Interview with Jef Raskin

About Jef Raskin

Jef Raskin was Apple Computer's thirty-first employee, its manager of publications, and manager of the Macintosh project from 1979 to 1982. He studied mathematics and philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and computer science at Penn State. Before joining Apple he taught computer science at the University of California, San Diego; was a visiting scholar at Stanford University; worked as a musician, conductor, and music teacher in the Bay Area; and founded the technical publishing firm Bannister & Crun.

After leaving Apple, Raskin founded Information Appliance, Verity Recordings (a classical music publisher), and worked as a consultant and author. He also holds a number of patents and trademarks.

Raskin is author of The Humane Interface (Addison-Wesley, 2000), co-author of Information Design (MIT, 1999), and author of hundreds of articles in Wired, MacWorld, Pacifica Tribune, Dr. Dobb's Journal, and other journals (a large but incomplete list can be found in his resume).

Raskin is currently Vice-President for Human Interaction at Telocity, a broadband service provider.

About the Interview

The interview was conducted in Jef Raskin's Telocity office in Cupertino, on 13 April 2000. There are two short breaks, first to save the recording, and then to break for lunch.

The interview was transcribed and edited by Alex Pang, and reviewed by Jef Raskin. The original recording (an Audio Interchange Format file) has been deposited with Stanford Special Collections.


Pre-Apple Training and Work

Pang: I want to begin by asking about the state of human-computer interaction at the time the Macintosh project got underway in 1979. Can you give me a sense of what the state of the field was at the time-- what people would have looked to as important exemplars, problems, and where Xerox PARC's work fit in?

Raskin: I'd have to go back and review magazines and books of the time to really remember. I find it very hard to remember what the state of anything was at any point in history--

Pang: Fair enough--

Raskin: -- but most of the work I knew about was being done at PARC, but from early 1978 onward I had stayed away from there because I had joined Apple, and it seemed unethical to continue to participate there. There wasn't a whole lot; it wasn't even a recognized field at that point. If you said you were a user interface specialist, you wouldn't have been understood. And certainly in the computer industry, it was a totally unknown concept: you just didn't worry about that. The idea of building a whole computer system starting with the user interface and working from there was completely alien, at least in the personal computer industry. Of course, at PARC they'd built the Altos and other machines, which were built to support a user interface. Before PARC, in my master's thesis, I argued that we should be designing machines from the interface out-- there was just a sentence or two, but it was in there! In fact, my advisor recommended that I not talk about that because it wasn't really computer science.

So it was a pretty radical idea then. Now, I go to a congress Holland and there are 600 people who've flown from all over for a conference on user interface. Things have changed somewhat.

Xerox PARC and Music

Pang: What was your relationship with PARC prior to joining Apple?

Raskin: It was not a formal relationship at any point. I had been a visiting scholar at Stanford University in their Artificial Intelligence Lab, starting in 1972 and then again in 1973, when I was a professor at the University of California at San Diego. The people at the AI lab were tightly intermixed with the people at PARC: people just flowed back and forth along Arastadero Road [Raskin: Should this be Page Mill?] from one to the other. That was pretty much standard operating procedure. In fact, just the other night I spent a couple hours with Elisabeth Paté-Cornell, who's head of the new Management Science and Engineering department at Stanford, and she was telling me about how she was at PARC in those days, though we didn't know each other then. She was at the AI Lab and PARC, so there were a lot of people doing it.

I had a lot of musical friends over at PARC, and one of the bigger links was not as much CS-- although that was important-- but musical. My very good friend Doug Wyatt, who's sung with Chanticleer, and who I've performed with many many times, and it was the musical Stanford connection as much as the other that was strong. Brian Howard, who I was later to hire at Apple, was a brilliant player on the cornetto, a Renaissance instrument, and on recorders. Doug married Maureen Stone, an oboist, and I don't know how many times we've all played together.

Pang: What do you play?

Raskin: I play keyboards and recorders. You've looked at my Web site? In the musical section there's a picture of a pipe organ. You have to be pretty crazy to have a pipe organ at home. Of course, Alan Kay has one, and Donald Knuth has one, so it seems to be a professional hazard.

Macintosh Project


Pang: Can you say a little about the genesis of the Macintosh project? In particular, there are a couple different accounts involving you an Mike Markkula, and which of you is the one who the one who proposes this new project.

Raskin: Apple was not a very formal, hierarchical place. I spoke to Mike pretty regularly, I liked him. I don't recall if it was on one of the occasions where I wanted to speak to him, or he wanted to speak to me, but in his office he asked me to design something he called Annie. What I'm trying to remember and can't is why he finally realized I could design things. [Pang laughs]

It was supposed to be a $400 game machine. I told him I had no interest in working on a game machine, which is an indication of my general orientation to the industry: just because it will sell and make money doesn't mean I'm interested in working on it. I think there are higher goals. But I counter proposed, and said, "Well, I've been thinking about something I call Macintosh." It would give all the power of the computer, but with greater ease of use. With a game machine, you'd be going up various other other companies, like Atari, and whoever else was making games in those days, and I thought it was a losing strategy for Apple to even to be in that market.

You can tell how open Apple was because I could go to the Chairman of the Board, and say "Your product strategy for the company is wrong, and I propose this instead," and he listened. So he proposed Annie, and I forget if I said it right then, or if I said "I'll get back to you in a couple days," but eventually I told him about my idea for Macintosh, and he like it; he said, "Let's go."

It took some months, and I had to write a variety of planning documents, which eventually became the foundation of the Book of Macintosh, but eventually the project got approved. And that's how Macintosh got started.

Development Team

Pang: How did you choose the people who worked with you on the Mac?

I started out with people I knew from publications and QA departments I'd started. I hired Mark Lebrun from outside; that didn't work out too well, he left after a while, but we're still friends. I hired Brian Howard, my musical friend. Brian and I had shared apartments, and played gigs-- weddings and birthday parties and every other kind of gig-- and we had been poor living in a rented apartment in Palo Alto, and cooking up rabbits from the Biology Department--

Pang: Really?

Raskin: Well, yes. In an experiment you have the experimental animals and the controls, and you sacrifice both; then you take out whatever organs you need, and put the rest in a freezer. After a while Brian recognized this, and he said, "Oh! Here's a source of meat!" So we got some control bunnies, they were already skinned, and we had rabbit stew now and then. There has to be some advantage to working for a university.

Pang: What was his background?

Raskin: He was a double-E at Stanford, knowledgeable about computers, and a general smart guy.

Pang: Electrical engineering isn't the sort of field that normally brings you into professional contact with rabbits....

Raskin: Well, Brian's an interesting guy, and he also worked in labs, and the machine shop. He's as handy around a lathe as he is around a computer keyboard-- or a musical instrument.

So there was him, and Burrell Smith, whom Bill Atkinson has pointed out to me as being talented far beyond what he was doing in Service. I spoke to him, and put him on the team to head up the hardware. Then Mark, and that was our initial nucleus.

Technical Writing and Development

Pang: One thing that was unusual about your background was that you had been working in publications and technical writing. Looking back, were there things about the way computers worked, or the way people worked with computers, or issues designers had to think about that you had discovered from having worked in publications, rather than having a more strictly technical background.

Raskin: Oh, but your premise is false. When I was even an undergraduate, I designed and physically built computers for the Biology department at-- then Oyster Bay, now Stony Brook. And when I was a kid, I was the only kid in high school with a Tektronics oscilloscope in his shop, when none of the other kids even knew what an oscilloscope was. So I don't come from that background; I come from a technical, even a hardware background, which is quite unusual now in the interface field. So that came long before I discovered the real key to making computers accessible-- I have an egalitarian streak for some reason-- was the interface.

So I came hardware to software, and my work in graduate school was the Quickdraw graphics system, which was all matrix operations and technical innards. It was only when working with graduate students and faculty from the humanities and arts that I began to realize how badly our computers were designed, whereas most of the other people who were in CS or were graduate assistants helping people using the computers said, "Oh those people just don't have the right technical background." I suddenly realized it was the bad design of the computers that was hindering them. What they were trying to do was very simple; we just had these arcane systems to do it. So that was moving from helping people use software, to recognizing that the problem was the design, not the people. That was 1965, or 1966.

When I joined Apple, it was somewhat under false pretenses. I had sort of dropped out of computer science from some years, because mainframes were really dull, and had spent the time being a musician in San Francisco. I was a conductor at the San Francisco Chamber Opera, teaching at the community music center in the city, being a professional musician. Then all of a sudden the microprocessor came along, and the MITS Altair became available, and I said, "Aha! This is what I've been waiting for." And I immediately bought one of those, and soldered it all together along with Doug Wyatt of PARC-- and this we did as a hobby together, it wasn't involved with PARC in any way. And then we built another, the IMSAI I think it was. We wrote some software and sold it to a stockbroker who used it, instead of using the GE timesharing service, on a teletype because our little program in BASIC would do everything his service would do, and cost a fraction. One or two months' timesharing charges and he could buy the whole computer.

We also discovered at that moment that these microcomputers could be very profitable [Pang laughs], because a computer we could buy for a thousand dollars we could sell for ten or twenty thousand dollars, if we bundled it with the I/O and everything working. I started this company Bannister and Crun. And also at the same time I was starting to write reviews, because I'd come across something and nobody knew about any of these things-- I remember working on an earlier modem design by Lee Felsenstein, who I later got to know, and still know-- and started writing reviews.

It's very strange, but in grade school, high school, college, I was a dreadful writer-- I was a D student in English. One of the things I did at Bannister and Crun was use one of these little microcomputers, it may have been a Poly-88, and wrote a word processor; and it may have been the first microprocessor word processor. But I discovered my real problem was not lack of ability, but two things. It was so mechanically difficult to write, and make corrections, and do all that work, that it didn't seem worth the bother; and two, I didn't have anything to say. I remember going to college, and going to this class, and the first assignment the professor gave was, "Please write a five-page paper on the subject of... cucumbers." I had no idea how to write even more than one sentence on cucumbers: "Cucumbers are round, green vegetables that grow out of the ground, and I like to eat them." [Pang laughs] I hadn't the foggiest idea of what writing was all about. Fortunately, Brian Howard and Doug Wyatt were both very good editors, and savage, and truthful; and while Brian worked for me at Bannister and Crun, he had no qualms about thoroughly savaging anything I did, and Doug also had great sensitivity and an ear for English. So the two of them unwittingly taught me how to write. That, and having a word processor, and wanting to say something, turned me into a writer. And soon I was writing for Byte, and Silicon Gulch Gazette, and Dr. Dobb's Journal. I imagine you've seen my c.v., and the number of articles-- I don't even have a complete list, but the ones I have listed amount to some three or four hundred.

Pang: Was it difficult breaking into that work, getting assignments?

Raskin: No, no! Nobody was doing it. That's one of the great secrets, to find something that no one's doing and do it, and then guess what? you're the leader. It's much easier to be in a field where there's nobody else. I've always been very good I think at choosing small ponds where I can be the biggest frog without any effort. Like when I created the Macintosh, there weren't any other computers at a popular price that had interface as a goal, so it was bound to make a big splash. Of course, choosing the right pond helps. But it's easier to be on the leading edge than the middle, that's what I always find. It's not very well populated; it's Daniel Boone and elbow room, and all that American stuff. So yes, it was easy to get stuff.

And then I had some good editors at the various magazines, who also attacked my writing. In fact, my editors still attack my writing! Good editors make for good writers, I think. Some people have it naturally, but I certainly didn't. So that's how I got into writing.

So I didn't have the unusual background of being a writer moving into designing the Macintosh; I'd been designing computers in the 1960s, from the ground up-- using vacuum tubes, even-- so writing came later.

Pang: Here's why I asked the question. In one piece you wrote, you talked about the experience of working on the Apple II, and the difficulty of predicting what sorts of effects would come from people opening up the machine, and how hard it was to account for that in documentation. So perhaps the question I should have asked was whether there were additional concerns of yours, or things you became interested in, as a result of your working on that way the Apple II--

Raskin: Yes, that's also true--

Pang: -- in addition to your hardware work.

Raskin: In fact, I think the particular paper you're referring to was not by me, but by Brian Howard, where he points out that we had thousands of different Apples. That was a brilliant paper that I thought should have been published, but Brian was never one to put himself out in the world that way. He wrote a little thing to point out that we now have thousands of different computers, and you can't possibly really document them.

But one of the things I think is good about manuals, and working with manual writers, is that I can use writers to find out where a design is flawed. We were just doing a manual, and it had some seventy pages just to install the modem. Our schtick here is that we're easy to install, and seventy pages is not an easy install. So using all the information we had gathered as a writer trying to document the existing system, I then redesigned it simplify the process immensely, cutting out half the manual in the process. Now, any one manual has to cover a whole broad range of machines, but for any one machine it's a little thin manual: instead of having some sixty or seventy steps, it has five or six, and that's manageable.

But whether I was writing, or whether other people were writing, I learned to listen very carefully to writers, because they're forced to look at every detail minutely, and if they say something is complicated, or they don't understand how to write about it, well, what could we have designed that makes it so difficult to write about it? If it's not easy to write about, it's not easy to use. So I use writing as a guide for design. This puts writers in a very unusual position with respect to development-- which people in development are somewhat surprised to learn about when it happens [Pang laughs]-- but they're a great resource. So is customer service, if you can get feedback-- if you keep records about what people ask and where they're having problems, it's extremely valuable. All those things go back into design.

The "Book of Macintosh"

Pang: This raises a question about the origins of the "Book of Macintosh." Why did you put that together the way you did?

Raskin: Because, if you're working on a project and you'd like to manage it well, you have to have things documented. You've got keep a paper trail, you've got to say "What ideas did we start with, what have we discarded," or "Oh, here's this problem; didn't we solve this problem before?" Or if you ask, "Why did we discard this idea?" you can go back and look at the reasons. In this company there's almost no documentation, so when I was redoing this design last week, there's no record of why we did this, or why we made this decision. I had to find the person who did it, and find out that "Oh, in a discussion two years ago that I had with so-and-so, we simply decided it, and there's no reason for it, it's purely arbitrary." Oh. Okay, so why have we been doing this for two years? Because nobody ever thought about it. If we'd had documentation, we could see the whole record.

So on Macintosh, until Jobs took over, things proceeded rather rapidly, and in a very structured way. You know the joke-- I think it was Burrell Smith-- we went into constant time to completion mode.

Pang: What about the name "Book of Macintosh?"

Raskin: It was a play on the "Book of Mormon."

Pang: So it had a bit of religious overtone. Or maybe evangelical--

Raskin: No, an anti-religious overtone! [Pang laughs] It wasn't meant for publication, or for the name to get outside the group. One didn't know it was going to be referred to in dozens of pieces. It was also a joke on "bill of materials" and "builder of model."

"Beyond Word Processing"

Pang: There were several pieces in the "Book of Macintosh" by other people. One of them was by David Casseres, called "Beyond Word Processing." Can you tell me something about how you encountered this idea of David's, and your reactions to it, and why it got into the "Book of Macintosh"?

Raskin: I never intended the "Book of Macintosh" to be the book by me. Just by being project leader, and being someone who seems to write a lot, I ended up writing a lot of it.

I always liked David, and we were working together on the Lisa. There were a number of reasons for including his piece. For one, it supported my view of word processing / text editing. I had build a word processor for Poly 88 computers that we used in Apple's publications deptartment (that I managed). I had used them at Bannister & Crun prior to joining Apple. We couldn't use Apple IIs because they didn't have upper and lower case yet. The word processor had many of the features that Casseres mentioned (and which I had mostly created independently), and including his paper helped validate my ideas. Also, David is a good writer and a clear thinker, I have always valued his input on projects.

My word processor was partially based on work done at UCSD by me and Douglas Wyatt (of PARC,, but on leave at the time to UCSD) and influenced and was influenced by the Pascal word processor. But the people at Apple were very stuck on the crude editor interfaces of the time, and Casseres's paper was helpful in their seeing a wider range of possibilities.

Pang: The piece also discussed the Online System that Engelbart's group developed at SRI, and was an argument for a much more structured kind of word processing system than was available to a general public at the time.

Raskin: Engelbart's system had many, many brilliant features that haven't been exploited to this day. But it also had a terrible user interface, because it's not something he was aware of at that time. Nobody was; I'm not criticizing him. But it was very, very modal, and it was much more difficult to use than necessary, in ways that at that time weren't even really known or understood.

Macintosh User Interface

Pang: Could say something about your ideas for the Mac's user interface? There's been some misunderstanding about whether you imagined it to be graphical, and whether graphics were going to be an important part of this machine.

Raskin: Graphics were always a very important part of it for me. My thesis was on computer graphics. On the Macintosh, the dreams I had about what I wanted to do on it all involved graphics. I wanted to be able to compose music on it, I wanted it to be able to handle musical notation, I wanted it to be able to handle pictures and photographs. In fact, that was one of the arguments I used when they wanted to have more pixels horizontally than vertically, which was common at the time, characters would show up, and I argued that we have to have square pixels. They said, "Why do we need square pixels?" I said, "What if you take a photograph and rotate it ninety degrees, do you want it to suddenly change the way it looks?" And people would say, "Photograph? Ninety degrees?" So yeah, I was thinking about graphics at the time.

Because I didn't prefer the mouse-- I preferred trackballs and tablets to the mouse, and I had experimental evidence favoring those devices-- people have taken that to mean I didn't want to have a graphic input device, which I considered absolutely essential. But I also thought it was smart not to force people to use the graphic input device unnecessarily. Bill Atkinson had a different dream, which was to do everything graphically, and never touch the keyboard, which is, unfortunately, impossible. In my scheme you'd use the graphic input device when you need graphics, and otherwise you'd use the keyboard, which is how I was designing it. After I left that was largely thrown out, and it became this thing-- I call it a "hand to mouse existence"-- where you back and forth [demonstrates] much too much.

I was not really pleased with the way the Mac came out in terms of ease of use. I was certainly pleased with the attractive appearance of the interface and everything, but in terms of usability it was far inferior-- though one can only guess-- to what would have come out had I been left in charge of the project. Would it have sold as well, or better? We'll never know. I can't answer that question. But it certainly would have been easier to use. But as such, even with what I considered some downgrading of the quality of the interface, it was still far better than anything else out there at the time. I figure that even if I had done no more than orient Apple and the Macintosh project to being user interface-oriented, rather than hardware oriented, that would have been a significant achievement. That some of the actual widgets and things that I designed also got through is nice, too.

Apple Network

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 or whatever. But aside from that, I pretty much described the Web as we have it now. Yeah, 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 put some 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, once 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.

One-button Mouse

Pang: Can you say something about your role in deciding how many buttons the mouse would have?

Raskin: Yeah. That's my fault entirely.

I had observed at PARC, in myself and others, that the three-button mouse was confusing. And I said, "What would be the way of making it so there would never be any question about what button to press?" If there's only one button, you can't make any mistakes. So I said, "Let's make a mouse with one button." But the first thing is, how can you do all the things? You have to use a few buttons to do everything on the PARC machine. So I designed the method of using a one-button mouse, and so invented a lot of methods that are still in use, like click and drag for selecting and region, and for dragging things across the screen. Now the first one, it turns out, I only learned years later-- only a few years ago-- there had been a use of dragging for selecting text in Gypsy, but I didn't know about that editor then, so I invented it independently. But the ones about collecting things, and dragging icons across, that was not at PARC.

So I invented the one-button mouse, and the methods for how to use it, and it's really a very heady feeling to go up to almost anybody in this entire culture, and know that they're using something that I invented every day. They don't know that anybody invented it at all.

Pang: Did you have any contact with the people at Hovey-Kelley who did the industrial work on the mouse?

Raskin: A little bit, but Jobs had so much fun with them that he didn't let too many other people play with them.

PARC's Influence on the Macintosh

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.

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.

Apple Culture

Pang: After you leave, there develops an antagonism between the Macintosh group and the rest of Apple, especially the Apple II group. What were relations between the Mac group when you were working on it? Did they have that antagonistic character?

Raskin: [Shaking head] No, no. Definitely not. I'm not an antagonistic character. [Pang laughs] It was a collegial spirit. Jobs is a different kind of character.

Pang: I've heard that there were some people who felt there was a divide within the company between those who had formal engineering training or advanced degrees in the sciences, and those who did not. Was that true?

Raskin: Oh, there was, yes. It was certainly on the part of Woz and Jobs, things that came out of large corporations or academia were ipso facto bad ideas. So I actually did not tell them, when I came to work there, having learned of their prejudices, I didn't tell them that I had a graduate degree in computer science and had been a professor. They had no idea-- it was just, "Hey, you know software and hardware, I know how to write, I'm a writer."

Pang: So they knew you mainly through your Dr. Dobbs incarnation--

Raskin: Strictly through that. And since in those days, no resume or anything else was required, I was, I think as far as Jobs was concerned-- though you'd have to ask him whether he knew about the other stuff I worked on-- I was musician, a bestraggled street musician from San Francisco, and a music teacher, who wrote articles. I felt knowing about my formal background would be a hindrance.

Pang: Was this a perception that other people shared?

Raskin: Yeah. Some of the people who worked there, some of the reason the Apple software has had problems to this day is because it was designed by people who didn't have any training, and so didn't know even elementary stuff that even an undergraduate degree in computer science would have taught you. A lot of it was amateurish. Jobs and Woz were not amateurs themselves in that regard: Woz was very clever, and some of his work was quite brilliant, his pre-decoded BUS was way ahead of what anybody else was thinking. One does not need a formal education to do good work. But they were under that silly misapprehension that formal education can destroy intelligence. I've never seen any evidence for that, I think it's a myth. We could call it a scholastic myth, to go along with urban myths.

I've been subject to that myth myself. When I was kid, I was very good at improvising on keyboards: I could sit down, and you name the style, you name the key, and give me a theme and I'd go improvise in that style on that theme in that key. I could sound like Mozart, or Beethoven, or Brahms, or whoever-- it's a parlor trick that lots of keyboard players can do-- and for a long time, I resisted studying more formally because I figured it would ruin my inspiration. It didn't. I improvise as well or better than ever, and I can play classic pieces by Mozart or Chopin and so on.

So there was this feeling within Apple that too much of a formal education or too much corporate-ness can be poisonous. Too much corporate-ness can be poisonous, but that has more to do with the organization, and not I think what happens to the individual, necessarily. Maybe this company will change my mind.

Document created on 3 June 2000;