History of Apple Lisa, part 2: Meet Its Creators
HISTORY OF APPLE LISA, PART 2: MEET ITS CREATORS
This week at the Computer History Museum’s “Happy 40th Birthday Lisa” event, Katie Hafner, former Computerworld writer, interviewed several of the creators of the Apple Lisa. Many more of the original development team were in the audience. This article follows my previous article on the History of Lisa at 40: The Flop That Influenced Macintosh.
This is a summary of some of the things said by those interviewed. They are considered luminaries in Silicon Valley’s history, and I later worked with some of them at Sun Microsystems. Silicon Valley high-tech is an incredibly “incestuous” industry: it was not unusual in the ’80s and ’90s to see people move between startups and leading tech companies. I did.
Here’s how the evening went:
Apple Lisa Development Team Interviews
He welcomed the physical and virtual attendees to the event and is the current President & CEO of the Computer History Museum (CHM). He was District Sales Manager at Sony; former Market Development Manager, Lisa Division at Apple Computer; VP of Sales & Marketing at NeXT; Corporate VP of Technology & Civic Engagement at Microsoft.
She did the interviews, having been at Computerworld when Lisa was launched. She spent a decade as a journalist for the New York Times and is a novelist.
He was first up. He had also been at HP, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems. In the early ’80s, he had been a software manager for Apple Lisa and was a lead programmer for Macintosh at Apple.
“If there had not been a Lisa, there would not be a Macintosh.”
For two years, the initial Macintosh software development was done on Lisa, as there was no development platform on the Mac. When Bruce moved from the Lisa to the Macintosh Team, he showed them how they had done software on Lisa. The Mac Team jumped on the code: 30% of the Mac code was from Lisa, including the graphic display and printing systems.
Now Bruce is a hydroclimatology expert.
He was the Engineering Director on the Lisa Team at Apple. Previously he had worked at Digital Equipment Corporation and Data General. He and I had worked together at Sun Microsystems in Mountain View in the ’80s. He admitted that when he first came to Sun,
“I had a Lisa on his desk to do my work for his first two years, and used a terminal emulator to connect to Sun servers.”
He worked on Sun’s SPARCstation computer before moving to manage Sun Labs, out of which came Java technology. After that, he led the spin-off First Person to commercialize the Java platform. From there, he went on to be VP of Engineering at Google. Now he is a telescope expert.
“Rosing’s Rascals” was the name of the team of engineers who developed Lisa’s intuitive file manager.
He was the former VP and General Manager of the Lisa Division at Apple. He was one of the first fifty computer science graduates from the University of California, Berkeley, back when I was a student at Berkeley.
He joined HP before being recruited by Steve Jobs to Apple. Keen on education, he left Apple to assume leadership of a Christian school. He was an executive for Mayfield Fund, and was CEO of biotech software company Pangea Systems before returning to Apple to become VP of Education. He’s currently involved with a ministry to Christian music artists and founded the wine-tasting company Eden Estate Wines.
He talked about the uniqueness of Lisa, its graphical display screen, in contrast to the “green screen” personal computers that it competed with. It had a single-button mouse, not two (like Windows) or three (like Sun Microsystems or the Xerox PARC Alto.)
He extolled the “drag-and-drop” object-oriented interface but lamented that bundling the Lisa hardware with the office suite software made it too expensive. IBM had set the tone and swayed the market with its low-cost (by comparison) PC. Nevertheless, he said:
“We sold 50,000 computers.”
She is the graphic artist who designed icons and fonts for the Apple Lisa, working later in the Human Interface team at Apple. She joined Sun Microsystems and worked with the Java team. (I was a Java Evangelist for Sun, launching both the Java language and platform worldwide.)
She talked to us about “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) typefaces, icons, font hinting, and the outline typefaces for the LaserWriter. She worked with Adobe in the early days of Lisa and explained the difficulty of translating the rectangular pixels on the Lisa bit-mapped screen into a dot matrix printer. Having abandoned Daisy Wheel or Selectric-ball printing heads, dot matrix printers allowed much more freedom. She explained that the LaserWriter was much more challenging, as she had to work with Adobe on outline typefaces to ensure high-quality printing.
He is a luminary of the highest order in the personal computer world. He left his Ph.D. program to come work at Apple as the 51st employee. He wrote the Lisa user interface, the QuickDraw graphics library, and the MacPaint program (that sold me on Macintosh when I first got my hands on it back in 1984.) He designed HyperCard, an early hypermedia information system, not unlike the development of the World Wide Web. He became a co-founder of General Magic, where many former Lisa and Macintosh developers went after Apple.
He created such innovations as the static menu bar (which even the Xerox PARC Alto didn’t have), the lasso selection tool, and the “double click.”
He told us about some of the other things he had worked on. He’s now a renowned nature photographer.
He returned to tell us how Steve Jobs was interested in him for his work at Sony, which provided not only the 3.5″ microfloppies for Macintosh but because Sony had a robust distribution system that Jobs was keen on. Dan’l admitted he had no involvement in the development of Lisa except for its market and channel development.
He said he came to Apple in part because
“Joe Roebuck called me.”
I worked for Joe Roebuck when he left Apple and came to Sun Microsystems as VP of Sales.
He was Editor-at-Large for Wired and wrote the book Insanely Great about Apple. A well-known technology journalist, he was chief technology writer and senior editor for Newsweek and has contributed to Rolling Stone, Harper’s Magazine, Macworld, The New York Times Magazine, and The New Yorker. He’s also written six other books, including the best sellers Hackers and Crypto.
The most remarkable thing he told us was that he thought the Lisa was doomed by “The Osborne Effect.” He explained this to the interviewer Annette Wagner.
“The Osborne computer was a portable PC the size of a suitcase. When they announced the release of a new version, people waited for it rather than buying the one on sale.”
This example of premature obsolescence or cannibalization is what he blamed for the Lisa flop. I humbly disagree: I think the $10K price for business users killed it. The market had moved, and IBM had set the price for PCs much lower.
However, I agree with his position that the Lisa and Macintosh could not have existed together in the market.
We were treated to a demo of a working Lisa. What I found remarkably different from the early Macintosh interface was that while there was a fixed menu at the top, there was no signature “Apple” menu icon in the top left corner; instead, the word “Desk.” And to create new folders or documents, you had to duplicate existing ones.
We were shown a 1983 TV advertisement for the Lisa, featuring Kevin Kostner in his pre-Dancing With Wolves and pre-Yellowstone days. Heck, it was before his breakaway performance in Silverado. He’s sitting in front of a Lisa and takes a phone call. He says:
“Hi… yeah, I’ll be home for breakfast.”
We got no idea what he was using the Lisa for or why. But the announcer says over the ending:
“Soon, there will be just two kinds of people: those who use computers… and those who use Apples.”
Lisa, This Is Your Life
A number of the team were invited to address the Lisa on stage, like in the old TV show “This Is Your Life,” and tell stories of its early days.
“One More Thing”
Dan’l Lewin returned to make some closing remarks and, finally, repeat the famous words that Steve Jobs used at the end of product launches, to introduce something really big. And with these words, Dan’l showed a pre-recorded video:
“Hi, I’m Lisa Brennan-Jobs. I’m sorry I can’t be with you; I’m in New York. I think it’s a remarkable coincidence that the Local Integrated Systems Architecture computer and I share the same name. Happy birthday, Lisa.”
So say we all:
Happy birthday, Lisa.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
Highest marks! Vignettes that remind me of being a bit like Forrest Gump: Being at or near pivotal moments of computer history.
Yes, Lisa cost a lot but for a short while there was nothing else you could sit in front of that matched it. I showed off one of mine (I had two at one point) to someone selling a $50k Apollo workstation that included a custom drafting software package but no ‘office’ software. They were beyond speech!