Jef Raskin, Mac pioneer, dies at 61

03 2005

Jef Raskin, Mac pioneer, dies at 61

Pacifica, CA February 27, 2005--Jef Raskin, a mathematician, orchestral soloist and composer, professor, bicycle racer, model airplane designer, and pioneer in the field of human-computer interactions, died peacefully at home in California on February 26th, 2005 surrounded by his family and loved ones. He had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

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SAN JOSE, Calif. - Jef Raskin, a computer interface expert who conceived Apple Computer Inc.'s groundbreaking Macintosh computer but left the company before it came to market, has died. He was 61.

Raskin died Saturday night at his home in Pacifica, Calif., his family said in a statement. In December, he told friends he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Raskin joined Apple in 1978 - as its 31st employee - to start the young company's publications department. At the time, computers were primarily text-based and users had to remember a series of arcane commands to perform the simplest tasks.

In 1979, Raskin had a different idea: A computer that's priced affordably, targeted at consumers and extremely easy to use. A small team, under his command, was put together at Apple to pursue his concept that would eventually become the Macintosh.

"His role on the Macintosh was the initiator of the project, so it wouldn't be here if it weren't for him," said Andy Hertzfeld, an early Mac team member.

Raskin, who worked as a computer science professor before joining Apple, was well aware of the research being done in computer interfaces at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. He worked to bring it to the attention of Apple executives.

"Jef was incredibly enthusiastic about what he saw at Xerox PARC," said Dave Burstein, who is working on a film about Raskin's life.

Raskin also named the Macintosh after his favourite apple, though the name was slightly changed because of a trademark issue with another company.

Raskin led the project until the summer of 1981, when he had a falling out with Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder. He left the company entirely the following year.

"One of the biggest things I give Jef credit for was putting together the very beginnings of the Mac team with some extraordinary people who didn't necessarily have the credentials, but had everything else to do something great," Hertzfeld said Sunday.

When the Mac was unveiled in 1984, it radically changed the personal computer industry. No longer were users forced to type commands. Instead, its interface mimicked a physical desktop with folders and filing cabinets. Documents could be dragged from one area to another.

The final Mac, however, was priced at an unaffordable $2,495 when it first appeared on the market and sales were disappointing after the first few months. But the concepts behind the Mac interface quickly found their way into other software, including Microsoft Corp.'s Windows.

After leaving Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, Raskin founded another computer company, Information Appliance, and designed another computer that incorporated his ideas. He also wrote a book, The Humane Interface, which was published in 2000.

Raskin continued to work on software that incorporates his ideas on interfaces. The first release is scheduled to take place in the next few months, Burstein said.

While best known in the computer industry, Raskin also pursued other interests. He conducted the San Francisco Chamber Opera Society and played three instruments. His artwork was displayed at New York's Museum of Modern Art. He also received a patent for airplane wing construction.

-© The Canadian Press, 2005

Preferred contact:
Reporters on deadline may call Aza Raskin at (650) 359-8588

Pacifica, CA February 27, 2005--Jef Raskin, a mathematician, orchestral soloist and composer, professor, bicycle racer, model airplane designer, and pioneer in the field of human-computer interactions, died peacefully at home in California on February 26th, 2005 surrounded by his family and loved ones. He had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Jef created the Macintosh computer as employee number 31 at Apple in the early 1980s, revolutionizing computer interface design. Jef invented "click and drag" and many other methods now taken for granted by computer users. He named the Macintosh project after his favorite variety of apple, the McIntosh, modifying the spelling for copyright purposes. Jef's article "Holes in the Histories" addresses some popular misconceptions about the Macintosh Project. Jef strongly believed that computers should make tasks easy for people, not the other way around. For twenty-five more years, his work focused on improving interfaces, culminating in his book, The Humane Interface (Addison-Wesley, 2000). Jef created the Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces (RCHI), , which will soon release a preview of Archy, a culmination and exemplar of his design principles. Archy redesigns the basic building blocks of computing to demonstrate an entirely new paradigm for computer use. RCHI will continue under the technical leadership of Jef's son, Aza Raskin.

Jef worked until the last days of his life to finish the code for Archy. He told a friend ten days before he died, "When people get a chance to work in Archy and see how much easier it is to do their work, we'll get enormous support." He had completed almost all of the basic work by the time his health took a turn for the worse a few days later.

Jef viewed good design as a moral duty, holding interface designers to the same ethical standards as surgeons. Alluding to Isaac Asimov's first law of robotics, one of Jef's mantras was that "any system shall not harm your content or, through inaction, allow your content to come to harm." Archy implements that principle by making it impossible to permanently lose your work. Archy also replaces mouse movements, which many text editing programs require, with much faster "Leap" keystrokes, reducing the likelihood of carpel tunnel syndrome.

Jef originated the Macintosh project in 1979 despite strong opposition from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and led the effort for the crucial first three years. He left Apple in 1982 to found Information Appliance Inc., where he created the award-winning Canon Cat in pursuit of his vision that a computer should be an easy-to-use tool. Despite the rapid sale of twenty thousand units, Canon terminated the project due to an internal dispute. Some Canon Cat owners report continuing to use their Cats to this day.

After a decade studying cognitive psychology, Jef established a scientific basis for the design of man-machine interfaces, bringing interface design out of the mystic realm of guruism.

In his 2000 book The Humane Interface, Jef coined the term and founded the field of cognetics, "the ergonomics of the mind," transforming interface design into an engineering discipline with a rigorous theoretical framework. His book, translated into more than nine languages, has gone through numerous printings and become the standard text for more than 100 computing courses around the world.

His sculptures have been exhibited at New York's Museum of Modern Art. One is included in the permanent collection.

Jef's life and work are the subject of a documentary in progress, which will continue to gather information and interviews from people who knew him. More information is available at Jef is survived by his wife of 23 years, Linda Blum; his children, Aza, Aviva, and Aenea; and his children in all but name, Jenna and Rebecca. A memorial service will be announced at a later date. For further information, e-mail

Source by Redazione

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