Jump to content
pcamen

How interesting is the Lisa?

Recommended Posts

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?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 :-)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
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.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×