GUIdebook: Graphical User Interface galleryHome > Articles > “Inventing the Lisa User Interface” > “What you see is ALL you get”
Go backWhat you see is ALL you get

A sidebar to the article “Inventing the Lisa User Interface,” from Interactions, issue 2/1997, pp. 51.

Apple’s Lisa was an ambitious commercial product developed and introduced at a time when the best-selling personal computers had crude dot matrix character generation text (based on 5×7 or 7×9 character matrices generally presented on green phosphor displays limited to 40 or 80 columns of text.) Upon introduction in 1983, the Lisa offered a high resolution bit-mapped image with an array of character fonts and graphic images impossible to produce on the Apple II’s and III’s, IBM PC’s (introduced in 1981), Commodore 64’s, and Atari machines of the day.

At a time when personal computer user interfaces were still oriented to hobbyists, the Lisa user interface tried to present a style of interaction closer to the language of a general office user with little or no specialized computer experience. The WYSIWYG and desktop metaphor interface was a significant innovation on the Lisa. Following and enhancing on work previously developed at SRI International, Xerox PARC and other research laboratories, and taking advantage of new hardware technologies, these interface innovations consciously attempted to appeal to novice users. The Lisa was the first attempt to make such a system commercially available.

However, in doing so Apple ironically ran counter to the philosophy and system development of the originator of many of the innovations the Lisa commercialized. Doug Engelbart and his team at SRI International, the Augmentation Research Center (ARC), were responsible for the development of the mouse, windowed display editors, linked hypertext, and innovations in computer typesetting, and networking. The group was also among the initial nodes on the ARPANET in 1969 and served for many years as the Network Information Center.

In many ways, the most superficial of Doug’s innovations contained in the oNLine System (NLS, later known as Augment) made their way into the systems from Xerox PARC (which included several former members of the ARC team): these included the mouse and windowed displays. Rather than concerning itself with the needs of the novice user, NLS was interested in creating a system that could satisfy the needs of sophisticated individual knowledge workers and experienced teams of knowledge workers while still being accessible to novices through a consistent interface that let useful work be done in a short period of time. The goal was the “augmentation” of the intellect of individuals and teams.

Lisa’s (and PARC’s) attempted literal mimicking of the desktop and what appeared on the printed page were technical marvels, but largely ignored the power NLS offered for analyzing, filtering, and formatting documents made up of information anywhere in a network of knowledge. The system’s facilities, available in the late 1960’s, for individual and team customization of functionality and creation of linked recorded dialogs, have only recently resurfaced in systems like the World Wide Web.

WYSIWYG could very easily become WYSIAYG: “What you see is ALL you get.” The WYSIWYG and desktop metaphor fall apart as the domain of large data storage and shared file servers. Doug’s NLS suggested a world in which the computer’s power let users go beyond what they could do in the physical world.

Harvey Lehtman

Harvey Lehtman is affiliated with the Institute of the Future, a nonprofit applied research and consulting firm. Harvey is a former member of Doug Engelbart’s Augmentation Research Center and former employee of Apple Computer Inc.

Harvey G. Lehtman
Institute for the Future
2744 Sand Hill Road
Menlo Park, Ca 94025-7020 USA
Fax: +1-415-854-7850

Page added on 22nd January 2005.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Marcin Wichary, unless stated otherwise.