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The Apple Lisa SAQ - Seldom Asked Question

Apple Lisa FAQ v 1.5, 14 December 1996

Tom Stepleton,

This is a list of some of the most Seldom Asked Questions in the computer world: those pertaining to the Apple Lisa. Answers are of course included. Apoligies to Al Longyear (, whose Linux PPP FAQ is the basis for the formatting of the SAQ.

0. Preface

1. What's a Lisa?

2. Lisa Commerce

3. Lisa Usage

4. Miscellaneous Stuff

0. Preface

0.1 Why is it a SAQ?

well, few people actually ASK these questions that often. I chose Seldom Asked Questions (SAQ) instead of Infrequently Asked Questions (IAQ) because I like the reference to the Shakespearian beverage.

0.2 Isn't there something you need to say so you won't get sued?

Yes. Lisa is a trademark of Apple. Anything in here that's a trademark belongs to the person, persons, or company that trademarked it. Also, the creater of this SAQ assumes no responsibility for any result of folloing or failing to follow the advice in this SAQ. If you sue me, it is likely that Freud would have found you quite anal-retentive.

0.3 Anything else, or can we go on?

The real name of the Lisa 1 is the Lisa. No 1 or One or I. It is called the Lisa 1 in the SAQ for clarity.

1. What's a Lisa?

1.1 What's the history of the Lisa?

As early as 1978, Apple saw the need for a high-end system to supercede their successful Apple II line. Though machines like the Apple /// materialized to immediately succed the II, a designed code-named Lisa was this high end system.

The Lisa was at first envisioned to be a parallel-CPU system designed for speed and precise mathematical calculations. Later decisions led the Lisa to adopt a single Motorola 68000 microprocessor. However, despite the souped-up CPU, the Lisa still resembled all too closely its mid to low-level predecessors. It was only until 1979 that the seed of inspiration was planted. After some stock deals with Xerox, Steve Jobs was allowed to tour Xerox's Californa think tank, the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Jobs, who had often given employee Jef Raskin's ideas about graphical user interfaces little merit, was encouraged to see the new tecnologies Xerox was working on. While at PARC, Jobs saw three notable innovations:

  • the Graphical User Interface (GUI)
  • Object Oriented Programming (OOP)
  • Ethernet networking
and was rapt in attention thoughout the day's visit. Although Jobs was only to implement OOP some 7 years later (at NeXT computer) and although Ethernet only saw limited use in Appletalk, it was soon mandated that the Lisa would have a GUI. For the following three years, the Lisa was developed further and further, with such additions as proprietary floppy drives and a modular construction working their way into the design, among many other features. Steve Jobs, demanding constant refinement, saw feature after feature given to the Lisa, delaying release times and driving the proice up to an expensive $9995US. He was eventually barred from the project and the Lisa 1 was released in January 1983.

Naturally, the restrictive price caused stagnant sales. Research continued and in January 1984 a new Lisa, with a 3.5" drive instead of the proprietary 5.25" drives of the previous model being the most notable change, was released on the market. Despite a drastically lower price, the Lisa 2 enjoyed much enthusiasm but few purchaces. 1985 saw the Lisa 2 being resold as the "Macintosh XL" with special Macintosh system software. Sales of the XL continued into 1986. Finally, in the later eighties, pressured by shareholders and seeking a tax break, Apple gutted its remaining Lisae and buried all non-useable parts in a high-security landfill in Utah (supposedly near Logan).

1.2 What nifty features did the Lisa have?

Among other innovative additions, all Lisae featured
  • A simple, elegant Grapical User Interface
  • True preemptive multitasking
  • A robust hierarchial filesystem
  • Software screen contrast control with automatic screen dimmer
  • "Soft" power switch
  • Keyboards that provided language-specific error messages
  • Temperature-sensitive power supply
  • That great bright line and POP noise when the CRT powers off

1.3 What is a Macintosh XL?

As described in the Lisa History section, the MacXL was the last stand for the Lisa 2 before it met its end in the Logan trash heap along with its earlier sister, the Lisa 1. For some time, the XL was seen as a sort of "super Mac" because it featured a larger screen, a hard drive, and more memory. A plausible meaning for XL was "extra large" or even "Excel", because it could hold (then) large Excel databases in memory.

As much of a perversion as the MacOS was on the Lisa, several late MacXLs were twisted even further. The 10mb Widget in the 2/10 was cast away for odd 20mb drives. Screens were changed from the Lisa's 2/3 pixel ratio to the Mac's square pixels. Needless to say, these sorry specimens, should you find one, are incapable of running the Office System without some modification.

1.4 Isn't the Lisa the Apple ///?

NO. I emphasize here because I see so many people mistaking the two. The Apple /// came before the Lisa and was intended to be a business-oriented successor to the Apple ][+. It flopped; the machine overheated and caused the motherboard to warp, which in turn caused the chips to loosen from the sockets. At one point Apple suggested that you drop the machine an inch to reseat the chips!

The Apple /// had (for its time) color graphics capability, but nothing with the resolution of the monochrome-only Lisa. The only similarities I can see between the two machines is the business orientation, the Apple Logo, and their commercial failure.

2. Lisa Commerce

2.1 What are important phone numbers for Lisa enthusiasts?

OBSOLETE Sun Remarketing ( is one of the few companies that sells stuff for the Lisa, although some of the employees don't seem to know this! Their phone number is 1-800-821-3221 and any sales rep will help you, but it is my opinion that you will be better off asking Tyler Thompson, Sun's resident "Lisa guy". His office number is 1-800-992-7641. Be warned: the man has a life and is often unavailable. I have my best luck calling at 12:30 CST on Thursdays.

Another number to remember is DAFAX of New York. I have never tried them but I hear that they are good. Their voice number is 718-746-8220 and their fax number is 718-746-1071.

2.2 I know what a Lisa is. Where can I get one?

You can always try Sun Remarketing if you want the sure-fire way. Tyler Thompson can sell a Lisa 1 for $1000 US but he doesn't have the Twiggy diskettes to go with it. I cannot say for sure if they have Lisa 2s in stock. Ask for a Macintosh XL capable of running the Lisa Office System (no video modifications, funky roms, etc.) I would be surprised if they didn't have this in a closet somewhere.

The real collector's method of finding a Lisa is arduous; (s)he must brave dumpsters, garage sales, basements, attics, closets, consignment shops, flea markets, etc. before the prize is won. I encourage anyone who wants a Lisa to take the latter route, not only for the goal but for the means as well. You'll meet interesting people, see interesting computers, and grow to appreciate the task which the Lisa fulfilled for the previous owner.

2.3 I'm tired of my Lisa. How much is it worth and how can I get rid of it?

If its a Lisa 1 and you want to give it away to a good cause, I would like one for the Apple Lisa Web Page. Though much information can be gleaned from the Lisa 2 and Lisa 1 manuals, I can't give any Lisa 1 specific repair info without a Lisa 1! But we live in the real world, so...

Forbes Magazine recently estimated the value of a Lisa (it wasn't specific) at $300 and rising. Depending on who you're selling it to, I estimate that you can fetch up to $500 for a Lisa 2 if you have manuals, boxes, and original system floppies. I know several Lisa 1 owners who won't part with their baby for less than $1000.

You can always toss the Lisa in the dumpster, but that wouldn't be nice, so I advise posting some ads on USENET in appropriate groups (NOT SPAMMING!!!). You may also want to sell it to a used computer store, but they would probably chuckle, give you $50, take it into the back room and a) misuse it b) gloat over their shrewd purchase and hole it away until it is worth more c) blithely sell it for $150 or d) maybe, just maybe, appreciate it.

2.4 Where can I get software/hardware for the Lisa?

There isn't too much software for the Lisa as the Office System is farily complete and the Workshops filled most development needs. Except for some CAD systems, some spreadsheets, and a BASIC system, third-party software was virtually nonexistant.

3. Lisa Usage

3.1 I've got a Lisa, what do I do with it?

If you don't have it already, you'll want the Lisa Office System. If you have two ProFiles or a Lisa 2/10 you may also want a Workshop so you can program you Lisa. These items are not cheap Sun Remarketing sells the full version of the Lisa Office System for $250 or so. You can opt for copies of the Office System (sans manuals, heck, sans box) for about $90. You can guess which one I chose. The Lisa Pascal Workshop (with manuals and box) cost $90. See Where can I get software/hardware for the Lisa?

3.2 Is the Lisa compatible with anything?

Not really, especially if you have a Lisa 1. I don't know of any other machine that can read the Twiggy diskettes (though prototype drives were made for the Apple ///). However, if you have a Lisa 2, there are ways to share data with other machines.

Sun Remarketing sells the Lisa to Mac Migration Kit, but I don't have the finances to buy and try it. It allegedly converts all Lisa apps to their Mac counterparts.

3.3 Why can't I set the date on this silly clock past 1995?

As of yet I don't think there is anything to be done about this. Fortunately, no Office System software to my knowlege stamps the date right on the printout. Just live with it, I guess. Tell your friends. Marvel at the faith Apple had in the Lisa.

3.4 The Preferences lists an "Ink Jet Printer" that I can use if I install the parallel card. What "Ink Jet Printer" is this?

After shoving my father's Panasonic laser printer on the prallel port just to see if it would work, the Print dialog described the "ink jet printer" as a "Canon Ink Jet Printer". Needless to say, it didn't work with the Panasonic. Oh well...

3.5 Do I need special 3.5" disks for my Lisa 2?

No. Any low density 3.5" diskettes will do.

3.6 I've lost the cable to my ProFile! Where can I get a new one?

The ProFile cable is just a straigt parallel cable whcih can be found at any self-respecting computer shop. You can figure this out by looking at any picture of a ProFile and adopting a Steve Jobs mindset. Notice in the picture that a ribbon cable is used. Do you think that the perfectionist Jobs would allow any dirty-looking crossed wires? It has to be a straight parallel cable.

3.7 What is Service Mode?

Service mode is a program in ROM that enables you to twiddle memory, test components, and more.

3.7.1 Why use Service Mode?

Apple has directions for discerning your Lisa's serial number and Applenet number in service mode, tucked away in their Tech Info Library. This is handy in case you need to replace the CPU board after somebody hard-soldered all the socketed chips in and you needed the Applenet, Plant, and Serial numbers for your new board. (of course, how you would get them on there is your problem. It's fun to do when you're very bored.

Another use for Service mode involves the three menu items "Display Mem", "Set Memory", and "Call Program". You can do something very Wozniakish and enter your own program in hex, call it, then use it! It's like the front panel in days of yore.

3.7.2 How can I put my Lisa in Service Mode?

Warning: Before you enter Service Mode, please heed this warning from an old Mac manual unearthed by Alan White (

"The power cycle and loop on tests presume a stock hardware configuration. They should not be used with a modified lisa 2 or a mac xl. Running the power cycle test with an 800k disk drive upgrade will cause the disk drive test to fail. Running the power cycle test on a lisa 2/5 with an internal hard drive upgrade could wipe out the boot blocks on the hard disk. On startup, you'll get a cross over the hard disk icon with error code 84. You'll still be able to boot from a floppy, and the hard disk will mount, but in order to boot from the hard drive again, you may have to remove it, and send it out for a low level format..."

Thanks to Alan for this warning; the last thing we need is to be destroying Lisae. I mention again that I take no resposibility for any result of the advice given here. I know this is annoying, but there are sharks out there. Anyway...

Turn on your Lisa. After you hear the first "click" noise, the indicator that the Lisa has past the kernel test, press the Spacebar. When you reach the "Startup From" menu, select a nonexistant volume. When it gives you the error message box, press Apple-S. You should then be in Service Mode.

A picture for comparison can be found at lisa_service_mode.jpg.

3.8 I get a five-letter error code (meaning no startup file) when I try to boot LisaGuide? What do I do??

The Lisa Guide disk is not a boot disk. Just boot the system normally from the startup disk with LisaGuide in a/the drive.

4. Miscellaneous Stuff

4.1 Where else can I view Tom's Lisa 2 on the Web?

Try the Obsolete Computer Museum at

4.2 Is it true that the maintainer of this SAQ would like any Lisa paraphenelia that he can get his hands on?

Indeed he does. If you have a Lisa 1, dead or alive, that you want to get rid of, let me know! I'll at least pay price of postage. Similarly, scanned images, screen shots, folklore, and other goodies wanted for possible inclusion in this page! Remember, any Lisa knicknacks you don't want, mail me!

4.3 Where can I go for some manufacturer-authorized info on the Lisa and not the bunk made by this Tom Stepleton yahoo?

If it's not busy (and it usually is) try Apple's gopher site: OBOLETE

4.4 What if I have a question for the SAQ?

Please email it to me at

end of SAQ

Copyright 1996 Tom Stepleton. All rights reserved.

If you have extra info about this page, if you noticed errors, please help me to maintain this site. Send me the information you have, I will update the page as soon as possible. Thank you in advance.


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