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How interesting is the Lisa?

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Just curious about how people feel about the Lisa.  I've got two working ones (at least they were before they went into storage) and one non-working one.  I think they are interesting as the first Mac like system Apple produced and have a solid place in history.  But you can't do that much with them, truthfully. 

 

They seem to fetch high prices on eBay these days but I haven't followed up on the listings to see if they are actually selling at those prices.

 

Just curious what people here feel about them.  Do you feel they are an essential part of a collection?  If so, why?

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I would absolutely love to find one someday, simply for historical purposes. My interest is mostly historical, with future preservation, so they are an important piece to me. Sure, you can't do much, but then again you can do basically jack these days with any Apple II system.

Edited by LaPorta

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59 minutes ago, LaPorta said:

but then again you can do basically jack these days with any Apple II system.

Well, with an Apple II system there are worlds more software available.  I love many of the old Apple II games and wrote many of my college papers on Apple Writer.  My dad wrote a couple of books on Apple Writer as well:

 

https://www.amazon.com/Electronic-Integrated-Systems-Design-Camenzind/dp/0882757636/

 

https://www.amazon.com/Circumstantial-evidence-John-Penter/dp/0939762005/

 

The prices on that last one (written under a pen name) crack me up.  We have a box of them in the attic, should fund some good vintage Mac purchases. :)

 

I would probably set up an Apple II with a Floppy Emu and some games for the kids.  The Lisa I would probably set up with an Image Writer printer so you could at least mess around and print something. 

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I think it all depends on where you fall on the spectrum. I never really liked Apple IIs, because my family's first computer was a Mac Plus. Apple IIs were "ghetto" by comparison, and I hated having to use them at school. Granted, playing Oregon Trail was fun. However, the lack of a mouse was totally foreign to me, not to mention 5.25" disks and command line code.

 

I made a custom Quadra 630 in a clear acrylic case with LCD for my kids, At Ease and multiple games from my childhood.

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I guess the nostalgia factor plays a big part in preference.  Since I grew up with the Apple II (I remember loading lemonade stand from cassette tape) it holds a special place in my heart.  And the paddles are really quite good for space invaders and such. 

 

I never owned a Lisa, but I remember doing computer support when I was in college and several of the teachers had them.  They were probably Mac XL's at that time. 

Edited by pcamen

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I think the nostalgia does. Not to knock the II line (I've got a few IIes, a IIc+, and a IIgs) they just don't hold that same special place as you are saying.

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No, if you can't do much with it I don't find it interesting. I would just look at it and feel smug if I had one. Which I would like to do.

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I find the Lisa about as interesting as the Apple III, which is to say I don't find it interesting at all. I feel like my Macs give me essentially the same experience as the Lisa at a small fraction of the cost.

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I see the Lisa in the category of a 128k. It's pretty much useless today, underpowered, etc, but would I want one? Yes. Do I want to spend over $500 for one? No.

 

It's not like a IIfx, which is uncommon and expensive, but super useful.

Edited by Johnnya101

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A Lisa running Lisa Office System is "interesting" in that, sure, it's a window to the initial all-encompassing computer-as-an-appliance vision that Apple was pursuing with their first GUI work. (The first Macintosh is a significantly watered down version of said vision despite, ironically enough, actually having the hardware itself nailed tighter shut.) But I'm pretty sure I'd be done playing with one after a few hours and never really be inclined to touch it again. So unless I were actually interested in curating a computer museum then, no, I don't think I'd want one. Even for free, really. (Assuming I'm not allowed to flip it.)

I don't know off the top of my head what the percentages are but my perception at least is that the majority of surviving Lisas were are effectively used as MacXLs (regardless of whether they've had the screen modification that makes it official or not). In one sense those might actually be more fun to "play with" because, well, there's a heck of a lot more software. But objectively speaking they're also kind of terrible Macs, slower than even an original Fat Mac (except for the hard disk) and lacking compatibility in some areas such as sound. So, again, they're mostly interesting as museum pieces. Or as part of a freak show.

Apple IIs are completely another kettle of fish. If you want to debate places in history the Apple II's is about as secure as the Lisa's in terms of significance. (IE, strictly speaking neither was the first of its kind, but the Apple II was *close* to the first mass-market color personal computer and the Lisa was the *among* the first fully GUI-centric computers specifically aimed at the personal computer market, albeit the very high end of it.) And unlike the Lisa the Apple II was actually commercially successful and is with a varying degree of fondness strongly engraved in the memories of those who lived through the initial decade of the personal computer revolution. (Class of 1977-1986.) The population that actually has contemporary nostalgia for the Lisa is far smaller. People love the Apple II at a gut level and its limitations and warts are an integral part of its experience, the Lisa is pretty much solely interesting because it's a "technical milestone".

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I like Lisas a lot. They're strange and fun to hack on---they have a lot of complexity, but virtually all of the parts are through-hole, and most ICs are off-the-shelf 74-series logic. You can understand the computer at a very detailed level if you choose to. Also, compared to its contemporaries, there's a whole lot of computer there for you to understand: a strange homemade MMU, a disk controller powered by its own 650x chip, a video system that can draw pixels from anywhere in RAM, a highly-engineered operating system with all kinds of workstation-like features, funky bespoke hard drives with a funky bespoke protocol, and more. (All the docs on Bitsavers really help you dive deep.)


Seeing right into the guts of how all of these things work beats staring and some mysterious black VLSI square on a modern motherboard. There's not much you can understand about those without signing an NDA, and even then, what would be the point? (Counterargument: those folks who made the amazing Previous NeXT emulator have delved pretty deeply into that platform's mystery chips, so anything's possible, but you have to be much more talented than I am!)

 

Anyway, you are largely making your own fun when you start working on Apple Lisa projects. There is just not really much software, so unless you want to build it yourself like some kind of weirdo, you're limited to a software library that was innovative in some ways for its time but is otherwise pretty dry today. If writing your own code floats your boat, though, then great! There's a whole lot that people haven't really done yet, so far as I know (insert tangent here about making new Office System apps with the ToolKit).

 

So I don't agree with @Gorgonops: even if it weren't a technical milestone, it'd still be fun and interesting for the hacking pleasure. Everything is similar enough to the systems that "made it", but just different enough to be odd and interesting.

 

But if you don't like spending an evening poring over ROM listings, for example, then yes, a Lisa is a bit of a museum piece (and a heavy one, too!).

Edited by stepleton
clarifying what's floating the boat :-)

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22 minutes ago, stepleton said:

Anyway, you are largely making your own fun when you start working on Apple Lisa projects. There is just not really much software, so unless you want to build it yourself like some kind of weirdo, you're limited to a software library that was innovative in some ways for its time but is otherwise pretty dry today. If writing your own code floats your boat, though, then great!

Completely agree. If you're getting a Lisa, you should get one with the intent to program it.

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1 hour ago, stepleton said:

even if it weren't a technical milestone, it'd still be fun and interesting for the hacking pleasure.

Just to clarify, I certainly wouldn't say that the Lisa hardware/software package isn't "interesting" in its own right and that there aren't any rewards to be had in hacking and exploring it if such things float your boat. I'd just argue that unless your goal *is* to dig into it like that it's not a particularly, well, accessible, computer. (Given the difficulty and cost of getting a working one to play with you can take that literally as well.)

 

1 hour ago, stepleton said:

Also, compared to its contemporaries, there's a whole lot of computer there for you to understand: a strange homemade MMU, a disk controller powered by its own 650x chip...

Sadly, I think the main reason I really enjoy hacking around with my Commodore PET is because it's a simple enough machine I *occasionally* have sufficient spare cycles available to wrap my head completely around a problem and make actual progress. *sigh*

(Although, for the record, it also has a disk controller powered not by one, but *two* 6502 derivatives. If you want a weird MMU, though, you'll need to look at the rare CBM2/SuperPet models.)

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I LOVE the Lisa. I don’t have one yet, but there is a 100% chance I will have one someday. I’d be happy if I could get a decent one with at least the keyboard that needed minor work in the ~$700 range. I can definitely understand why some wouldn’t pay that, but it’d be well worth it to me. And I’m talking about a Lisa 2 of course. I will never own a Lisa 1 unless I find one at a junk store. Not paying tens-of-thousands of dollars for 1 computer! 

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I've been holding off on writing my reply to this.

 

I think the Lisa is extremely neat. It's super interesting, and if you look at an early Mac and you look at a LISA, it's clear they're relatively different. The LISA was intended pretty specifically for Office Automation and so it came with writing, diagramming, and project management tools built in. It has a lot of extremely neat touches that make it extremely different from an early Macintosh in a practical sense. (It was also developed as an entirely different platform, but by some of the same people, which is why they look so similar even though they have a lot of different behaviors.)

 

The LISA was, for example, almost entirely stationery based. The entire concept wasn't that you had applications per se, but that you had different blank pieces of paper you could use. It's a lot like OpenDoc in that sense.

 

File handling is different, disk management overall is different, and so on.

 

What I'd say is that it's absolutely worth finding someone who has a LISA and going to play with theirs for a little bit. Whether that's a "destination" kind of place like CHM or LCM (disclaimer: I don't actually know which museums have LISAs in them) or if you've got a friend who has one (this is how I was able to look at one.)

 

It's probably not worth buying one, unless after you look at it, you decide you need to have one, or you want to, as a couple people mentioned up-thread, you want a development or hardware restoration project.

 

A Mac XL is kind of a different story. They're an interesting reuse of the LISA hardware after Apple decided it couldn't realistically sell the LISA as-is, but it already had a bunch on hand. They re-framed it and hacked it as a better Macintosh and it worked a little bit, but from a practical perspective, a Plus/Classic/LC is a better compact Mac and a more flexible and compatible option than the Mac XL. This isn't to say they aren't worth rescuing if you find one, it's just not where I personally think the interest lies.

 

They are so uncommon, they'll be expensive regardless, and because of that I think to the extent possible they definitely "belong" in the hands of the people with the wherewithal to do repairs and preservation to them. It's something there's few enough left we can't just all have one because we want one. They'll naturally either have to trade hands, or someone willing to share them in whatever way will have to have them, or we have to give them to museums.

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3 hours ago, Cory5412 said:

I think the Lisa is extremely neat. It's super interesting, and if you look at an early Mac and you look at a LISA, it's clear they're relatively different. The LISA was intended pretty specifically for Office Automation and so it came with writing, diagramming, and project management tools built in.

I would actually say that they're relatively similar. And the more you look into the Lisa, the more similarities you'll find.

 

Yes, yes, yes, there are differences in the user interface paradigm (stationary, tools, documents, vs applications) and the hardware implementation (MMU and hard disk, for example). But when you go beyond the surface, you find many many parallels. I'll throw out 3 examples at random: QuickDraw, 68000 code segmentation, use of A5 as a globals pointer. There are many more.

 

As Tog said, the Mac took Lisa's principles and filtered them through Common Sense to give a much more viable and usable product.

Edited by Dog Cow

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I would like a Lisa, but only as a converted Mac XL with the square pixel upgrade. With the right upgrades, it would make a very nice System 7.1 machine.

 

I have no doubt this is considered heresy by the Lisa fanatics.

Edited by Paralel

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1 minute ago, Paralel said:

I would like a Lisa, but only as a converted Mac XL with the square pixel upgrade. With the right upgrades, it would make a very nice System 7.1 machine.

 

I have no doubt this is considered heresy by the Lisa fanatics.

As long as all upgrades you do are reversible, I don't see a problem with it. 

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At the core of any discussion about the LISA, we do need to remember that the LISA isn't the Mac, same as the Apple IIgs isn't the Mac, even though it, like the LISA, came from the same company, in the same time period, shared many developers, and likely even shared a few underlying technologies.

42 minutes ago, Dog Cow said:

I would actually say that they're relatively similar. And the more you look into the Lisa, the more similarities you'll find.

 

It's obvious that they're related, as I mentioned, they came from the same company, at almost the same time, and many of the same developers worked on them, but they are absolutely different platforms.

 

I think it's important to highlight the differences because they go into showing why the LISA cost at least four times what a Mac did.

On 3/13/2019 at 12:40 PM, Johnnya101 said:

I see the Lisa in the category of a 128k. It's pretty much useless today, underpowered, etc,

I was writing partly in response to this, which seems to imply that we should judge the LISA, which was an entirely separate computer platform, based on things we know about the Macintosh.

 

 

 

Especially:

On 3/13/2019 at 12:40 PM, Johnnya101 said:

It's not like a IIfx, which is uncommon and expensive, but super useful.

Which, 1)

The Mac IIfx was built six years after the LISA and original Macintosh. It *(and everything around it in 1989/1990/1991) is the result of the fact that the LISA got canned and the Mac grew to fill the role the LISA was originally intended for, with the Mac originally meant to be an information appliance kind of thing.

 

2)

The Mac IIfx isn't really useful by modern standards. Modern standards, or even 1990's standards, is arguably not how we should judge the LISA.

 

(but, I understand what this statement means, in that it's easier to deal with and for them to do things using a IIfx, using knowledge and infrastructure available in 2019.)

 

3)

From what I've seen, the Mac IIfx isn't really rare, in comparison with the LISA. Perhaps compared with the Classic or the LC. In that context, we can agree that the IIfx is rare compared to, say, the Power Macintosh G5, but only because the G5 sold for three years into a much larger overall market with a simplified product line where it was one of essentially six or seven options.

 

6 minutes ago, Paralel said:

I would like a Lisa, but only as a converted Mac XL with the square pixel upgrade. With the right upgrades, it would make a very nice System 7.1 machine.

Will they even run 7.1? I'll admit, I'd personally want some newer hardware with some more conveniences (SCSI, the newer serial port, ADB) and perhaps a higher RAM ceiling. Long term, my LC520 is destined to be my 7.1 one machine, along with, perhaps my PB180, given that I have the PB1400 to run 7.6.1 now.

 

6 minutes ago, Paralel said:

I have no doubt this is considered heresy by the Lisa fanatics.

Just curious, and I can only claim about 5-10 minutes of screen time on one myself, but have you had an opportunity to use and/or be shown a real LISA? It's an absolute treat. I would absolutely agree that it would be a shame to convert one that's still a LISA into a Mac XL.

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I'll have to take a look.

 

Like I said, I stopped by a friend's house on a vacation last year and I'd say between myself and the person I was with we got 10-15 minutes of screen time with the LISA, and some explanations from the friend we were visiting.

 

Some of it's software niceties. Some of it's that you can utterly feel the quality of the machine and see the engineering differences that went into building an explicitly upgradeable Apple 32-bit SuperMicro in the early '80s, relative to what, say, a Mac Plus (oldest Mac I've actually personally used) is like.

 

If you're satisfied with LisaEm, I'd say it's a great way to take a look at that stationery-based application/document model. That's a relatively unique feature of the LISA, almost everybody tried to replicate it or something like it in the '90s and utterly failed at producing anything usable or that caught on at all, so it's insanely interesting to give it a go on the LISA.

 

Regarding emulators in general: I am not against them, but they often do a poor job replicating "the entire experience" - this, I realize, is the same argument people use against floppy emulation and  modern/solid state hard disk replacement options on various PCs. I think this is even different than that.

 

Don't get me wrong, it's very cool that I can run vintage Mac stuff on my modern computer, especially as fast as machines are these days, and with the currently advancing state of, say, MacPPC system emulation.

 

But it is a different experience than sitting down at whatever real Mac you happen to be able to get your hands on. (And, the newer you go, the less likely things like gaming are likely to work well, but the main emulation client I use at this point is an OS9 machine I have up in case I need to quickly do something to vtools without dealing with the iMac or 8600.)

 

It's not entirely bad, but it's one of those things where, if you have the choice...

 

And, like I said, I don't think for most people it's worth the money and effort it'll take to make a real LISA run. It's absolutely worth making a point of seeing one run in person though.

 

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59 minutes ago, PB145B said:

As long as all upgrades you do are reversible, I don't see a problem with it. 

Meh, if one owns a machine, let them do what they want to it, as long as they don't junk it when it can be saved by someone else. That's my one caveat.

Edited by Paralel

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I have a tough time relating to wanting to have a square-pixel XL, but it's a significant part of the Lisa story, and to each their own. If I found a machine that had been set up that way by a user in the days of Sun Remarketing, I'd probably have mixed feelings about reverting it to the original configuration, in the same way I'd be conflicted about adding the mod to a stock machine. Doing that would be the choice of the machine's owner, I guess, although I'd encourage them to save all the bits so that they can revert the mod if they want. Either way, for their trouble, this person would achieve the slowest System 7 computer ever made available to consumers.

 

LisaEm is good, and Ray is working on making it better. For now, though, the Workshop compiler doesn't work on it (the compiler crashes and drops you into the debugger), and since making Lisa programs is my main interest in the machine, I have to use a real system at build time for now. Once or twice I've used LisaEm to write code in an emulated Workshop session, saved the source files to a .dc48 image, then loaded the files on the real Lisa with a Floppy Emu for compiling. I haven't tried IDLE much; I should give it a shot someday.

 

For me, another one of the bizarre charms of the Lisa is its actual construction---being able to access most of the low-voltage components (not the speaker or the power button) with no tools is pretty neat, and of course overengineered and wholly unnecessary. Obviously an emulator can't let you experience this in a satisfying way yet.

 

That said, the 32MHz speedup you get with LisaEm is useful, as the Lisa really is underpowered. I had an occasion where I had to make some really complicated LisaDraw drawings with lots of freehand lines, and before long, scrolling was taxing even the sped-up emulator. I don't think it would have been possible to finish the job on a real Lisa, so I was happy to save that for the very last bit, when it was time to print on the colour inkjet.

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15 hours ago, stepleton said:

LisaEm is good, and Ray is working on making it better.

 

For me, another one of the bizarre charms of the Lisa is its actual construction---being able to access most of the low-voltage components (not the speaker or the power button) with no tools is pretty neat, and of course overengineered and wholly unnecessary. Obviously an emulator can't let you experience this in a satisfying way yet.

 

That said, the 32MHz speedup you get with LisaEm is useful, as the Lisa really is underpowered.

I didn't know Ray was still working on LisaEm. I'll have to go check around and see what's up!

 

I agree with your point on the actual construction - and by extension the fact that you can tell the hardware guys and software guys were working in concert to make the whole environment integrated and play well together. This continued with the early Macintosh when the only software you could get was produced by or heavily influenced by Apple but, inevitably started to diverge once more third-party developers got into the mix.

 

I have Lisae with Lisa 7/7, SCO Xenix, and Macworks, as well as the Pascal workshop, and yes the machine is slow. That hits me again whenever I sit down in front of one, but you get used to the flow after a while :-) I don't recall if the later Sun accelerators worked with anything other than Mac Systems; 7/7 running at, say,  25Mhz on the real hardware would be a blast!

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