Why was the Apple computer called Lisa? Was the Lisa computer successful?

Why was the Apple computer called Lisa? Was the Lisa computer successful?


The Apple Lisa was a personal computer developed and manufactured by Apple Computer, Inc. in the early 1980s. It was the first personal computer to feature a graphical user interface (GUI) and a computer mouse, created for use in a business environment.

Why the name “Lisa”?  Officially, “Lisa” stood for “Local Integrated Software Architecture.” 

Apple Lisa Motherboard; Attribution: http://www.allaboutapple.com/

However, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ daughter also had the name Lisa. This computer was also Jobs’ “baby,” as he championed its creation and believed it would revolutionize personal computing. 

Lisa Brennan-Jobs wrote in “Small Fry” about how abusive her father Steve Jobs was to her.  Lisa mentioned that her father denied that the Lisa computer became named after her.

The development of Lisa began in 1978, when Steve Jobs tasked a team of engineers with creating a new computer that would be easy for non-technical users to operate. 

The team, led by Jef Raskin, developed a number of innovative features for the Lisa, including the use of a GUI, a computer mouse, and a system of icons and folders to organize files and applications.

Apple first announced the Lisa in 1983, with an initial price of $9,995.

A screenshot of the Apple Lisa Workshop

Despite its high price and lack of software support, the Lisa became well-received by reviewers for its advanced features and ease of use. 

Unfortunately reviews did not translate into sales for the Lisa and the computer eventually found itself discontinued in 1986.

Machine Learning godfather Yann LeCun said of Apple’s Lisa:

“The Lisa was a failure because, instead of being way overpriced like all Apple products, it was insanely overpriced. $10k in the US (without a hard drive) and 70k Francs in France IIRC. I saw it at the SICOB, the largest computer trade show in Paris in 1982 or 83. In 1985, the Commodore Amiga came out and made GUI, preemptive multitasking OS, bitmapped color display, multimedia, a 32-bit processor (Motoroal 68000), and all that affordable. The Lisa had an MMU with virtual memory and memory protection, which the Amiga didn’t have. If a task went rogue on the Amiga, it could bring the whole machine down. But that was a good trade-off.”

We also spoke to Professor Judah Diament, Yeshiva College’s Computer Science Chair who told us:

“Today, it is very easy to see Apple as an infallible industrial design powerhouse whose products will inevitably hit the mark with consumers, but anyone who remembers the Lisa, the Newton, and Apple’s overall abysmal state in the 1990s knows better. A more accurate and instructive perspective on Apple is this: learn from your mistakes and change your work process to not repeat them.”

The Lisa was designed for use in a business environment, but many businesses were not yet ready to adopt personal computers. 

Another problem was the lack of software available for the Lisa. As most software developers became focused on developing software for the Macintosh, which was released in 1984.

Macintosh prototype from c. 1981 at the Computer History Museum; Jobs with the Apple Macintosh, January 1984

Despite its failure as a commercial product, the Lisa had a significant impact on the development of personal computing. Its use of a GUI and a computer mouse was a major step forward in making computers more accessible to non-technical users, and these features would be adopted by many other personal computer manufacturers in the years that followed. 

A screenshot of Lisa Office System 3.1

Additionally, the Lisa’s innovative use of icons and folders to organize files and applications would become a standard feature of modern operating systems.

Jobs had mixed feelings about the Lisa computer. He was heavily involved in the development of the Lisa, and initially had high hopes for its success. However, after its release and subsequent poor sales, Jobs had a more negative view of the Lisa.

In a 1985 interview, Jobs stated that the Lisa was a “$5,000 product in a $2,500 market” and that it was “technically brilliant but commercially disastrous.” He also said that the Lisa was “a science project that nobody wanted to buy” and that the Macintosh was “Lisa’s only child.”

In Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of Jobs, Isaacson described how Lisa’s failure was a turning point for Jobs, making him more focused to make Macintosh a success. Lastly, Jobs recognized that the Lisa was too advanced for its time, overpriced and lacking software support.

In conclusion, learning from his mistakes with Lisa, Jobs became determined to make Macintosh a success.  Jobs said Macintosh would be more in tune with what the market wanted.


Deep Learning God Yann LeCun. Facebook / Meta’s Director of Artificial Intelligence & Courant Prof.
Why was the Apple computer called Lisa? Was the Lisa computer successful?