Jef Raskin on PARC and the Macintosh

Source: Interview with Jef Raskin, 13 April 2000.

The PARC Visit

Pang: The accounts of the famous PARC visit-- the ones that cast it as a Promethean stealing of fire-- leave open a couple questions. First, how secret was the work that they were doing, or how secret was the Star and its various capabilities? and second, how much traffic was there back and forth between Apple and PARC of a formal or informal sort? There were several people, including yourself and then people you hire, who come from or had experience there; and it sounds like the work there was pretty well-known.

Raskin: It was, and they published like crazy. They published a lot, which was a great help to the rest of the world. I wished Apple would have published a little bit more.


The fact was that the Macintosh project was officially started-- it had really been started in 1978-- it was approved and was a going project before that visit took place. So it's chronologically not possible for that visit to have sparked the Macintosh. I have read over and over that that visit is what started the Macintosh project, that Jobs saw it and said, "There shall be Macintosh." But no, the Macintosh project was already in existence. Actually, I had worked with Bill Atkinson and some other people because I was on the outs with Jobs by then, and Bill Atkinson was on his wonderful list; so I had finagled things to get Jobs to PARC so he could begin to understand what I was trying to do.

Most people don't know also that the Lisa machine in those early days-- this was 1979-- was a character-generator, green-screen machine; it didn't have a bitmapped screen, it was not Macintosh-like. That all came from the Macintosh project to the Lisa. I went over then to Ken Rothmuller, and I was telling him why this was a dumb thing you're doing, that the future is in bit-mapped screens, and take a look at what we're doing on the Macintosh project. But it was Lisa that got all the funding, and Jobs behind it, and two hundred engineers, and cost $15,000, and my little project with just a handful of people was doing the right thing.

But the basic idea of a graphics-based, user interface-oriented machine for Lisa came from the Macintosh project. The only book I've ever seen that mentions that is Owen Linzmeyer's Apple Confidential. Everyone else has gotten it wrong: they say that the Macintosh was a downsized Lisa, when really the Lisa was an upsized Macintosh. Exactly backwards.

Orchestrating Jobs' Visit

Pang: One thing that's been said about Jobs' visit to PARC-- which was one of several that Apple people made to PARC-- was that it was necessary to get him to understand the importance of this technology, and that it mainly served a political purpose.

Raskin: That was my intent, yes. There were other things going on that I didn't know about. The deal between Apple and Xerox over stock, I didn't know about any of that at the time. And I don't know if that was after the visit, or before it, or in conjunction with it, I have no first-hand knowledge. But apparently other things were grinding away. And of course the Macintosh project was killed several times, and it was usually Jobs who was killing it, because he didn't understand it; I figured if he understood it, and could see something like it, before we were ready to show anything, that he would be more sympathetic. And I think that became true. He decided to take the Lisa project and try to do it there.

Now, the Lisa was very Star-like; the Lisa stole things from Star right and left-- it stole people, it stole ideas, even stole the font names, exactly. I didn't like that, and I thought we could do better. Certainly the Macintosh benefited from Lisa development; later on, Lisa software came over to Macintosh, and Macintosh software went over to Lisa. And there was cross-pollination, which was fine. But the Lisa was very Star-like. And the Macintosh also inherited things which to this day I don't think are very good interface ideas. But that's what happens when you don't have someone who has their own ideas, and has to borrow a lot.


Document created on 6 June 2000;