Remembering Jef Raskin, the Mac’s other inventor


Jef Raskin's original concept for the Mac was very different.
Photo: Apple

Everyone associates the Mac’s creation with Steve Jobs (with very good reason), but there is another person without whom we wouldn’t have Apple’s iconic home computers: user interface guru Jef Raskin, who passed away on February 26, 2005 — exactly 11 years ago today.

Raskin not only named the Macintosh — after his favorite type of apple, the McIntosh (even though that spelling was already being used by an audio company) — he also gave the lovable computer some of its lasting personality traits.

Raskin’s original concept for the Mac, which he began working on in 1979, was very different from the machine that ultimately shipped in 1984. He imagined a highly portable computer that would rely less on separate programs than the ability to adapt to whatever the user was doing. In Raskin’s vision, typing a letter would make the Mac recognize you wanted a word processor; writing an equation would make it shift to become a calculator.

He also didn’t like the concept of a mouse, which he noted would require the user to continually move their hands from keyboard to mouse and back again (he jokingly referred to this as a “hand-to-mouse existence.”)

However, Raskin was very prescient in thinking that computers should appeal to everyone. As an undergrad at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, he once got into a heated discussion with his philosophy adviser over this subject — and later likened the debate to “Galileo with the church fathers refusing to peer through the telescope.”

In his college thesis, he argued that computers should be completely graphical rather than text-based. He took this idea to Apple, where he was allowed to start researching it during the era of the then-popular Apple II, which lacked a graphical user interface.

Raskin also believed computers should be made affordable to the masses, and set a target price for the Mac of $500 or less. Steve Jobs eventually took over the Mac project and booted out Raskin (the idea of reverse-engineering a computer around a low price went with him). But, years later, it seems that a low-cost, ultra-portable computer is exactly what Apple achieved with its biggest-ever hit: the iPhone.

Raskin died at 61 of pancreatic cancer, the same disease that eventually killed Jobs. While Raskin’s name is nowhere near as well-recognized as Jobs’ is, he played a key part in the lives of many people reading this site.

Thank you, Jef!

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  • heretiq

    Thank you Jeff Raskin.

  • A.B.

    Thank you!

  • Ian Goss

    One F in JEF; read the story!