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Jeff Raskin, father of the Mac, is dead

A minute of silence for Jeff Raskin, who invented the original concept of the Macintosh in 1979, and died last saturday. Raskin is an important guy, and not just for sentimental reasons linked to the Macintosh cult. Raskin is the typical lonely innovator fighting the bureaucracy and the politics that kill so many innovations, even in a young company like Apple in 1979. Raskin's original idea for the Mac was to build a $500 computer. A very easy to use computer, at a very low cost, using a graphical user interface, a revolutionary concept at the time; but Raskin was no stranger to revolution in technology. His 1967 thesis was about something called Quick Draw, a graphical view of computer screens, which would be the cornerstone of the Mac graphical user interface seventeen years later.

Raskin started the Macintosh project despite strong opposition from... Steve Jobs, who later on also opposed the laser writer project, but Raskin held on and managed to lead the effort in a semi-clandestine way for three years. He ended up leaving Apple, though, in 1982, totally disillusioned. A Silicon Valley legend has it that Jobs, when he visited the Xerox labs, "discovered" the graphical user interface. Xerox people were apparently impressed by Jobs' quick grasp of the new concepts that were presented to him. It is now known that Raskin had been promoting the same ideas within Apple for years at that time, so it was not difficult for Jobs to appear so smart on the subject. Back to his office, Jobs changed his mind on the Mac project, understanding its strategic value. So he fired Raskin and took over the project, abandoning the cheap computer concept to go for a high-end computer. This is a good illustration of the old saying that those who start revolutions usually are not the ones who finish them: they are killed before. This is also true somteimes for innovation.
If you want to know more about the creation of the Mac, you can read the fascinating story told by Raskin here: http://mxmora.best.vwh.net/JefRaskin.html. This is not exactly what you'll find on the official Apple history...

Posted by Philippe Silberzahn on March 4, 2005 at 08:00 AM in In the news | Permalink

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