Bringing My Apple Lisa Back to Life

As you all may know, several weeks ago I found the Lisa Emulator (LisaEm) at After I downloaded it, I installed the ROMs and installed the Lisa Office System (LOS). After I played around with the emulator for a while, I wrote a review of LisaEm. The review contained several screen shots of LisaEm in action running the LOS.

Before I wrote the review, I had contacted Ray Arachelian, the reator of LisaEm, and asked him if he would be willing to do an interview with me. He agreed, and after a few weeks, I published the interview.

The Floppy Drive

Ray and I have become friends, and with his help I brought my Lisa 2 back to nearly 100% working order.

Apple Lisa 2 (Macintosh XL)

He helped me with a number of problems, the first being that the floppy drive seemed to be dead. The Lisa’s 400 KB floppy drive is a single sided floppy drive, and the read/write head is on the bottom of the drive. On 800 KB and 1.4 MB drives, the top head pushes down on the disk, which makes the bottom head come into contact with the disk. On the 400 KB drive there is no top head, but there is a lever that has a piece of felt on it, which is supposed to push the disk onto the head so the drive can read it.

A common problem with 400 KB drives is that people will sometimes use a drive cleaner disk to clean the head. Drive cleaner disks often break off the piece of felt on the drive, making the drive appear to be dead.

At first I thought about trying to get a piece of felt from my old 512K‘s dead 400 KB drive. Luck was not on my side; I couldn’t find the drive. So what was I going to do?

I decided that I might as well try something other than a piece of felt – I didn’t have anything to loose except maybe a few old floppies. I went in search of a replacement for the felt, and I ended up using a piece of cotton swab. It took about a half hour to get the pressure of the cotton on the disk just right, but I managed.

400K Floppy Disks

The next step was to back up as much of the stuff that was on the hard drive as I could. As soon as I was done with that, I could start on installing the LOS on my 10 MB internal “Widget” hard drive.

Now I hit setback: I didn’t have any Single Sided or Double Sided disks; all I had was 1.4 MB disks.

On a normal 800 KB drive, that isn’t a big issue, but the 400 KB drive doesn’t have enough power to turn over the magnetic blocks on 1.4 MB disks (this makes it very hard for Lisa and Mac 128K/512K drives to write to 1.4 MB disks, and it can corrupt disks when it tries to read them). Fortunately I had two 800 KB disks that I could use, and the drive didn’t have any problem writing to them.

The Lisa didn’t really have anything special on it’s hard drive, but it had one solitaire game that my Mom loved, so I backed it up and installed it on my Mom’s old Mac SE. (Unfortunately, the SE died the other day. I don’t know what happened, but I’m assuming that the power supply died. If anyone has an old SE that they want to sell, please email me.)

Anyway, once I backed up the software on the Lisa, I continued to make LOS install disks.

Installing the Lisa Operating System

I had a somewhat difficult time getting the Office System to install on the drive. The first time I tried to install the LOS, it told me that it could not write to the hard drive. I restarted the Lisa but got the same error. What was wrong?

I didn’t think it was the hard drive, so I figured it must have been something wrong with the floppy. It was a long shot, but I decided to make a new copy of the first LOS installer disk. That solved the problem.

The first four disks worked fine, but when it came time to put disk number 5 (the last LOS installer disk) hard drive, the drive failed to read the disk. Rats! The piece of cotton I used on the drive to make it work had come loose – now I had to start all over again.

Fortunately, I was able to fix the floppy drive again, and when I installed the LOS this time everything went smoothly.

At this point it was close to 4 o’clock in the morning, so I decided I should turn in for the night and install all of the programs (LisaWrite, LisaDraw, LisaCalc, etc.) after I got home from work the next day. That day I finished installing the Lisa Office Suite.

The Keyboard

Now that I had everything reinstalled on the Lisa. All I needed was a keyboard so that I could use it.

Ray helped me with that, too. I asked him if he happened to have a spare Lisa keyboard that I could have, and he did. He shipped it to me, along with a brand new 10 pack of Maxell 800K floppy disks, a brand new Radio Shack soldering iron, and a copy of The Macintosh Way by Guy Kawasaki (It’s 200 pages long, and I read the entire book in one day – it’ a great book.)

The first thing I did was hook up the keyboard so I could start using my Lisa.

The keyboard works okay, but it does have it’s issues. The main problem I had with it was the space bar. It was very stiff (when it was rebuilt, the spring that holds the spacebar up was lost, and a piece of wire binding was used in it’s place). I really didn’t like how the spacebar felt, so I decided to take the spring from another key that I wouldn’t use as much and put it on the spacebar. Now the spacebar works great.

There are two other problem keys on this keyboard, S and Backspace. Sometimes you have to push kind of hard on the S key to make it work, but most of the time it works fine. Backspace doesn’t work at all, but that isn’t a big deal because the Clear key on the numeric keypad has the same function in LisaWrite as Backspace.

I have yet to open the soldering iron, but I have used a few of the disks to save some of my Lisa documents.

I must say that I really do like Lisa. The emulator is one thing, but you really do have to use a real Lisa running the LOS to truly appreciate it.

Not Just a Collectible

Even though people tell me I should set my Lisa aside because it’s worth something as a collectors item, I can’t do that. What’s the point of having something really cool if you don’t use it? Having a working Lisa and not using it is like having a mint condition 1946 Ford convertible and never driving it.

If you have something really cool and collectable, and it works, use it! If you don’t use it, it might as well be broken.

P.S. I wrote this article on my Lisa running LOS 3.1, and converted it to Word format via the Lisa-to-Macintosh migration tools from Cherokee Data (formerly Sun Remarketing).

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