[SIGCIS-Members] Some responses re Lisa/Mac

Brian Dear brian at platohistory.org
Thu Apr 27 14:43:28 PDT 2017

The two machines emerged in very different eras, so it’s hard to compare them as they’re not very similar in any regard other than, in my opinion, uninteresting ones like them sharing Motorola CPUs.

I viewed the Lisa as a special machine you used for a specific, but limited, set of applications. If you had to crank out a huge PERT chart, it was great. We used an attached dot-matrix printer, that would sit there and print out long fanfold pages of sections of the chart, that you would then carefully line up on a wall for a floor to ceiling layout of some big project we were working on. It could do word processing and other tasks, but I never considered the machine to be a general-purpose computer, mainly because it lacked a wide array of applications. Also, Lisas were standalone machines at least in our office; we did not network them to anything (not even sure it could do that). But for getting specific tasks done, it was a useful tool, though slow. But then everything was slow in 1984.

As for NeXT, it had the benefit of years of Moore’s Law advances beyond the 1978-82 timeframe when the Lisa was designed. And in the 1980s, one year alone of Moore’s Law was a gigantic step forward. The result of all those advances in technological development were instantly obvious: the NeXTcube offered much more speed, storage capacity, and flexibility. Plus, unlike the Lisa, with NeXT, there was an active, enthusiastic third-party developer community (I too was a developer, having attended NeXT DevCamp in ‘91, and exhibited at NeXTWORLD at the Moscone Center in '93, including getting the chance to a beaming, proud Jobs who roamed the exhibit hall and met all the companies before the public was let in). I bought and used many NeXTSTEP apps, including the great Lotus Improv spreadsheet, graphics and other productivity apps from Stone Design and Omni Group (like OmniGraffle which I still use on a Mac), and countless others. The NeXTcube really was a great workstation: I could communicate with anything else on the LAN, as well as remotely connect to other services for telnet or ftp or gopher or web stuff. It had great sound and built-in music support. The quality of the grayscale display was superb. The magneto-optical removable disks were weird but handy and I still have them (and I still need to get data off of them!). 

- Brian

> On Apr 27, 2017, at 2:33 PM, Hansen Hsu <hansnhsu at gmail.com> wrote:
> Couldn’t have said it better myself. This is a popular quip among Apple people.
> Brian, given your personal experience using both Lisas and NeXTs, how would you compare the two?
>> On Apr 27, 2017, at 12:31 PM, Brian Dear <brian at platohistory.org <mailto:brian at platohistory.org>> wrote:
>> One could argue that Hansen’s conclusion that “they stayed afloat long enough to get acquired by Apple for their technology” is a rather large understatement. NeXTSTEP’s DNA quickly permeated Apple’s Mac operating system to the degree that it essentially *became* the operating system (Mac OS X), which not only looked like NeXTSTEP (even down to the Dock on the desktop) but more importantly under the hood *was* for all intents and purposes NeXTSTEP with an upgraded Objective-C code base. Even today, any seasoned Mac or IOS developer is intimately familiar with a vast library of function calls that start with the letters NS.
>> I have often quipped that in many ways, it was *NeXT* that acquired Apple, not the other way around, and to do so for a mere $400 million, was perhaps the best “acquisition" in history . . . 

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