Remember Apple’s Lisa, The Computer That Cost Steve Jobs A Gig? Kevin Costner Does!

Lisa was a commercial failure upon release in 1983, but Apple and Jobs learned lessons for their next computer: the Macintosh.

Remember Apple’s Lisa, The Computer That Cost Steve Jobs A Gig? Kevin Costner Does!

It’s #ThrowbackThursday, y’all, so we’re kicking off a new series of Retro Recommenders. First up: a 1983 Cupertino-based flop that sure looks better today.

Apple’s early days begin with ideological thievery of Xerox’s PARC-developed Graphical User Interface that is often excused by the debut of the Macintosh, a product considered a paradigm shift by personal computer hagiographists and nerds everywhere.

But the digito neanderthalensis missing link between the Apple II and the gilded Macintosh was the Lisa, released 32 years ago Monday, which borrowed the GUI concept from Xerox’s non-commercial Alto computer and subsequent Xerox Star computer system.

Lisa was the first GUI computer aimed at personal business users. For a mere $10,000 (nearly $24,000 today), you could own the first desktop computer that let you use a mouse to fiddle with files on a digital desktop with a processor clocked at a blistering 5 MHz and 1 MB of RAM.

Lisa stands forgotten in the shadow of the Macintosh, but its abject failure (the first model only sold 10,000 units) taught great lessons–especially to Lisa’s original project lead, Steve Jobs, who was kicked off and put on another project: the Macintosh. (The computer, incidentally, was named for Jobs’s daughter–and backronymed as Local Integrated System Architecture.) As Wired’s Lisa retrospective points out:

“The Lisa was doomed because it was basically a prototype — an overpriced, underpowered cobbled-together ramshackle Mac,” Cult of Mac author (and former editor) Leander Kahney said in an e-mail interview. “Lisa taught the Mac team they’d need to articulate a clear purpose for the Mac.”

Apple’s marketing efforts painted the Lisa as a game-changer that worked on your schedule, and though Lisa didn’t live up to its 1983 advertisement’s ambitions, at least, for a moment, Lisa owners could believe they had a little Kevin Costner in them:

Though more an offshoot than a predecessor, Lisa broke ground in the public consciousness for the Macintosh–whose own legendary “1984” advertisement was famously aired 31 years ago today during Superbowl XVIII.

About the author

David Lumb is a tech writer who dabbled in the startup world and once did an investigative article on pizza.