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.