Computer History Museum Makes Apple Lisa source code available to the public

The Computer History Museum (CHM), the museum that explores the history of computing and its impact on the human experience, today announced the public release and long-term preservation of the source code for the Apple Lisa, including its system and applications software, as part of its Art of Code series. 

Forty years ago today, Apple released the Lisa computer, a milestone in computing history for its innovative use of a graphical user interface (GUI) in a personal computer (PC).

The Apple Lisa shipped with a suite of applications including a word processor, spreadsheet, and charts—bundled with the system—which discouraged third party developers from writing their own software for it. The Lisa’s graphical user interface (GUI) was inspired by elements from Xerox PARC’s Smalltalk system, but also included new innovations that were validated by user testing. 

The Lisa sold for US$9,995 (yep, almost $10,000 forty years ago) —  two years after Xerox had released a commercial GUI-based workstation – the Star – for $16,595, which was similarly targeted towards office workers. The high price of both machines compared to the IBM PC, a command-line based PC released two years earlier and that retailed for $1,565, resulted in their eventual demise, as noted by the CHM.  

Following Lisa’s launch in 1983, the Lisa 2 series was announced in January 1984 alongside the Apple Macintosh. The Mac competed with Lisa and ultimately became the favored computer for its lower price and open software ecosystem. Other GUI-based operating systems like Windows were released after the Lisa and the Mac and were heavily influenced by both.  

 “The release of the Apple Lisa was a key turning point for the history of personal computers,” Hansen Hsu, Curator of the Software History Center at the Computer History Museum, said in a press release. “Without the Lisa, today’s computers might not use mouse-driven GUIs, and perhaps the Macintosh, and even Microsoft Windows, might not exist either. We’re thrilled to publicly release the source code for the Apple Lisa—for the first time—and thank Apple, Inc. for their permission and support that led to this release.” 

For download options and more information about the release of this historic source code, visit the blog post here and or download the source code here. For more information on the Art of Code series go here.  

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Dennis Sellers is the editor/publisher of Apple World Today. He’s been an “Apple journalist” since 1995 (starting with the first big Apple news site, MacCentral). He loves to read, run, play sports, and watch movies.