Ignored, Disposed of, Revived

Four Decades of Apple's Lisa

Michael Engel

Playlists: 'vcfb23' videos starting here / audio

The Lisa was Apple's first computer featuring a graphical user interface (GUI). Whereas previous systems developed at Xerox PARC never had a significant commercial impact, Lisa was intended to change this. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a failure – not least due to internal competition by the Macintosh at a quarter of the price, but also due to internal politics at Apple. Ultimately, the Lisa was relegated to be a high-end Mac and, in 1989, Apple buried about 2700 Lisas in a landfill in Utah to get a tax write-off. Still, the Lisa is not forgotten. In early 2023, forty years after its introduction, Apple and the CHM have published source code to the Lisa software, including system and application software – and there are alternative systems available such as Xenix, GEMDOS, and Smalltalk. Today, not only emulators for the Lisa exist, but work is also in progress to build a clone of the Lisa PCBs in order to repair existing machines or create new ones. This talk gives an overview of the history of Lisa's hard- and software and discusses challenges in maintaining, emulating and recreating the system.