I never knew you, and I don’t think you ever heard of me, but I’d have liked to meet you. Now I guess I never will. That’s a shame.
Jef Raskin was the man behind the Macintosh. In the sense that the Apple II was Steve Wozniak’s baby, the Macintosh was Jef Raskin’s invention. The hardware was built by a chap named Burrell, but as Jef might have remarked, Jef invented Burrell too. (I borrowed this joke from an anecdote at folklore.org, which you really ought to check out.
Everything Jef touched, he sought to understand. He played the piano, he wrote fluently, he coded and he managed a team of coders and kept a happy ship. He fostered the spirit of innovation, of artistry, that Steve Jobs latched onto and made his own- and which ultimately rescued Apple from the oblivion of boxshifting that overtook Compaq, H-P, Digital Equipment Corporation, and which looks set to overtake Sun and IBM.
Jef would have been the first to say that the Dell $500 PC isn’t as intrinsically valuable as Apple’s $500 machine. (And Jobs no doubt loves its embossed rubber foot.) I’ve seen what happens when you hand people a Mac mini- their face changes. You can feel the quality of it; you can feel the way that every part of it fits into every part just so. The metal perimeter is heavy and cool to the touch, and more importantly, it encloses the whole machine, permitting no protrusions at all- protecting the connectors, drives and other internals from bumps, scrapes and bangs; its great compressive strength means you can put even a large monitor on top without squashing it flat, and it doesn’t come with a manual- in fact, I’ve never even looked at the pachage of discs that came with it. I just opened the box, plugged it in, told it my .Mac ID and it went, ‘oh, I’m plugged into a Powerbook, would you like me to use that as an internet connection?’
Yes, I would, thank you for working it out.
Working it out was what Jef Raskin was all about. He wanted, originally, to build the Mac around the 6809 processor- as used in several early 80s computers, and also the Philips CD-I interactive CD appliance. Early on it became apparent that to support the advanced features they wanted, the little 8-bit 6809 just didn’t have the grunt to push the pixels, to handle the memory, or to run the large software that was required to make a machine that you didn’t need to know how to use. The Macintosh was that machine- a machine that knew how to be used, so that you didn’t have to learn in advance; it would teach you, guide you, nurture your understanding. It had to be smarter than other computers just to do the job with the additional burden of understanding things for me.
Just like my Powerbook understands how to find an internet connection for me.
Just like my Mac mini understands how to play DVDs without me telling it.
Just like I can just plug a printer in and have it go- by magic. It understands. Jef built a machine that understands things. That was the big difference with the Mac. It wasn’t a computer. It was a machine for helping people handle information.
Jef Raskin was a man who understood and loved helping others to understand.
He will be greatly missed.