Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 10 / OCTOBER 1983 / PAGE 12

In love with Lisa. (evaluation) Melvin Merkin.

It was a hto summer morning when I first met her. We played all day and I knew then I must have her for my own. My dream came true last month when she moved in with me and we spent four beautiful weeks together. Now she is gone, but I must tell you about Lisa. Hardware

Lisa is the name of a new computer from Apple Computer. Lisa has been in the press enough since she was first announced last January that I would be surprised if you had not heard of her. I had the privilege of using Lisa for a four week beta test period recently and thought enough of his new computer to put my thoughts to pen. Table 1 lists the vital statistics for all the hardware freaks, but, the numbers don't even hint at the essence of Lisa.

This hardware together with six software packages (LisaDraw, LisaWrite, LisaCalc, LisaGraph, LisaList, and LisaProject) costs $9995. In addition you get to choose between two printers: a dot matrix printer for $645 or a daisywheel printer for $2165.

The dot matrix printer needs a $195 parallel interface card since the hard disk uses the parallel port that comes with the machine. The daisywheel printer hooks right into one of the serial ports. The dot matrix printer is better for pictures and the daisywheel is better for words, although they both can print pictures and words.

I bet you're thinking that, "That's a lot of money!" Well, you're right. Lisa is definitely the top of the line in microcomputers. Please keep in mind, however, that the price includes possibly all the memory and all the software you will ever need. Now, you have an easy decision to make: dot matrix or daisywheel printer. My guess is that the decisions will get harder as Lisa matures and more options become available. Software

"What's so exciting about Lisa then?" you may ask. Although the hardware collection is very powerful, it includes nothing that isn't found in the Xerox Star. The exciting thing about Lisa is the software which comes with it and the way it has been woven into the fabric of the hardware design. It is as if the designers started with the concept of what a computer should do and how it should interface with the user, and worked backward to the hardware design.

Turning Lisa on, for example, doesn't just bring power to the electronics, but invokes a whole series of checks to make sure everything is working properly, initiates a configuration suited to your tastes, and initializes the system to the exact point in the last program you were using when you turned the system off.

The piece de resistance is the mouse. Even though the mouse was not invented by Apple, Lisa will surely popularize it. What is remarkable is the way in which a person using the Lisa mouse can quickly and effortlessly glide through complex conversations with the machine in a most natural way. The mouse is used to point to pictures (or icons) on the screen, and the buttom is used to either select or grab a picture. These two primitive primate functions of select and grab are used throughout all six software packages.

The designers of Lisa have built a machine that is not only easy to use but easy to put together. You don't even need a screwdriver as all the components slide together and snap in place. This makes for easy repair and maintenance. It is not exaggeration to say that Lisa can be unpacked and working within 10 minutes.

Once it is up and running, you will be tempted to start playing with Lisa instead of dutifully going through the interactive tutorial called LisaGuide. A friend of mine was having some difficulty using LisaCalc. When I suggested he look in the LisaCalc Reference Manual he said, "That's cheating." Learning how to use Lisa by trial and error is so much fun that to learn it methodically by going through the tutorials provided for each software package seems insipid. Lisa Draw

This review would be hundreds of pages long if I were to discuss each of the six software packages in detail. Fortunately, I became so engrossed in LisaDraw that I gave short shrift to the other five software packages. I had never before seen anything like it.

LisaDraw allowed me to combine the flair of an artist with the skill of a draftsman in creating illustrations for my reports. For me this was an entirely new form of expression which greatly enhanced my ability to communicate my ideas. I am either an artist nor a draftsman yet I have always wanted to draw my ideas. With LisaDraw I can now do this.

In seconds I can throw a circle up on the screen and fill it with tiny hearts. Three-dimensional figures are produced with delightful ease. I had fun drawing my signature then shrinking it and moving it on top of the circle filled with tiny hearts. Can you imagine: a $10,000 doodle pad!

When all of my pent up creative juices subsided I got down to the very serious business of drawing the illustrations for my reports. Figure 1, shows a rather bland example of the type of illustration possible with LisaDraw. Anyone submitting patent illustrations would find LisaDraw indispensable. The program is the forerunner of personal CAD (computer Aided Design) systems. What is so spectacular about Lisa is the ability to take an illustration done in LisaDraw and paste it into a report prepared in LisaWrite. LisaWrite. LisaWrite

LisaWrite is the word processor that comes with Lisa. This is no ordinary word processor but a little typesetting machine. Not only can I choose from a variety of fonts to type in, I can also select the size of my letters, shading, underlining, boldface, italics, etc. After typing the document I can go back and enlarge a word in the middle of the page. Instantly all the words will shift around the page adjusting for the increased length and width of the enlarged word.

I can type on a blank sheet of paper or call up a selection of typing accounterments such as a grid for lining up columns, or a ruler (in inches or centimeter) which shows the margins. The mouse is used to highlight portions of the text for deletion, modification or moving.

At any time I can interrupt my word processing, temporarily put it aside and jump into another application. This is all part of the operating system called Desktop Manager. LisaCalc

LisaCalc is a spreadsheet program in the traditional sense. The mouse can be used to jump quickly around the spreadsheet and to stretch or compress idividual columns. Using the mouse, you can point to a cell, push the bottom to select the cell, and then move the mouse while holding the buttom down to highlight a block of cells.

Lisa uses a noun-verb syntax. After highlighting a cell, row, column or block (indicating the noun), you tell Lisa what to do (verb) with the highlighted portion. Typically, after composing a nice little financial model in LisaCalc you would move a portion of the spreadsheet into LisaGraph. LisaGraph

LisaGraph is a program which produces business graphs from columns of data. The screen is split vertically into columns of data on the left and a graph of the data on the right. Using the mouse, you can easily choose among several views of the data, including pie chart, bar graph representation, you can then choose hidden bars, stacked bars, or side-by-side bars. As you make different selections, the graph on the right of the screen changes instantly.

You can go to the data side of the screen and modify the numbers. This also causes the graph to change before your eyes. The graph will have a title, subtitle, and labels, but you may wish to move the graph to LisaDraw where you can add annotation and further illustrations.

The graph will be moved over in an intelligent fashion. For example, after you move the pie chart over, you can "grab" a slice of the pie and drag it partially out of the pie. LisaDraw will "know" that the graph is made up of several components which can be individually addressed and modified. LisaList

LisaList is a very simple and easy-to-use database system. Actually, it is too simple to be given the name of database manager and is appropriately named LisaList since it operates on lists of records in which each record is composed of many fields. The fields are represented as columns and the records are represented as rows on the screen.

The two basic operations are sorting and selection using a variety of criteria. LisaList is certainly easy to use. However, it is unable to perform sophisticated database management functions and, in my mind, is the weakest of the six programs in the package. LisaProject

I have saved perhaps the best for last. LisaProject is a beautiful application. If you are a project manager and have tried to use a computer to help you manage your project you will appreciate LisaProject.

LisaProject allows you to work directly on a PERT chart. The critical path is highlighted at all times. You can add new milestones or processes, and the chart is instantly updated. Adding or deleting dependencies is easier than using a pencil and eraser on paper. The bigger your project the more you need LisaProject.

It is clear that LisaProject was written for the Lisa project herself. You can spend many times the cost of the full Lisa system on a mainframe project management system written for 80-column punch cards. If you are in charge of a large project, run, don't walk, to your nearest Apple dealer and try LisaProject. Drawbacks

Nobody's perfect, not even Lisa. I have a list of complaints which bear airing. First and foremost, Lisa is slow. The actual calculation speed is fast enough to make you believe there is a 68000 under the hood, however, the user-friendly system really eats up machine cycles. It seemed as though it took Lisa a full five minutes just to turn herself on and check herself out. I got in the habit of simply leaving Lisa on all the time. I lost my guilt when I found out that one of the designers of Lisa had his on for six months straight and suffered no ill-effects.

The screen automatically dims after a few minutes of idleness. Just touching the mouse or keyboard will bring the screen back to life.

Switching from one application to another seems to drag on forever (about two minutes). Once you are in an application though, Lisa moves along briskly. Especially frisky is the speed at which pictures are drawn on the screen.

Another complaint about the set of six programs is that they all are fixed and cannot be programmed in any sense. For example, in LisaWrite there are about ten different fonts, but I couldn't define my own. There is a pre-defined set of characters; I couldn't create the beta character, for example.

In LisaDraw there are about 50 tessellation patterns, but darned if I could create my own. I got the feeling that the designers thought they knew what was right for me. Even though the six programs are easy to use and of the finest design, I hope future releases will give the user more control.

LisaDraw was my favorite, and I know I am tempting fate by suggesting an improvement, but I found myself on many occasions wanting to rotate a picture I had drawn. Also, Lisa is a black and white machines. I would love to see a color version. Innovations

Lisa is touted by Apple as a revolution in computer technology. I agree with them. If I had to choose between a multimillion dollar IBM 3083 or a Lisa, I wouldn't hesitate to ask for the Lisa. Microcomputers were catching up to minicomputers a year ago, but have now passed mainframes in many important respects.

The big mainframes aren't used by the average person because they are very difficult to use. They don't have a mouse or the picture drawing speed of the Lisa. I predict that people will soon use microcomputers, and microcomputers will use mainframes.

I think the biggest innovation represented by Lisa is the integration of all the programs--with each other and with the hardware. Other vendors are quickly picking up on this integration theme. It is a very difficult task to accomplish but a worthwhile goal for all future systems. Even if Lisa is not successful (I think it will be), it has set a new standard which will affect all future computer offerings.

The disk drive is another innovation, albeit of lesser importance. Apple has redesigned the disk drive to hold more data and to be more fault tolerant. The sector sizes are all uniform in contrast with the standard design in which the ones on the perimeter are wider than those near the center. To accomplish this feat, the designers have the diskette rotate at a variable speed depending upon the distance of the read head from the center. Instead of a constant hum you hear a little tune whenever the disk drives are reading and writing.

The other important difference is that the two read/write heads are 180 degrees apart instead of being together. This means that the diskettes need two oblong holes in the jacket instead of one. This change means that the diskettes will last longer and be less prone to errors. However, I feel it was a mistake to create a non-standard design especially in light of the new 3" diskettes becoming popular.

Other innovations include the one-button mouse. Mice previously have had two to four buttons. It was quite a stroke of genius to come out with a mouse with only one button. The one button makes things much easier to use since, when in doubt people will simply pass the one button and see what happens. With two or more buttons the user might hesitate to press a button for fear of pressing the wrong one. Lisa cheats a little on the elegance of the one button design by allowing shortcuts like clicking the button twice in rapid succession for "advanced" commands.

Lisa has many tricks up her sleeve. One of the features announced is the inclusion of a serial number and a unique random number built into the ROM. These two little numbers will allow total and absolute copy protection on future software. Also by checking the serial number, a program could adjust to past hardware modifications. Apple could reserve a whole sequence of serial numbers for a large company and then sell software which works only for that set of machines. The unique random number will undoubtedly be used for security to protect the Lisa owner, say, in home banking applications.

I used the first release of Lisa. Lisa is sure to grow. I suspect that Lisa will really shine when she adds Apple Net to her repertoire, allowing her to talk to other Lisas as well as Ethernet.

Apple has always encouraged third party software, and I see no reason for them to change their strategy. Apple will be offering tools to software developers allowing them to have their programs make use of the mouse and draw pictures on the screen. More important, these tools will allow third party vendors to develop applications which will integrate with the six LisaSeries programs as well as with any other applications using the prescribed methodologies.

Can I recommend Lisa for you? No, I can recommend only that you go to your nearest Apple dealer and try Lisa, because no amount of explanation can describe her. Like love, Lisa must be experienced.

Products: Apple Lisa (computer)