil (February 1983). "An Interview with Wayne Rosing, Bruce Daniels, and Larry Tesler". BYTE. Vol. 8, no. 2. pp. 90–114. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
  14. ^ Simon & Young 2006.
  15. ^ Freiberger, Paul (September 14, 1981). "Apple Develops New Computers". InfoWorld. Vol. 3, no. 18. pp. 1, 14. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  16. ^ Markoff, John (May 10, 1982). "Computer mice are scurrying out of R&D labs". InfoWorld. Vol. 4, no. 18. pp. 10–11. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  17. ^ McCollum, Charles (October 16, 2011). "Editor's Corner: Logan has interesting link to Apple computer history". The Herald Journal. Retrieved February 24, 2014.
  18. ^ a b "The little-known Apple Lisa: Five quirks and oddities". January 30, 2013. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  19. ^ Craig, David (February 16, 1993). "The Legacy of the Apple Lisa Personal Computer: An Outsider's View". Oberlin Computer Science. David T. Craig. Retrieved September 24, 2019.
  20. ^ "Mac GUI :: Re: MACINTOSH opinion and request".
  21. ^ a b Mace, Scott (February 13, 1984). "Apple introduces Lisa 2; basic model to cost $3,500". InfoWorld. Vol. 6, no. 7. pp. 65–66. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  22. ^ a b Pina, Larry (1990). Macintosh Repair & Upgrade Secrets (1st ed.). Carmel, IN, USA: Hayden Books. p. 236. ISBN 0672484528. LCCN 89-6375.
  23. ^ da Cruz, Frank (June 11, 1984). "Macintosh Kermit No-Progress Report". Info-Kermit mailing list (Mailing list). Kermit Project, Columbia University. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  24. ^ McGeever, Christine (June 3, 1985). "Apple's LISA meets a bad end". InfoWorld. Vol. 7, no. 22. pp. 21–22. ISSN 0199-6649. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  25. ^ Lisa Operating System Reference Manual. p. 50.
  26. ^ Ruggeri, Luca (January 17, 2018). "The Computer History Museum will open source Apple's Lisa OS". Retrieved May 11, 2020.
  27. ^ Hsu, Hansen (January 19, 2023). "The Lisa Was Apple's Best Failure". IEEE Spectrum. Archived from the original on January 20, 2023. Retrieved January 19, 2023.
  28. ^ "CHM Makes Apple Lisa Source Code Available to the Public as a Part of Its Art of Code Series". Computer History Museum. Mountain View, CA. January 19, 2023. Archived from the original on January 20, 2023.
  29. ^ "The Lisa 2: Apple's ablest computer". BYTE. No. Dec 1984. pp. A106–A114. Archived from the original on October 4, 2006.
  30. ^ "Unix Spoken Here / and MS-DOS, and VMS too!". BYTE (advertisement). Vol. 8, no. 12. December 1983. p. 334. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  31. ^ Photograph of Lisa Xenix Multiplan diskette (JPEG). Retrieved September 24, 2019.
  32. ^ "A Look Back at Apple Products of Old". Technologeek. August 19, 2013. Archived from the original on November 5, 2013. Retrieved September 8, 2015.
  33. ^ Isaacson 2011
  34. ^ "Back in Time", A+ Magazine, Feb 1987: 48–49.
  35. ^ "Votes For And Against The NetWorkers". Semaphore Signal. No. 26. March 12, 1986. p. 13. Archived from the original on November 19, 1997.
  36. ^ Tiwari, Aditya (April 21, 2016). "Why Are 2700 Apple Lisa Computers Buried in a Landfill?". Fossbytes.