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Location: GUIs > Apple > Lisa Office System 1.0 Tour


Apple Lisa Office System 1.0

This is a document written by Thomas S. Stepleton that was originally posted at , but their server went down a while back and seems to have taken the files with it. I liked it so much I decided to post it here.

Lisa Office System 1.0 Tour

The Lisa Office System is almost without doubt the most popular piece of Lisa software. Version 1 bundled LisaCalc, LisaDraw, LisaGraph, LisaList, LisaProject, and LisaWrite (a spreadsheet, draw program business graphing package, database program, project planning program, and a word processor respectively) together in what would today be called a 'works package' - by version 3, LisaTerminal (a terminal emulator) was included as well. Similar software combinations (like the office bundle that shipped with the Osborne 1, a popular portable computer from 1980) also existed, but the Office System was set apart by its graphical interface and (to a lesser extent) multitasking capabilities. In a sense, the Office System is what makes a Lisa a Lisa - a powerful, easy-to-use personal computer geared toward business and home use - rather than a graphical workstation like some of its contemporaries (such as the ICL/Three Rivers PERQ and perhaps even the Xerox Star). 

This tour of the Lisa Office System v1.0 is designed to showcase an early GUI-based 'works package' in action. Look closely for attributes of the Lisa interface that were refined, retained, or removed in later UIs. 

Startup From... menu

This menu allows the user to select which volume to boot from. It is built into the Lisa boot ROMs and is not part of the Office System. It does, however, bear a passing resemblance to the Office System's menus: attributes like a 'top-of-window' menu bar and hotkeys help maintain a consistent interface. It would certainly have been easier for the ROM programmers to make a text menu or a simple box!

The Environments Window

The Environments Window allows the user to select which shell to use. (A shell is any Lisa Operating System program with the .SHELL suffix; the Lisa Office System and the Workshop are shells although they also consist of many other programs). Like the Startup From... menu it is not part of the Office System (it's the operating system program but it mimics the Office System UI all the same.

Lisa Office System 1.0 Splash Screen

This is the splash screen displayed by the Lisa Office System during startup. Perhaps not as inviting as the "Welcome to Macintosh" greeting, the Lisa welcome dialog has a more professional feel. The stylized "Lisa" text is a bitmap occupying four spaces in the Lisa system font.

Lisa Desktop Manager

This picture shows the Desktop Manager (analagous to the Macintosh Finder or the Windows 95/98 Explorer program) in action. Like the Finder, the Desktop Manager shows the volumes on the desktop; like the Explorer, the Preferences accessory (Control Panels) is there as well. Note the conspicuous absence of a System Folder - for better or for worse, the operating system is out of reach of the Office System user.

All versions of the Office System use a document-based metaphor rather than a program-based metaphor. In other words, Lisa users manipulate documents and rarely have occasion to disturb the programs (called tools) themselves, which are often kept tucked away in a subdirectory. To create a new document, the user double clicks on a stationary pad (notice all of the icons that end with "paper") and a new document appears on the disk; to edit that document or any other existing document the user double clicks on its icon and the appropriate tool is loaded.

Trivia Note: Lisa Office System icons are actually glyphs in a special Office System font.

Lisa Office System Clock

The Clock is the simplest Lisa accessory. Like its Macintosh couterpart, the clock allows the user to set time and date. It lacks the Macintosh clock's alarm feature.

Note: "Accessory" is a term of my own invention used to describe the small Office System programs that create no documents. Office System documentation simply called this accessory "the Clock".

Lisa Office System Calculator

The Office System calculator actually has quite a bit more functionality than the Macintosh calculator: in addition to the four-function mode shown here, the calculator also has an RPN mode, an adding machine mode, and a simulated paper tape. The special glyphs adjacent to and within the keys are in the calculator's dedicated font.

Office System Preferences Window

The Preferences window allows the user to connect devices, choose the startup volume, and adjust screen, keyboard, mouse, and speaker settings. Notice the conspicuous absence of slider widgets - radio buttons are used instead.


LisaCalc was probably one of the most used tools during the Lisa's heyday. Like most business applications it is not a particularly inspiring or innovative program, but it serves its purpose. One unfortunate bug is LisaCalc 1.0's failure to properly restore cell information if the user cancels a calculation, a flaw it shares with several later 'fixed' versions.


MacDraw 1.0 users will recognize the LisaDraw interface at once - it is not surprising then that LisaDraw was almost directly ported to the Mac. Later versions of LisaDraw crammed the menubar with options for line patterns and even colors (an option exclusively for a special Canon inkjet printer).


LisaGraph is perhaps the easiest graph-making package I've ever used. Labels can be inserted anywhere on the graph. The cell array is very similar to LisaCalc (data can be copied and pasted between the two tools) but facilities for equations do not exist.


LisaList is a tool designed for creating small databases. It supports several different data types and formats. Like LisaCalc, there is nothing particularly exciting about this tool.


LisaProject is a project planner that arranges various steps to a goal in boxes. Paths can fork and converge to allow for multple teams to work on different parts of a project. Facilities for determining time, cost, and resources are included.

LisaProject is the only Office System tool attributed to a particular author: one Debra J. Willrett, who developed the software for Apple internal use. It was later decided that Lisa Project was useful enough to become part of the Office System.

This is the timeline view of the project in the picture above. As projects go, this one is farily minimal. The boxes indicate the projected length of time for one step to complete - gray areas represent a range of possible end dates.

It is worth noting that IBM used LisaProject for a study on GUIs, an odd choice as LisaProject is arguably the least intuitive of all Office System tools.


LisaWrite is the Office System's word processor. Even though the ability to see different fonts and formatting options was rare in the personal computing world of 1983, LisaWrite was criticized lacking a spell checker and other popular features.

Unlike some modern graphical word processors, LisaWrite allows for the adjustment of both horizontal and vertical margins with rulers that appear directly over the document.

Office System Close Dialog

Double clicking on any window's titlebar icon (at top left) brings up this dialog in version 1 of the Office System. By version 3 the dialog was gone - the Lisa assumes that the user always wants to save and put away the window contents. Dialogs like these (note the question mark icon) present a small amount of information and force the user to choose from a limited set of options.

Format for Printer Dialog

The Format for Printer dialog is the Lisa eqivalent of the Macintosh "Page Setup..." dialog. When several items of information are required from the user, Lisa tools use large dialogs like these that contain several input widgets and obscure large portions of the screen.

LisaCalc Help Dialog

This is something of an oddity among Lisa dialogs: although it presents only text and requires no user-supplied data, it uses the "large style" dialog box. It is also perhaps the largest of the "large style" boxes, obscuring perhaps 90 percent of the screen.

Office System Print Dialog

This is the Office System print dialog, a dialog which saw several revisions as the Office System evolved beyond version 1.0. Later versions of this dialog lack the "One Copy While You Wait" option.

LisaTerminal Communications Port Settings Dialog

This dialog is from version 3.1 of the Office System but is included here as another example of early GUI design. As in the Preferences accessory, this dialog lacks widgets like sliders and drop-down menus, relying instead on radio buttons.

Oddly, although Windows 3.1 has drop-down menus and sliders, the Windows 3.1 terminal accessory uses the same bulky combination of radio buttons for communications port settings.