Monday, 23 January 2023 23:16

Computer History Museum makes Apple Lisa source code available


Before the Mac there was Lisa. It was forty years ago - January 1983 - when Apple released the short-lived Lisa computer, innovative for its team with a GUI in a personal computer. Now, its historic source code can be viewed by all via the Computer History Museum.

The Apple Lisa contained a GUI, inspired by Xerox PARC's Smalltalk system, but imbued with other innovations from Apple's user testing. It also sported a chunky mouse. Some forty years ago this type of system was known as a WIMP - windows, icons, mouse, and pointers - and it was a revolution in usability.

The Apple Lisa shipped with a business application suite consisting of a spreadsheet, word processor, and charting app, yet it had a significant flaw. Despite the IBM PC selling for only $1.5K at the time, the Apple Lisa was almost $10K. Apple pitched it to office workers but found offices were more than prepared to work with the disk operating system - or DOS - of the IBM PC for the vast difference in price.

And, of course, IBM's success led to the PC clone market explosion and with that, the fortunes of Microsoft whose MS-DOS drove them all.

Nevertheless, the Apple Lisa was a turning point in the history of computers and were it not for this experiment, we might not have seen the Apple Macintosh or even Microsoft Windows. And, to celebrate the milestone, the Computer History Museum has released the source code for the Apple Lisa which has been made public for the very first time.

It's a measly 7.2Mb in size - massive by the standards of past decades, but trivial compared to today's operating systems - and consists of assembly language and Pascal code, along with fonts and other items.

You can view the source code yourself here, and also read more about its historic significance in the Computer History Museum's blog post here.

The Apple Lisa source code exhibit is a part of the museum's Art of Code series. More information on this series is here. Other exhibits include the Apple II DOS, IBM APL, Apple MacPaint, Apple QuickDraw, and Adobe Photoshop.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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