Origins of the Apple Human Interface
5:30 PM, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 1997
Computer Museum History Center
Mountain View, CA 94035
This is a verbatim transcript of a public lecture given on October 28, 1997.
Larry has also been coming to many of the programs before and since then, so
it's like this history talks series had developed a history of its own. So,
tonight we have Larry and Chris Espinosa from Apple, talking about the early
Apple user interfaces. I think, as you may have heard, Larry came to Apple
from Xerox PARC, back in 1980, and he figured he was bringing a lot of user
interface knowledge with him, only he's found out recently that user
interface testing and development existed at Apple before 1980. And Chris
had a part in that. Chris -- I think this is correct -- was probably the
youngest Apple employee ever; [he] did demos at Apple while a high school
We're glad to be here. This is a talk actually that's based on one that
Chris and I gave at Apple back in July. We got clearance, thankfully, from
the Apple lawyers, which came about two - three weeks ago, so we could give
it here, just in time to announce it. We're grateful to Apple to release
this for public disclosure, because we think it's of general interest.
Asking about what was early user interface design at Apple was kind of like
asking about early engine design at Mercedes Benz or something. Everybody
was doing it. So, you could have gotten a lot of people up here to give a
talk, and you get different perspectives on the same things that happened.
So today you're going to get the perspective of a couple of us.
To get it to be a little more grounded in something more [closely related]
to fact than opinion or perspective, we're trying to use as much as possible
actual, original documents that were created at the time. So you see actual,
contemporaneous thinking as it was going on, instead of just our memories,
which fade over time and tend to aggrandize over time, and so on.
Here's something which is not from Apple. This is the cover of Byte
[Magazine], from August '81, that was the Smalltalk issue. Colorful -- this
one doesn't have color, but it was a very colorful balloon. The reason I
show it is that there was a lot of influence from Xerox obviously on the
user interfaces that were done on the Lisa and the Macintosh, but maybe not
as much as some people think. The media tends to say, "Oh, they just copied
it." So I'm going to show you what it looked like, to be working on, from
that article, which I wrote, to be working on a Smalltalk, at that time,
1981. You see what the windows looked like, kind of a little rectangular
title, scroll bar without any arrows, and a pop-up menu. There were two
pop-up menus that you could use for each window. So, it was a pretty
different looking interface.
One of the principles that was in the Smalltalk environment was to have no
modes, and this was actually of a tee shirt that was made for me by a
friend, that said "Don't Mode Me In", that represented sort of this mission
that I was on, to try to eliminate all modes from user interfaces. Which
isn't necessarily a good idea, but it was definitely the mission I was on.
And at the end of that article, it mentioned that Apple Computer had gotten
a license to Smalltalk, and was maybe going to do something with it, but
maybe not going to do anything with it. In fact, Apple, and Hewlett Packard,
Digital Equipment, and Techtronics all did do various amounts of Smalltalk
development after that. But it was really independent companies that managed
to make Smalltalk somewhat of a success.
I'm jumping to the end here before I go to the beginning, just to let people
know what the Lisa was. The idea of the Lisa was to have something that was
very, very easy to use. People loved the Apple II, which was what we had at
the time at Apple, but it took a long time to learn how to use it. What we
wanted to end up with was something that was easy to learn, and just to show
you that we did do that, this is a study done at the end, where there were
18 subjects: 6 using LisaGraph, 6 using LisaWrite, and LisaList. LisaGraph
was a business graphics program; LisaList was a list manager, kind of a flat
file database; LisaWrite was a word processor. And as you see, for all but
one user using LisaList, it was under 20 minutes to get through the core
competency to use the application. And if you ever had a chance to use a
Lisa, and I hope there will be one operating here someday, then you'll see
that it was extremely easy, and in many ways more bullet proof, I'd say,
than the Mac. Not simpler than the Mac, actually, but we loaded a lot of
things into it to try to make it so people couldn't get themselves in
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