Apple to Release Lisa Operating System For Free As Open Source in 2018


Nearly 35 years ago, Apple released its first computer with a graphical user interface, called the Lisa. Starting next year, the Computer History Museum will release the Apple Lisa OS for free as an open source project.

According to a new report from Business Insider, the Computer History Museum will release the code behind the Apple Lisa operating system for free as open source, for anyone to try and tinker with. The news was announced via the LisaList mailing list for Lisa enthusiasts.

“While Steve Jobs didn’t create the Lisa, he was instrumental in its development. It was Jobs who convinced the legendary Xerox PARC lab to let the Apple Lisa team visit and play with its prototypes for graphical user interfaces,” reads the report. “And while Apple at the time said that Lisa stood for “Local Integrated System Architecture,” Jobs would later claim to biographer Walter Isaacson that the machine was actually named for his oldest daughter, Lisa Nicole Brennan-Jobs.”

At the time, the Lisa was quite the cutting-edge piece of equipment. Not only did the computer feature a graphical user interface, but it also introduced the mouse as an input tool. It was, however, an expensive machine, costing $10,000 USD in 1983 – the equivalent of $24,000 USD today.

The computer was doomed from day one, however. On top of the incredibly high price tag, the Lisa had to compete with much cheaper (albeit lower-tech) IBM machines. Apple canned the computer only three years after launch, and the Cupertino company introduced the Macintosh in 1984.

When it was first released, the Apple Lisa was considered a failure, as it only sold 10,000 units on top of an initial R&D investment of $150 million USD. In fact, the Lisa became such a point of contention that it caused a fight between Steve Jobs and then-CEO John Sculley, which caused Steve to leave Apple.

“Then-Apple CEO John Sculley had Jobs removed from the Lisa project, which kicked off years-long animosity between the two,” continues the report. “Ultimately, a boardroom brawl would result in Jobs quitting in a huff to start his own company, NeXT Computer. Apple would go on to buy NeXT in 1996, bringing Jobs back into the fold. By 1997, Jobs had become CEO of Apple, leading the company to its present status as the most valuable in the world.”

And the rest is history.


  • buricco

    The question will be… how open is open? Surely not open as in Open…

  • das

    “$10,000 USD in 1983 – the equivalent of $24,000 USD today” – this is crazy that everyone is ok with their money having lost 2X of their value in only 30 years.

  • Michael Leslie Squires

    When I used the Tandy XENIX/68K, which is a partial port of UNIX V7, I was told that the Tandy OS was based on an OS derived from UNIX V7 for the Apple LISA. There are certainly LISA defines in the development system header files. Is this correct? If so, is UNIX V7 now in the public domain?

  • Ron Gilbert

    In 1983 $10,000 would buy a Lisa. Today, I could buy a far more powerful computer from Apple for $1,000. Maybe the value of my money has increased 10 times.

  • CharonPDX

    That’s just standard inflation. And inflation in the US is downright tame compared to many countries.

  • CharonPDX

    Apple has released the source code for some of their old products before – notably MacPaint and QuickDraw.

    Note that while they have released their code, they have *NOT* made it “open source”. And the statement by the Computer History Museum notably does *NOT* call it “open source.”

    The license for MacPaint and QuickDraw specifies that the source code is released solely for educational purposes, and may not be used for commercial purposes. Basically, they’re releasing it so people can study it as a historical curiosity. You can’t use it to make and sell a retro “Apple Lisa Classic” clone a la the NES Mini. You can use it to make an emulator that will run on a Raspberry Pi, though. Or to patch the code to make a version of the software that is Y2K compliant (as some enthusiasts are already discussing.)