Apple Lisa Memoirs

My Lisa Memoirs

The Apple Lisa II By Adrian Franulovich 28/2/07

I recently purchased an Apple Lisa II for my extensive museum and cache of Apple Macintosh History. I originally thought I would steer clear of anything that wasn’t mac related but the Lisa definitely holds a major place in Apple’s history.

First of all some things I have learned to help make sense of the whole Lisa range. Apple released a few flavors of the Lisa,

  • Lisa,
  • Lisa 2,
  • Lisa 2/5,
  • Lisa 2/10 and
  • Macintosh XL.

Interesting things about the lisa range.

The Lisa used “rectangular” pixels on the screen, not square! The Lisa connects to hard disks via an internal / external Parallel port.

The Lisa contains 3 Expansion slots The Lisa comes with 1MB ram standard (Yes, e-gads… 1 WHOLE meg!!!) in 1983 that was like getting a machine with 16gb of ram in today’s 2007 standards.

The Lisa has a 12" B&W CRT
The Lisa features 2 25 Pin Serial Ports
The Lisa features a Composite Video out port
The Lisa features “soft” power
The Lisa is extremely modular and the whole machine can be taken apart by approx 5 screws.
The Lisa is an incredible piece of modern software and hardware engineering.
The Lisa does a hardware check everytime you turn it on, including a full surface scan of all attached disks Lisa
The original Lisa came with 2 special Apple 860KB 5 1/4 “Twiggy” drives (Apparently named after the super model because of how thin the disks were).

The machine was bundled with a number of software titles, the option of a 5MB Profile (same as Apple // and ///) and retailed for around $9995 USD with the full array of Apple supplied software titles.

Lisa 2
Soon after Apple re-released the product as Lisa II with a single 400KB 3 1/2" Sony Floppy drive like the “Macintosh” to help reduce the cost of the product.

To run Lisa OS however you needed the external Profile hard disk (Known as the Lisa 2/5) or a Lisa 2/10 which was the Lisa 2 with a 10MB Apple manufactured hard disk called a “widget” (And you thought OS 10.3 was the first thing to have a widget!)

Apple supplied a kit that allowed Lisa users to upgrade to Lisa 2 by the way of a new bezel, a 400kb disk drive and a Lisa Lite adaptor that converted the original twiggy connector to a standard 3.5" floppy connector. I believe the kit was free to get people off the “Lisa” as the twiggy drives were notoriously bad.

Mac XL
In 1985 after the Macintosh had clearly won out to the more expensive Lisa, Apple re-released the product again as the Macintosh XL.

In essence it was a Lisa 2, with a bundled software pack called MacWorks. A single supplied MacWorks disk would boot the machine and load a Mac 128K ROM image into the ram of the machine (The Lisa had a whopping 1MB minimum on all sold configurations).
Once this “Bootkick” was done you were welcomed with the historic “flashing disk with question mark” to which you could then boot the second disk which contained a copy of system 5.

Apparently the XL stood for “eXtra Large” or “eXtra Lisas” either way, according to my research, Apple offered free upgrades and tried to force everyone off the Lisa OS onto Mac OS, as supporting multiple operating systems was unfeasible.

The Twiggy disks were a one of a kind, a disk drive developed in house by Apple, apparently by the man himself (Steve Jobs) and were very radical.

Unlike standard 5 1/4 floppies, the Twiggy disks had a read/write opening on either side of the disks (ie, not just top and bottom, but back and front)

This somehow allowed for the incredible 860KB onto the disks, even though dos machines and even Apple’s own Apple II series drives could only hold 160KB (per side)

The twiggy thou apparently was unreliable the opposing disk heads and pressure issues most likely caused the issues, but with only a handful of people with these machines, I can’t be quite sure.

The widget was another Apple invention. A 10MB disk with a number of boards attached to its chassis which featured a ribbon cable that attached to the internal Parallel connector on the Lisa 2/10 (All other lisa’s had an external parallel 25pin connector for Widgets, the 2/10 did not in lieu of the internal drive)

The drives make a cute squeaking noise when reading and writing. You know when one of these babies is spinning, no you didn’t leave the lawn mower on :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

The profile was a product aimed at the Apple // and /// market but ended up working for the Lisa via the external Parallel connector or the optional 2 port Parallel card. It came in a 5MB version which was a Seagate (Shugart) ST-506 or a 10MB Seagate ST-412 (Rare). You need LOS 3.1 to read a 10MB drive. Incredible features

The Screen
The screen brightness is controlled by the system software and the system features the ability to dim the screen to a predetermined setting after x amounts of minutes of inactivity The screen fades out beautifully when you turn off Lisa.

The Lisa OS (LOS)
Ok, I don’t think I can explain how cool the OS is, as clunky as its seems, the OS has features that have only made their way back into OS X in recent months and years. (10.5 is the closest thing to Lisa OS)


  1. The OS features a repair facility. If you boot from the OS Disk, you can repair the hard disk and included in the repair has the ability to replace the OS in place (ie. Archive Reinstall)

  2. You can perform backups of hard disks onto floppies by duplicating the Hard Disk and copying it onto a blank floppy. The system can do full or incremental backups back to these disks!!! The system automatically will split the data across as many disks as required and will format them accordingly. Should your drive fail, boot from the LOS disk 1 and restore from a disk backup… Time Machine anyone???

  3. If you copy a 650KB file to a 400Kb floppy disk, the OS automatically splits the file across two disks!

  4. System wide - every folder advises you in the menu bar the last time its contents were last backed up… You never need to remember when the last time you backed up!

  5. The backup is smart enough to close down open system files to back them up successfully

The lisa only featured a beeping speaker, but the unit will beep at your when you make a mistake, make the same mistake again and it beeps louder. Again and it beeps even louder… Then it gets shirty at you!

There is not much more I can say about Lisa right now, Im to awe struck I hope this helps you all out there. If you own a Lisa, drop us a line.


I should mention that I recently learned the Mac XL was available with only 512k of RAM as a cost saving to clients.