This January marks the 30 year anniversary of the Apple //e and the
Apple Lisa. While the Apple //e had profound effects on the computer
world throughout the 80s, I am in awe of how much the Apple Lisa
foretold of the computing world. No matter what your thoughts are of
Steve Jobs, the man had a knack for going “where the puck is going to
be, not where it has been“. Reading through BYTE magazine review of
the Apple Lisa shows what Steve was envisioning. It seems so quaint
how the writer had to describe using the “mouse”, what the “desktop”
was, and how to double-click.
Although the Lisa was a failure in the marketplace and its document
centric model being bypassed by an app centric model, it did set the
stage for the direction of computers over the next 30 years. BYTE
magazine, the world’s second personal computer magazine, started
publication in 1975 as a platform agnostic magazine. The Lisa was so
different that the reviewer didn’t quite know how to review the
computer, and, in fact, foresaw the end of the megahertz race and the
death of computer specs.
Reporting on the technical specifications of a computer toward the end
of an article is unusual for BYTE, but it emphasizes tha the why of
Lisa is more important than the what. For part of the market, at
least, the Lisa computer will change the emphasis of microcomputer
from “How much RAM does it have?” to “What can it do for me?”.
The Lisa also had a sleep feature, much like hibernate under Windows and
how iOS on the iPhone and iPad react to sleeping and waking.
… thing happens when you turn the Lisa “off” (actually, it’s never
completely off; it just goes into a low-power mode). In any case, when
you hit the Off button, system software automatically closes all open
files, thus transferring the information in them to their respective
floppy disks, and releses the disks from the Lisa disk drives. In
addition, the software records the status of the “desktop” so that,
when the computer is reactivated, Lisa automatically returns it to the
appearance and state it was in when the Lisa was turned “off”.
It seems that when people try to predict the future there are only two
different scenerios. The more likely gradual changes, and the so far out
there changes that the chance of them being right is slim and
unbelievable. The Lisa shows that Apple was the latter, and it amazes me
what they were thinking up in the years leading up to its release. Apple
did get inspiration on the GUI from Xerox Parc, but their additions,
such as pull-down menus, overlapping windows, are the excence of Apple,
refinement of an idea.
Xerox PARC’s innovation had been to replace the traditional computer
command line with onscreen icons. But when you clicked on an icon you
got a pop-up menu: this was the intermediary between the user’s
intention and the computer’s response. Jobs’s software team took the
graphical interface a giant step further. It emphasized “direct
manipulation.” If you wanted to make a window bigger, you just pulled
on its corner and made it bigger; if you wanted to move a window
across the screen, you just grabbed it and moved it. The Apple
designers also invented the menu bar, the pull-down menu, and the
trash can—all features that radically simplified the original Xerox
The difference between direct and indirect manipulation—between three
buttons and one button, three hundred dollars and fifteen dollars, and
a roller ball supported by ball bearings and a free-rolling ball—is
not trivial. It is the difference between something intended for
experts, which is what Xerox PARC had in mind, and something that’s
appropriate for a mass audience, which is what Apple had in mind. PARC
was building a personal computer. Apple wanted to build a popular
So here we are, 30 years later. A half billion iOS devices have been
sold, and more people than ever have more computing power in their
pocket then what was used to put a man on the moon. Apple now generates
almost as much revenue in a quarter than Microsoft does in a year. With
$137 billion in the bank, what do they have planned for the future?
For your students, Powerful technology is available for $25
dollars, what are they going to create over the next 30 years?