There's always been debate about who was the true originator of the Mac, especially now we are now celebrating its 30th birthday. One of the leading contenders is Apple employee #31, Jef Raskin, who sadly passed away in February 2005. At July 2004's Macworld Expo in Boston, Raskin joined fellow Mac innovators Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfeld and Jerry Manock in a panel discussion. Raskin was determined to set the record straight about who actually founded the Macintosh project – and it wasn’t Steve Jobs.
He declared that he was the father of the Macintosh. Indeed that it was a project he developed in the 1960s – before Apple Computer even existed. His fellow panellists weren’t overly impressed with this argument. Whatever idea you came up with, Hertzfeld said, Jef Raskin has a tendency to claim that he invented it at some earlier point.
But Raskin’s Mac boasts are not all idle. It was he who turned Apple’s proposed 'Annie' project from a low-end games machine into his own 'Macintosh' – an easy-to-use computer with a radical new interface. It was he who first visited Xerox’s PARC research labs, way back in 1973, and later dragged Apple’s Lisa team there to see its technological inventions.
So who is the real father of the Mac? Was it Raskin, Jobs, Atkinson or Hertzfeld – or someone else entirely?
Steve Jobs visited XeroxPARC in late 1979. Here he saw the first tentative steps towards a graphical user interface (GUI) and other innovations such as a separate keyboard and mouse. A similar UI was employed for Apple’s Lisa computer. Jobs later joined Raskin’s Mac project despite initially dismissing it as the “dumbest idea” he’d ever heard of. But two bigheads on one project spelt trouble, and Raskin soon resigned. Steve’s team eventually created the Mac that we know today.
It would be wrong to dismiss Steve’s essential input into the creation of the Mac, but other facts dent the heroic myth of his visit to PARC culminating in the origins of the Mac.
Both the Lisa and Macintosh projects were proposed at least three months before Steve’s trip to Xerox. By the time of Steve’s visit Apple had been working on its own GUI for months – although Jef’s UI theories didn’t fall in line with those of Xerox that so impressed Jobs.
Steve’s fellow Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was the legendary brains and beard behind the company’s biggest success, the Apple II. But he had little to do with the Macintosh project – especially after crashing the plane he was piloting in 1981. Apple’s Mac Woz was Bill Atkinson – creator of QuickDraw, the underlying graphics display system for the Mac and Lisa. QuickDraw enabled programs to create and manipulate graphical objects.
Atkinson merged the PARC idea of icons and combined it with one-button mouse technology to create the notion of clicking and dragging both windows and folder/file icons. The desktop metaphor – even the trash-can – was born. For many people, this is the very essence of Macintosh.
For all Raskin’s theorizing and UI pioneering, Bill was the principal designer of the Macintosh user interface. Also, he single-handedly wrote MacPaint, the Mac’s initial killer app.
Andy Hertzfeld took much of Bill’s UI work from the Lisa project, and made it the cornerstone of the Mac. Alongside Bill’s UI innovations, Andy wrote much of the original Mac operating system and the “User Interface Toolbox” that included the window and menu managers. He also wrote many of the original desk accessories, such as the Scrapbook and Control Panel – ideas that are still key to the Mac’s UI, as they’re the foundations of OS X Tiger’s Dashboard feature. It was his understanding of human nature and empathy with the user that gave smart UI ideas popular resonance. Hertzfeld’s passion for making computers easier and more fun to use is built into every Mac ever made.
The Mac is known not only for its groundbreaking user interface; its innovative motherboard and iconic hardware design are also key. Atkinson wasn’t the only Woz in the Mac team. Burrell Smith’s brilliant motherboard helped the Mac become a reality. His blinding Bus Multiplexing breakthrough – for queuing and managing the transmission of data from the processor – became the hallmark of all PCs for years.
Raskin’s idea for the Mac case was a horizontally oriented, lunch-box type shape, with the keyboard folding up into the lid of the computer for easy transportability. Jobs was having none of it. “It’s got to be different, different from everything else,” he demanded. “We need it to have a classic look that won’t go out of style, like the Volkswagen Beetle.”
Steve recruited Jerry Manock to lead the industrial-design effort. Steve and Jerry decided that the Mac should defy convention and have a vertical orientation. In order to minimize desktop footprint the display would sit above the disk drive instead of next to it, and the keyboard would be detachable. Allied with Steve’s maniacal eye for design perfection, Manock’s Mac case gave a personal computer real personality for the first time.
Throughout 1980 Apple nearly canned the Macintosh project on a number of occasions. Raskin kept getting extensions, but it was the arrival of Steve Jobs that ultimately saved it and raised the Mac to Apple’s number-one concern.
As Michael Malone writes in his excellent Apple biography Infinite Loop, “Raskin may have been the father of the Mac, but he was a difficult parent”. He eventually made the computer of his dreams. The Canon Cat, released in 1987, featured an innovative text-based user interface but no mouse, icons or graphics. If Jobs hadn’t taken over the project, the Mac would likely have employed similar innovations rather than those we still use today. And, while easy to use, the Cat was a dismal failure.
There’s no one creator of the Mac. It was an incredible team effort. But the sad news of his death lends us the opportunity to give Jef Raskin the credit he craved and deserves for originating the Macintosh project at Apple and keeping it afloat until Jobs and the rest of the team could bring it to market. Macworld, the Mac, and possibly even Apple would not be here without him. MW