Jef Raskin on the Apple Network

Source: Interview with Jef Raskin, 13 April 2000.

Apple Network and the Internet

Pang: On thing that is very striking about reading the "Book of Macintosh" now is that there were several documents describing your idea for an Apple Computer Network, or other sorts of networks.

Raskin: Yes, in fact there was one of those that I wrote that listed what it would be used for, and it almost reads dead-on what we use the Internet for.

Pang: Exactly.

Raskin: I missed pornography--

Pang: [Pang laughs] Ah well--

Raskin: -- and I missed gambling, but that just shows my Puritan upbringing.

But aside from that, I pretty much described the Web as we have it now. I felt very good about that.


Pang: Where did these ideas come from?

Raskin: It was obvious! I don't know what everyone else was thinking. Look at human beings-- what do human beings do? You give them reference books, and they look things up. You give them an online facility where you can put things up-- Lexis and Nexis had already begun, Stanford had been putting some of its material online, the Library of Congress was talking about it-- this was back in 1978, and people were talking about these things. Anybody who had ever done mail-order saw that doing it online was no different. So I didn't think at the time that it was a stretch to see exactly what people would do with it. For some reason, it wasn't obvious to others. It certainly wasn't obvious to Apple. I couldn't convince those people that I was right.

Pang: Were these databases things that you were using yourself at the time?

Raskin: No, because they were too expensive for me [Pang laughs]. But starting in 1972 or 73, when I was at the AI Lab, I started using e-mail, I started using Telnet, I started running programs on the computer at MIT from Stanford. Neat! They had the machine I needed, we didn't at Stanford, vice versa, no problem. E-mail was delightful; I thought obviously this is what we would now call a killer app. But it was totally clear, after I did it once, that this was very important. The value of a computer without a connection is much, much lower than one with it. It just seemed obvious.

Sometimes I think that all I do is look at myself carefully and see what I really like to do, and simply say, "Oh, that's a novel human trait." Or I watch others around me. But once you've dome a few e-mails, and find you can communicate quickly without worrying about time changes or cost, you think, "Oh! Everyone would love this!" So it was painfully obvious to me, and I'm still puzzled that it isn't painfully obvious to the rest of the world.

Pang: Were there any other people at Apple for whom it was obvious? There were at least a few who had spent time at Berkeley and other places--

Raskin: No. I don't remember anyone else saying, "Of course."

Pang: Why do you think it was that Apple didn't get it?

Raskin: The people in charge at Apple, and I think Jobs was one of them, were not visionaries. He's always been called a visionary, and I've never seen that, in all the years I worked there. Being a visionary is not what he's great at. Look at OS X, that Apple's coming out with: everybody who works on it says it's a throwback to the 1970s in terms of structure. It's UNIX, it's backwards.

That's why we have the mouse. Jobs saw the mouse at Xerox PARC, and even though I'd done a lot of experiments-- we did a lot of research and experimentation on graphic input devices, joysticks and force input and motion input and all kinds of things-- I still have at home some of the devices I actually built to test different forms of input. Which is also something useful when people say, "I hear you weren't interested in graphics," I say, "Well, then why was I doing this intensive work on graphic input devices?" That was a lot of the stuff I did at Apple for a time. But Jobs saw the mouse, and said "Okay," and just dictated that it's going to be the mouse. That was it. The boss has spoken.

That wasn't really a major problem-- as long we as had some graphic input device. Very often a good way to working with him is to present him a bunch of alternatives, all of which get your idea across; then he chooses one of them, and feels he's made this wonderful invention. It's just a way of handling bosses, and it's a standard procedure. They get to make a choice, but you've already made the basic choice, in this case that there'll be a graphic input device. He chooses which one, not realizing that the big choice was whether to have one or not.

Pang: What sort of implications did you see for the company as a whole if it had gotten into producing computers that had these networking capabilities, and starting its own network?

Raskin: I thought we'd sell more computers, we'd make money from the Apple Network, I don't know.

Remember, in those days, people were still asking, "What are you going to do with these things?" About this time, I wrote this article, "Computers for the Millions." That was radical thinking then, when we were trying to get out thousands. The question always got asked, "What are people going to do with these things? Why do people need computers?" And that [the Apple Network] was one of my answers: when we get these things networked, we can do this, and this, and this, and this.


Document created on 6 June 2000;