Origins of the Apple Human Interface - part 12

From: Shirl <shirlgato_at_email.domain.hidden>
Date: Wed, 11 May 2005 07:26:41 -0600

Q: Would you like to comment on the fact that both Lisa and the Xerox product [inaudible] ?

LARRY TESLER: Yeah. Like the Xerox Star? And the Lisa -- the idea was, in both groups, was that people would only use a few applications. It's kind of true, most people only do use a few applications. But the conclusion that, therefore, it wasn't necessary to have third party applications was kind of ridiculous. Actually in the Lisa, it turned out we did have a place for third party applications. We thought for certain vertical markets, there would be third party applications and we'd have accounting software and so on. But even then, we were thinking very small scale, like there would be one page layout application, and there would be one accounting application, and a couple of vertical market things. If we ever had 20 applications, or 30, that would have been a very large number. Very different from the Mac, which from the very beginning was going to try to do the same thing as the Apple II, and what the IBM PC did, which was go for lots of third party applications. I think one reason the Lisa was designed as it was, was to try to justify why there was this project going on in the company, when we already had an Apple II and an Apple III. Why did we need this other thing? Well, the Apple II and Apple III were going to have all this third party software, but the Lisa won't. It was kind of a differentiator. It was a kind of a closed system that was supposedly a plus. It turned out to be a major minus, of course.

CHRIS ESPINOSA: Well it was -- that was not necessarily unique to Apple at that point. Remember one of the leading software companies of 1979 -1980 was Personal Software, which became Visicorp. And their flagship product line at that point was a failed product line called VisiOn, which was an attempt to expand VisiCalc into a comprehensive suite of interacting applications -- a word processor, a data base. Wordstar at that point was also trying to expand. Everybody was trying to do what Microsoft has successfully done with Microsoft Office, which is turn the thin end of the wedge of getting one successful application, which Microsoft had with Excel on the Macintosh, and turn that into a major suite that delivers all of the application computing needs of the given set of users. Microsoft has done it successfully, and one could argue that the default computing platform right now is Windows with Microsoft Office, and not very much else. So I don't think that that necessarily was a bad idea. It may have been many years ahead of its time. But Microsoft was selling the Microsoft Office for Macintosh in 1985. I still have a box on my shelf where they supplied the word processor, the spreadsheet, the filing program and the terminal program in one box, for one price, for the Macintosh. So, office suites certainly were not a dumb idea of 1981; it's something that has really monopolized the industry.

LARRY TESLER: Yeah, I think that part's true. The Lisa was really one of the first suites, in addition to the ones that Personal Software did. It was the first, probably, multitasking personal computer. But basically ahead of its time and missing the main point, which was, you needed a low cost platform that had reasonable performance and that had lots of third party applications.

Q: You were testing totally naive users without any instructions, by and large. And yet, in the intervening years, acculturation has taken place, and I wonder if that really helps us [inaudible].

CHRIS ESPINOSA: The point is that we were testing in the early years for totally naive users, and that over the years acculturation has taken place, as I talked about. More people approach computers with less fear, with more pre-knowledge of what they're doing. Is that your general point?

Q: Yes, and that pre-knowledge came from a process of about [inaudible].

CHRIS ESPINOSA: And the process came from a decade or more of experimentation. Well, I'll tell you about an interesting user experiment that I did. In 1982, I took a[n] early prototype of the Macintosh, and it was then in a Plexiglas case, just cut panels of Plexiglas, filed and glued square -- we didn't have any of the injection molded cases yet -- with the guts inside. It was running an early version of Mac Paint, which was called Mac Sketch at that point. And it was a turnkey application: you put the disk in and you booted it up and it went straight to that application, because there was no Finder at that point. Which was actually the paradigm of most other machines, which was turnkey boot: you put the floppy in and you booted it and you got into that one application. And I took it over to my girlfriend's parents' house for Thanksgiving, where she had a three year old nephew. A three year old nephew, and this was in 1981. Video games weren't even that -- hadn't even gotten down to three year olds by 1981. That boy spent four hours drawing with Mac Sketch. He learned it in no more than 15 or 20 seconds, just, you press the button and draw things on the screen. And he was drawing things with an early version of Mac Paint, with virtually no tutoring and almost no language at all. With no acculturation at all. So, there were some things that we got basically right, about "human" human factors. If you can appeal to a three year old, and get a three year old with no language skills to understand how to do something productive in no time at all, that's not a cultural statement. You've done something right in design. And that's when I knew we were really on to something.

Q: ... the acculturation has no affect?

CHRIS ESPINOSA: I don't think it's had no affect. I think what acculturation has done is, it's made us soft. We don't address complexity any more the way we -- we sweated over complexity, in 1981. We were deathly afraid of complexity. We take it for granted now. You look at Frye's. It's scary, the kind of things we get away with.

LARRY TESLER: I think it has made some things hard to change. When Microsoft announced they were going to go to single clicks instead of double clicks on the desktop, some journalist said, "See, they're leaving Apple in the dust. You're still on two clicks, and they're moving to one." I said, "Our users have been doing this for 12 years. There's no way they're going to change. We're never going to change it. Maybe the Microsoft users, who have only been doing this for a couple of years can change." But as it turned out, even a couple of years using Windows 95 was too much, and Microsoft had to back off on making users use single clicks, in Windows 97, because even two years was too much. People won't change.

We're out of time now, but there are some people here who were involved in Lisa user interface work, all the way from the Apple II, the Lisa, and the Mac. I thought maybe they could stand up. Annette Wagner specially, who worked on the original Lisa look, and graphics and fonts and everything. And Joy, and Bob -- why don't you all stand up, all you Apple interface people. I think some of the users out here might appreciate you. Bob Glass, still here? [Applause]

LEN SHUSTEK: Thank you both for a great talk. I hope you'll join us over in the warehouse, just down the street to the right, and Larry and Chris, will you both be there to answer questions? Great. Thank you for coming. See you next time. [Applause]

[END OF VIDEOTAPE] Transcribed by John Amos, a volunteer for The Computer Museum History Center San Antonio, Texas February, 1999


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Received on 2005-05-11 06:34:07

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