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© Amit Singh. All Rights Reserved. Written in February 2004


The Graphical Age at Apple

Apple released the $9995 Lisa in January 1983, a year before the Macintosh was introduced. Lisa had a 5 MHz 32-bit Motorola 68k processor. It was inspired by the work at Xerox PARC described in the previous section, many details of which Apple was made privy to, thanks to a deal involving Xerox getting Apple stock in return for sharing their technology with Apple.

Note that the Lisa project had begun before Apple visited Xerox PARC to look at their technology. It has always been somewhat of a controversy as to what exactly was "inspired" by PARC's work, and what exactly was an Apple in-house innovation. Apple's engineering has usually been exemplary since its founding days, and it is not our goal to resolve this controversy here.

Lisa OS

Lisa's operating system, the Lisa Office System (OS), had a fully graphical user interface. There was a file browser with clickable, active icons. A folder icon would display its contents in a window, and a document icon would launch the appropriate application. It came with a spreadsheet (LisaCalc), a chart tool (LisaGraph), an outline builder (LisaList), a project scheduler with integrated PERT/Gantt (LisaProject), a drawing program (LisaDraw), a DEC VT/ANSI terminal emulator (LisaTerminal), and some other software.

Lisa introduced several aspects that would become part of Apple's systems to come. It had a menu bar at the top of the screen, although without an Apple menu. Menu commands had an Apple symbol however (instead of the cloverleaf symbol used later). Double clicking on an icon caused the resulting window to come up animated. Items were deleted by dragging them to a trash can icon.

Like the STAR system, Lisa strived to present a physical office metaphor. Like real paper, Lisa's screen displayed a white background. Since a white screen flickers more, Lisa required a higher refresh rate for its display, which added to its price. The addition of more memory and a disk drive pushed Lisa's price well over $10,000. It also took a long time to start up. In real life, Lisa was not quite the perfect computer it was designed to be.

SCO Xenix was also available for the Lisa.

The Macintosh

Steve Jobs unveiled the Macintosh on January 24, 1984, at the Flint Center in De Anza College, Cupertino. Later known as the Mac 128K (due to the 128 KB of built-in RAM), it had an 8 MHz Motorola MC68000 processor (with no memory management unit, floating point unit, or L1/L2 caches), and a built-in 9 inch 512 x 342 black-and-white monitor. There was a single 3.5" floppy drive that accepted 400 KB disks.

At the turn of the 80s, there was a project called "Annie" inside Apple. At some point, Jef Raskin, Apple employee number 31, changed the name to "Macintosh", a deliberate misspelling of "McIntosh", which is a variety of Apples. McIntosh was also the name of a hi-fi manufacturer (McIntosh Labs). The name did come under contention when Apple tried to trademark it, but Apple eventually managed to buy the trademark. During the legal battle, Apple considered acronyms such as MAC (Mouse Activated Computer), which was internally made fun of as standing for Meaningless Acronym Computer.

Raskin also wrote an internal document on personal computing: The Book of Macintosh, that allegedly was the initial primary force behind the Macintosh.

The Macintosh ran a single-user, single-tasking operating system, initially known simply as Mac System Software. It came on one 400 KB floppy disk.

System 1
System 1

The Macintosh ROM contained both low-level code (such as for hardware initialization, diagnostics, drivers, etc.) and the higher level "Toolbox". The Toolbox was a collection of software routines, somewhat like a shared library, that applications could use. This way, a programmer did not have to "re-invent the wheel", and could create a consistent and standard user interface. Toolbox functionality included management of dialog boxes, fonts, icons, menus, and windows, handling of events, routines for text entry and editing, arithmetic and logical operations, and so on. The QuickDraw portion of the Toolbox contained highly optimized primitives for drawing shapes (almost the same as the Lisa's graphics routines), dialogs, pull-down menus, scroll-bars, windows, and so on. With time, the Toolbox would have an incredible amount of functionality (API's) packed into it, and it would eventually be in the way of Apple's attempts to create a modern operating system while maintaining backwards compatibility.

The default application that ran as the system came up was called the "Finder" It was an interface for browsing the file system and launching applications. The single-tasking nature of the system required the user to quit a running application in order to work in the Finder.

The Macintosh File System (MFS) was a flat file system: all files were stored in a single directory. However, the system software presented a hierarchical view that showed nested folders.

Each disk contained a folder called "Empty Folder" at its root level. New folders were created by renaming this folder, which caused a replacement Empty Folder to appear.

The Macintosh contained many of the Lisa's characteristics, such as a menu bar at the top (but with an Apple menu) and an iconic trash can (that was automatically emptied every time the system booted). It also heralded Apple's Human Interface Guidelines.

The Macintosh trash can is often criticized for being poorly designed as it is not only meant to destroy files, but also for ejecting disks so that they can be safely put away. The rationale behind this design was once explained by Apple's interface designers.

Since the original Macintosh had no hard disk, and a single floppy drive, it was expected that users will typically use several diskettes while working on the Macintosh. A convenience feature of the system was that it cached (in memory) the list of files on a diskette even after it had been ejected. This was indicated by a grayed-out icon for that diskette on the Desktop, clicking on which would prompt the user to insert the appropriate diskette in the drive. If a user wanted to free-up the memory used by a diskette's cache, he would have to drag the grayed-out icon to the trash.

Thus, even if a user intended to permanently eject a diskette, two actions were required: the eject command, and dragging an icon to the trash. The redundancy was removed by combining these actions to a single action: dragging an "active" (non-grayed-out) icon to the trash caused the disk to be ejected, and its cache to be deleted.

The Lisa 2 was introduced simultaneously with the Macintosh. A version of the Lisa 2 with a disk was later sold as the Macintosh XL and came with MacWorks, an emulator to run the Macintosh operating system.

In addition to bringing graphical user-interfaces to mainstream computing, the Lisa and Macintosh were also among the first to provide software controls for hitherto mechanical ones, such as ejecting a diskette, modifying screen brightness, and turning the machine on and off.

Alan Kay once asked (the reader) in one of his papers that if the IBM 3270/PC was the "machine code" way of doing things, whether that made the Macintosh the COBOL of user-interfaces!

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