Jef Raskin – Website After a bout with cancer, the original father of the Macintosh died today at 61. The first obit appeared in Different District as follows:

Sadly, we must now say good-bye to one of the most influential men that have worked for Apple. Jeff Raskin – the man who commited his time to making the Mac GUI we all know and love – passed away this last Saturday. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia hosted by Google states, “Raskin joined Apple in January 1978 as the 31st employee. He later hired his former student Bill Atkinson from UCSD to work at Apple, and began the Macintosh project. He is credited with the decision to use a one-button mouse as part of the Apple interface.” He died of cancer at the age of 61. Let’s all take a moment to remember Jeff Raskin.

I knew Jef and his story. He used to come on my old radio show quite often. His legacy may eventually evolve from the last project he was working on, the Humane Interface. His vision of how computers should work was very unconventional and the only pure Raskin machine that ever got released was the Canon Cat, a unique computer if ever there was. I found out about his illness some months back and discussed it with him over some email eexchanges. He wanted to keep it a secret so he could continue working in peace rather than endure a lot of pity since he was apparently incurable. One thing was for sure. He was a really nice guy and an original thinker.

related link:
Good interview here

  1. Thomas says:

    There is no question that the Mac interface was revolutionary at its outset. However, reading through the interviews and having used the Mac interface, I feel that Raskin overlooked a few things in his desire for simplicity.

    When the Mac interface came out, the tasks that people wanted to accomplish were relatively simple and small in number but the work required by the computer to accomplish them were great. The Mac made those tasks easy to perform and thus empowered a vast generation of users. The oversight comes when the user evolves into a sophisticated user. The number and complexity of the tasks they wish to perform grows exponentially. In short, they quickly outgrow a limiting, simplified interface.

    To Raskin, I would tell him that the right mouse button and scroll wheel make me at least five to ten times more efficient in my use of the computer. Not having them would be like walking with crutches. Having menus within windows instead of always at the top of the screen allows for far more sophisticated applications with a greater level of complexity *hidden* from the user and thus making it easier to do what they wish. In short, building applications around the context of what the user is doing is closer to real life then having every choice in the universe always available (e.g. You cannot open the kitchen cabinet without first going to the kitchen.)

    Microsoft, IMO, was better at realizing that users come in a range of experience, confidence and knowledge levels. Catering to both, if done right, provides new users with an interface that they can grow into.

  2. Jim says:

    Work in peace, live in peace, work for peace and rest in peace.
    It looks like he died as he lived, from what you wrote John.
    Technology can make the world a better place, when used for creative and original ideas. I’ll have to check out his life and work. I take it that he really knew how to use his hardware in this software hell called technology.

  3. Lyn Robie says:

    I knew him at UCSD in the 1970’s when he was an unknown. He didn’t believe in the use of interrupts as I recollect – thought computers should be driven completely by polling loops. I remember thinking, as someone involved in trying to get a little performance out of a processor working at three megahertz, that he just didn’t get it. As a renowned physicist once said – “I’d rather be lucky than right.” RIP.

  4. Hank says:

    Excuse me if I’m wrong… but I think I remember reading an interview with Raskin where he talked about the one-button mouse thing. He still liked the one-button but wished it were pressure senstitive.

    It’s an interesting idea. It could be really intuitive if it worked.

    As for me… two buttons and scroll seem to really work. (Also, good riddens to that filthy little ball! )

    My one improvement would be to make the right button more programmable. I’d like to use it as a date-stamper accross applications but can’t find any application on the web which allows me to program it.


  5. Miguel Lopes says:

    From’s review of The ‘Humane Interface’:

    ‘Raskin states, “There has never been any technical reason for a computer to take more than a few seconds to begin operation when it is turned on.” So why then does Windows (or Linux!) take so darn long to start up? The PalmPilot is on instantly, as is your cell phone. But for some reason, we tolerate the computer taking a few eons to start. (And until consumers complain about it, things won’t change.)’

    A fitting tribute to Jef would be to finally get computers that start in a second or so. So I suggest we all start complaining! How about a site just full with complaints about this issue? A tribute to Jef, maybe?

  6. Jim says:

    NASA and men went to the moon. They weren’t counting on luck or throwing dice with the universe. They had one shot at getting it right Lyn. The code wasn’t full of bugs written by lucky programmers. The hardware couldn’t fail and it didn’t. You just can’t fake that or leave it to luck. You never know when your luck will run out. It’s Murphys Law. Then there is law that says, people get smarter as computers get faster. Then your PC crashes.

  7. Thomas says:

    There is a clear reason why the NASA software is so bug free (or so we hope): the cost of an error is extraordinarily high and the company in question (the US government) has the resources to ensure that the code is checked thousands of times.

    Modern commercial companies have neither the dire consequences nor the resources to expend the same level of effort to ensure their software attains this level of solidity. Rather, they make a cost/benefit analysis based on factors such as customer satisfaction, time to market, and available resources to produce products that are solid as possible given their constraints.


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