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30 years of the Apple Lisa and the Apple IIe

Benj Edwards | Jan. 21, 2013
In 1983, two products played a pivotal role in the future of the company. Benj Edwards takes a look at the history behind the Apple Lisa and the Apple IIe.

The Lisa also debuted a few features that the Mac has never fully imitated. In the most dramatic example, the Lisa's OS (the Lisa Office System) handled user-generated files in a completely document-centric manner. That is, one did not launch an application and then open a file from within that application, as is common in Mac OS X and Windows today. Instead, one "tore off" a blank document from a virtual stack of "paper," which created a user-editable document in the file system that the user would then double-click to open in the appropriate application.

In a sense, Lisa's document-centric approach was the exact opposite of the paradigm advanced by iOS today, in which the user deals solely with applications at the OS level and not documents individually.

Also, in a significant step forward for user convenience, the Lisa included the world's first computer "soft" power switch, which, when pushed, initiated an automatic shutdown sequence that saved and put away all documents safely before powering down the system.

After the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the Lisa fell far behind in sales, and it became clear that the Mac represented the future of Apple. So began the Lisa's absorption into the Macintosh ecosystem. First, the Lisa adopted Mac-like features such as the 3.5-inch floppy disk drive and a new exterior design that appeared in a much-needed 1984 revision commonly dubbed the Lisa 2. Then the Lisa gained the ability to run Macintosh software with the MacWorks software-emulation environment.

In 1985, the Lisa hardware saw its last hurrah: Apple rebadged its remaining supply of Lisa 2 computers as the Macintosh XL, and the Lisa was laid to rest.

To this day, the Lisa remains one of Apple's most fascinating dead platforms-- especially since its early demise entombed pioneering interface concepts that have yet to be fully replicated by any Apple platform.

Remembering the Apple IIe

The story of the Apple IIe began with Apple's first high-profile failure, the Apple III. Launched in 1980, the Apple III targeted the business market with an over-engineered, high-priced machine whose Apple II compatibility Apple purposely crippled in the name of market differentiation.

Around the time of the Apple III's launch, Apple was so sure of the new computer's success that it had halted all future development of Apple II-related projects. But by 1982, as it became clear that the Apple II wasn't going away (in fact, it was becoming more popular than ever), Apple scrambled to upgrade its aging Apple II line, which had last been refreshed in 1979 with the Apple II+.

The result was the Apple IIe, which packed in several enhancements that regular Apple II users had been enjoying for years thanks to a combination of the Apple II's plentiful internal expansion slots and a robust third-party hardware community to fill them. Among those features were 80-column text-mode support, support for lowercase letters (yep, the original Apple II and II+ supported only uppercase letters), and 64KB of RAM standard (expandable to 128KB).


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