Jef Raskin

Originator of the Apple Macintosh
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The Independent Online

Jef Raskin, computer designer: born New York 9 March 1943; married 1982 Linda Blum (one son, two daughters); died Pacifica, California 26 February 2005.

Jef Raskin, computer designer: born New York 9 March 1943; married 1982 Linda Blum (one son, two daughters); died Pacifica, California 26 February 2005.

Jef Raskin earned a place in computer history as the originator of the Macintosh computer, launched by the Apple Computer Corporation in 1984.

His original concept was for an "information appliance" that ordinary people could plug in and use with the minimum of fuss and learning - rather like a "toaster with a keyboard". In 1982, however, he resigned from Apple in a power struggle with the firm's youthful founder Steve Jobs. Although the Macintosh subsequently became one of the design icons of the 20th century, this owed very little to Raskin's original conception - though he did give the machine its name (in tribute to his favourite California-grown apple).

Born in New York in 1943, Raskin developed wide-ranging academic interests. He graduated from the State University of New York with two undergraduate degrees, Mathematics in 1964 and Philosophy in 1965. He then enrolled for a PhD in philosophy, but abandoned it for postgraduate studies in computer science and electronic music. He held various teaching jobs before starting a business making model-aircraft kits. In 1976 he set up another business creating software and writing computer manuals - whose clients included Apple Computer.

In 1978 Raskin joined Apple Computer to become manager of publications. The company was in hyper-growth following the success of the Apple II computer, the machine that started the personal computer revolution. The company needed successor products, and in 1979 Raskin obtained permission to set up an information appliance project. The hopes of the firm, however, lay in a much bigger project headed by Jobs. This computer, the Lisa, was the first personal computer to exploit the graphical user interface developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the early 1970s. It featured a mouse, windows and icons - now universal in personal computers.

After Apple Computer went public in 1980, Jobs was ousted from the Lisa project because of his quixotic management style. He then took over Raskin's Macintosh project. A clash of egos between Raskin and Jobs, 10 years his junior, was inevitable. Jobs insisted on incorporating the Lisa technology into the Macintosh, which smothered Raskin's original information appliance concept. Raskin particularly objected to the use of a mouse, which he considered inefficient. He left Apple in May 1982.

The Lisa went on sale in 1983, but it was so expensive that few were sold. In January 1984 the Macintosh, with similar facilities to the Lisa but at a more affordable price, was launched to universal acclaim, although it never secured more than a 10 per cent market share.

Following Raskin's departure from Apple Computer, which left him comfortably off from the sale of stock, the remainder of his career was divided between entrepreneurial activities, user interface research and evangelising, writing, teaching, and music. He established Information Appliances Inc in 1982, in order to develop his vision of a personal computer. His design was taken up by the Canon photocopier company and sold as the Canon Cat. It was not a popular machine, however, and was soon withdrawn from the market.

Raskin's firm ceased operations in 1989. He became an independent consultant in user interfaces, and boasted several blue-chip clients, including IBM, NCR and Xerox. He wrote columns for computer magazines and, when the internet took off in the late 1990s, articles for on-line journals such as Forbes ASAP and Wired. His musical activities included a spell as conductor of the San Francisco Chamber Opera Company. He wrote two books on user interfaces, and in 2001 established a firm, Humane Interfaces LLP, further to develop and commercialise his ideas.

Raskin harboured a lasting resentment at the lack of recognition for his role in the Macintosh. History's verdict is likely to be that, although he set a revolution in motion, it was Jobs and others who turned the Macintosh into a design icon.

Martin Campbell-Kelly

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