Source code for Apple's 1983 Lisa computer to be made public next year

December 31, 2017 by Seung Lee, The Mercury News
Apple Lisa with a ProFile hard drive stacked on top of it. Credit: Stahlkocher/ GNU Free Documentation License

Before there was an iPhone, iMac or Macintosh, Apple had the Lisa computer.

The Lisa computer—which stands for Local Integrated Software Architecture but was also named after Steve Jobs' eldest daughter—was a flop when it released in 1983 because of its astronomical price of $10,000 - $24,700 when adjusted for inflation. But in the grand scheme of Apple's history, the Lisa computer's software laid the groundwork for what was to be the macOS operating system.

Sometime next year, Apple fans will be able to relive the early days of Apple—back when it was still a startup in Cupertino, Calif., led by Jobs and Steve Wozniak—thanks to the Mountain View, Calif.-based Computer History Museum.

The museum's software curator, Al Kossow, announced to a public mailing list that the source code for the Lisa computer has been recovered and is with Apple for review. Once Apple clears the code, the museum plans to release it to the public with a blog post explaining the code's historic significance.

However, not every part of Lisa's source code will be available, Kossow said.

"The only thing I saw that probably won't be able to be released is the American Heritage dictionary for the spell checker in LisaWrite (word processing application)," he said.

The Lisa was the first computer with a aimed at businesses—hence its high cost. With a processor as fast as 5 MHz and 1 MB of RAM, the Lisa computer gave users the breakthrough technology of organizing files by using a computer mouse.

Apple spent $150 million on the development of Lisa and advertised it as a game-changer, with actor Kevin Costner in the commercials. But Apple only sold 10,000 units of Lisa in 1983 and pivoted to create a smaller and much cheaper successor, the Macintosh, which was released the next year.

"The Lisa was doomed because it was basically a prototype—an overpriced, underpowered cobbled-together ramshackle Mac," author and tech journalist Leander Kahney told Wired in 2010. "Lisa taught the Mac team they'd need to articulate a clear purpose for the Mac."

The Lisa also set off another chain of events which helped define Apple's history, according to Wired. Jobs was promptly kicked off the Lisa development team by CEO John Sculley and joined the Macintosh team. Sculley's move against Jobs helped create the legendary fissure between the two that led to Job's ouster from Apple in 1985.

Jobs returned to the company in 1997.

Explore further: 10 products that defined Steve Jobs' career

1397 shares

Related Stories

10 products that defined Steve Jobs' career

October 6, 2011

(AP) -- Steve Jobs had no formal schooling in engineering, yet he's listed as the inventor or co-inventor on more than 300 U.S. patents. These are some of the significant products that were created under his direction:

7 products Steve Jobs got wrong

October 6, 2011

(AP) -- Steve Jobs pushed the envelope many times when it came to product design, and the results weren't always pretty. Here are seven products created under his direction that failed commercially or functionally:

Key dates in Apple history

August 25, 2011

The following are key dates in the history of Apple, whose ailing co-founder Steve Jobs resigned as CEO on Wednesday:

Apple sold by Jobs fetches $365,000 at auction

December 11, 2014

A 1976 Apple computer sold by Steve Jobs from his parents' garage fetched $365,000 at auction in New York on Thursday, falling short of its pre-sale estimate in a competitive computer relic market.

Recommended for you

Pushing lithium ion batteries to the next performance level

December 13, 2018

Conventional lithium ion batteries, such as those widely used in smartphones and notebooks, have reached performance limits. Materials chemist Freddy Kleitz from the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Vienna and international ...

Uber filed paperwork for IPO: report

December 8, 2018

Ride-share company Uber quietly filed paperwork this week for its initial public offering, the Wall Street Journal reported late Friday.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

24volts
not rated yet Jan 02, 2018
I have to ask. Why would anyone even want a copy other than collectors? Even modern hobby processor chips are far more capable that what the Lisa ran on.
Thorium Boy
not rated yet Jan 03, 2018
I have to ask. Why would anyone even want a copy other than collectors? Even modern hobby processor chips are far more capable that what the Lisa ran on.


|t's historical. Curiosity. Just like there will be for antiquated Rasperry Pi boards in 20 years.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.