Is Apple's Lisa was the most important PC?

Is Apple's Lisa was the most important PC?
4 min read
08 February 2023

Even if you're not an Apple fan or roll your eyes whenever you see someone excited over the next iPhone, there's no denying how influential the Mac was in shaping our modern conceptions of what a computer is supposed to be for the average user. With its user-friendly GUI, it had a massive influence on later systems, but the Mac really owes its legacy to an earlier Apple system: the Lisa, named after Steve Jobs' daughter.

The Lisa was the first personal computer with a full-fledged graphical user interface, complete with mouse cursor and pretty icons - features we take for granted nowadays. However, Jobs had to be convinced to take the Lisa in this direction. Although the Lisa was the first home and office PC to have a GUI, the first computer, period, with one was the Xerox Alto, which debuted in 1973. Jobs had a low opinion of Xerox, but it wasn't until he visited the company and saw the Alto himself that he green-lit making the Lisa a GUI-based machine.

The Alto cost $32,000 and was never produced in large quantities, so Apple saw an opportunity with the Lisa to produce a cheaper, more accessible machine that still packed a punch and would be attractive to businesses. It had a Motorola 5 MHz CPU, 1 MB of RAM, a 5 MB hard drive, a 12-inch black and white 720x364 screen, and a pair of 5.25-inch floppy drives to read those old school discs that were actually floppy at the time. Although the specs weren't bad, the real attraction was Lisa's operating system, which actually introduced far more than just a GUI.

Lisa's OS: An Innovative Step Forward

Lisa's OS introduced multitasking and protected memory to the typical user, allowing them to switch between programs without having to close them. In addition, the system featured a built-in screen saver, the ability to cut-and-paste text, and virtual memory that allowed the system to use hard disk space as additional RAM.

Although Lisa was much more powerful than what most users were used to, the novel features put a lot of strain on the system's hardware, leading to sluggish performance. This, combined with its hefty price tag of $10,000, meant that Lisa wasn't taken seriously by businesses. This was especially true since the included software seemed to be focused more towards designers than businesses.

Innovative as Lisa was, it unfortunately just wasn't taken seriously enough. However, its legacy lives on, as it was an important step forward in the world of personal computing.

In many quarters, there wasn't enough third-party software available to make the special high-capacity floppy drives successful. As a result, many users looked at the mouse as a gimmicky toy instead of something for serious computing, even though the Lisa computer also introduced the concept of double-clicking. Despite this, only about 10,000 Lisas were sold after Apple had sunk over 150 million dollars into the project.

So, how did its innovative features live on if it flopped so hard? It turns out that Steve Jobs was actually kicked off the Lisa team for being an annoying micromanager. When this happened, he took the ideas and even some of his colleagues from the Lisa team over to the Macintosh team, whose goal was to make a scaled-back, far lower cost version.

When the Mac did launch in 1984, it only cost one fourth of what the Lisa did, causing the latter to kind of fade into computing history by the end of 1986. But that doesn't mean it's gone for good; there's actually a working Lisa emulator which can be tested out by anyone who is interested. Additionally, the Lisa computer went on to become a magazine writer!

In conclusion, the Lisa computer continues to live on even though it was unsuccessful when it launched. With the help of the emulator, people can experience the Lisa and the innovative features it brought. Furthermore, one of the Lisa's creators even found success in another profession.

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Den W. 3K
I'm a passionate tech enthusiast who loves diving into the world of software, programming, and tech reviews.
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