Re: Lisa's DNA

From: Shirl <shirlgato_at_email.domain.hidden>
Date: Wed, 06 Jun 2007 22:32:49 -0600

Hi Ray,

Read your Apple Lisa article, think you've provided some very good facts and the DNA sequence you've described seems to cover the key facts about the Lisa, its predecessors and successors.

A few comments ...


It is true that a lot of these ideas came from the Xerox Alto, but the folks who designed the Lisa expanded them far beyond what PARC had achieved. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say it's because a lot of the folks from PARC left to work on the Lisa.

Lisa ws built by many people from many places including Xerox PARC, Xerox SDS, DEC (hardware folks mainly), Stanford and long-time Apple people too.

>From my perspective it seems the key "expansions" Apple made to the Lisa UI
was to make it simple to use by new computer users.

Remember that Apple was trying to sell the Lisa to people who for the most part had never used a computer before. As such, the Lisa had to be simple to use.

Three button mice a la Xerox were converted to one button mice since one button achieved most of what the three buttons did and was much simpler for most people. Remember Xerox's mice were used extensively by the SmallTalk environment which had very specific technical uses for each of the mouse buttons and the users of this system were highly technical people who today would be called power users adept at using multiple buttons.

The document-centric design was also a simplification since users wanted to solve a task (e.g. write a letter) and not have to run some escoteric program and then create/open a document to achieve this task. Therefore, the Lisa had stationery pads in which you tore off a sheet and which then when opened automatically ran the program. Lisa users did not run programs, they created/opened documents.

Document names that were people oriented and not file system oriented was also a simplification. Why should people conform to some escoteric file naming convention such as 31 characters max, no dashes and must be unique? Instead the Lisa Office System thru its Desktop Manager (Lisa Finder in today's parlance) supported 63 charcacter names with almost any character and you could have multiple documents with the same name (one could be a word processor document, another a spreadsheet document, a third a graphics documents, all named MY LISA DOCUMENT CREATED ON 2007-06-06). Also the first version of the Lisa file system was non-hierarchical which means no folders. But the Lisa Office System always supported "folders" sicne users wanted these to better organize their documents. The Lisa Desktop Manager managed these folders even though the file system did not.

Recall also that Apple conducted lots of user tests to make certain the Lisa was really understood by its users. Larry Tesler, one of the Lisa designers and head of the Lisa application group, wrote a paper about Lisa user testing which provides lots of details. I've also CCed Tesler this email in case he would like to add anything to this discussion, or at least correct my mistakes. I recall one Lisa design goal was to have users understand the basics of each application in no more than 15 (or 30?) minutes.


they all have a strange little square key labeled "Enter" next to the Apple key

Believe the ENTER key was needed to differentiate its function from the RETURN key. ENTER means "accept the item I just typed and do nothing else", RETURN means "accept the item I just typed and do something else". Spreadsheets need the ENTER key when you want to enter some data in a cell, accept the data, and remain in the cell. RETURN would do all this too but also move you to the next cell.


Prototype Lisa Keyboard. The prototypes didn't have the Enter key <<<

I suspect the spreadsheet application for Lisa may have been a later idea and as such the early keyboards didn't have a need for an ENTER key.


The Lisa, like the Xerox Star, was indeed an extremely expensive workstation when compared to your run-of-the-mill personal computer <<<

In 1983 the Lisa's 1 MB of RAM memory's retail cost was around US$5,000. As such, the retail price of Lisa at US$10,000 was a rather remarkable achievement in my opinion. Apple at that time based its retail price on 4 times its cost so the Lisa most likely cost Apple around $2,500 to build. I've heard that the Xerox Alto which was a 128 KB or 256 KB machine cost Xerox around $20,000-$30,000 to make, and this is the cost to Xerox since these were not retail machines.


1984 Macintosh Introduction Add,

"Add" should be "Ad" (I like being picky).


Name the first GUI office suite that had a word processor, a spread sheet, a database, and a project planning application <<<

Didn't the Xerox Star (circa 1981) have an office suite with at least a word processor, data base and spreadsheet? Not sure it had project planning.

Lisa's Office System was a remarkable achievement for its time. The people behind the design of this really did an excellent job and were really focused on making an application suite that worked well and solved people's computing tasks.

The only negative comment I can make about the Lisa is too many later systems copied its WIMP (windows-icons-mouse pointer) UI which we still have today. It is disappointing that with today's much faster machines with gigantic resources that a better UI has not been developed and supported by the major players in computers today. Too bad ideas such as Apple's OpenDoc architecture were not accepted more.

>From: Ray Arachelian <ray_at_email.domain.hidden>
>To: lisalist_at_email.domain.hidden
>Subject: Lisa's DNA
>Date: Wed, Jun 6, 2007, 10:19 AM

> Here's an article I've written about the Lisa.
> Every few years some publication decides to have a variation on a top
> ten computing failure list. Invariably both the Lisa
> <> and the Newton
> <> make it on that list with
> many guffaws about the Lisa's US$10,000 price.
> Sometimes the Xerox Star <> is
> also added to the list. At least, it's in great company.
> Lisa's DNA
> The authors of such tripe fail to realize just how much of the work
> begun on the Lisa is still with us today. The Lisa's DNA is present in
> today's machines. Just as a pair of eyes, a spine, and opposable thumbs
> bestowed great advantages to creatures bearing them, so do mice, icons,
> windows, pull down menus, and the like to modern computers.
> <snip>
Received on 2007-06-07 05:49:22

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