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Aza Raskin shares Jef Raskin's 1981 memo on the genesis of the Macintosh


If you don't already know Jef Raskin's name, you should spend some time getting to know his work. His son, Aza Raskin, turned out to be a bit of a prodigy, eventually doing important and amazing work at Mozilla in the Labs department. Aza's latest endeavor is a company called Massive Health. His dad, Jef, was a true visionary in user experience and wrote a book called the Humane Interface, a must-read if you design interfaces for human beings. Oh, and Jef is largely credited with this whole "Macintosh" thing, often called the "father" of the Mac, even though he opposed the use of a mouse!

So if you're steeped in Mac lore, it's a wonderful thing to see his son Aza posting Mac origin-story documents with the man's comments inline. Jef was quite opinionated, and it's worth reading comments he added to "Macintosh Project Genesis and History" -- a document he wrote in 1981. Read the story of the document, excerpts and the full thing at Fast Co.Design or check out the full thing with Jef's handwritten notes on the next page (sorry, a Flash embed from Scribd, so it won't work on iOS).

The document makes clear why Apple chose to rigidly control the hardware in the Macintosh platform and sheds some light on key design considerations. The integrated monitor, for example, made it much easier to design a standard user interface, legible fonts and maintain consistency throughout the OS and third-party applications. Aza notes that Android currently suffers from issues similar to those that the Apple II line suffered from then: fragmentation. Although it's weird to think about now, I do remember radical display differences when going from my Apple II to my Laser 128 to my dad's Apple //c. Also, a standard set of hardware made everything from manuals to marketing easier. As the guy behind many manuals at Apple, Jef understood how good that would be. But the marketing? To quote Raskin: "The secret of mass marketing of software is having a very large and extremely uniform hardware/software base." I think anyone can understand how that fits into the current iOS strategy at Apple.

Another notable gem from Raskin's document is this quote, oddly prescient of the iOS apps ecosystem and the use of iPads in education:

"If a truly portable version is produced, then an entire realm of new application areas opens up. As one small example, consider the difficulty of supplying a classroom with conventional personal computers -- the problem of power cords alone is enough to be discouraging, since rooms must be specially prepared to put a computer on each desk. It does not take much imagination to see that a portable computer will open up entire new application areas, and once again give Apple access to totally untapped, yet ripe, market."

Apple's tightly-controlled ecosystem in mobile has no doubt contributed to its success, although we'll never know how much Jef Raskin would agree with details such as the notifications system, using iTunes to sync or other minutia. That's a shame, as Jef had some truly brilliant ideas and contributions. Thank you, Aza, for sharing this with all of us.

Macintosh Project Genesis and History: 1981 Memo