By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
August 28, 2011

… he lied to me. Although to be fair, it was more a lie of omission than a barefaced lie

Pardon me if this feels like ancient history. But this is a story I’ve never put into print (or pixels) before, and I figured if not now, when?

It was December 1982 and a crowd of journalists had gathered in a meeting room at The Pierre, a luxury hotel one block north of the site Steve Jobs would later choose for the Fifth Avenue Apple Store’s big glass cube.

Jobs, then 26, was there to introduce the media to the wonders of the Lisa. He was selling it hard, even though (we later learned) he’d already been forced off the Lisa team and had seized control of a second, top-secret project.

I was a reporter-researcher at Time magazine on a 12-month probationary writer’s trial. I’d heard that the Lisa had something to do with work done at Xerox’s (XRX) Palo Alto Research Center, and to prep for the meeting I had read and re-read the only substantive story I could find about Xerox PARC — a long article in Byte magazine on Smalltalk.

Smalltalk was an object-oriented programming language created at PARC by Alan Kay — the computing pioneer who coined the term WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) and led the team that created the first bit-mapped display and GUI (graphical user interface) on the mouse-driven Xerox Alto.

As Jobs showed off what he described as Lisa’s breakthrough innovations — the mouse, the windows, the pull-down menus — I waited for him to say something about Lisa’s debt to Xerox PARC, the Alto and Alan Kay. When he didn’t, I started pestering him with questions about Smalltalk. He finally turned to me and snapped “This has nothing to do with Smalltalk.”


I found out later that the story I wrote for Time about Lisa — The Year of the Mouse — infuriated Jobs. Not because it mentioned Smalltalk, PARC and Douglas Engelbart (the inventor of the mouse), but because it reported that Apple (AAPL) was already hard at work on its successor: “a scaled-down version of Lisa called Mackintosh (a misspelling of the Mclntosh apple).”

The real misspelling, it turned out, was mine.

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