Jef Raskin, Father of the Mac, Dies of Cancer

Jef Raskin, Father of the Mac, Dies of Cancer:
“Computing pioneer Jef Raskin died on Saturday of pancreatic cancer. He was 61.

Raskin is best known for starting the Macintosh project at Apple in the late seventies, though his later career as an expert in computer interfaces was overshadowed by controversy over who ‘fathered’ the Macintosh.

Though Raskin conceived of the Mac, he was usurped by Steve Jobs, who put his own distinctive mark on the machine we know today.

Raskin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late December 2004 or early January, said Bruce Damer, curator of the Digibarn computer museum near Silicon Valley.

‘Jef’s death is really shocking,’ said Damer. ‘He was one of the big names, and a vibrant member of the community. And now he’s gone.’

Raskin was working with his son, Aza, 20, on realizing the kind of radically-simple computer interfaces outlined in his influential book, The Humane Interface. Published in 2000, the book is a critique of computer interfaces – including the Mac’s.

After many years criticizing computers, Raskin’s attempt to build an alternative interface, the Archy project, had just received $2 million in funding.

Damer said the cancer was a cruel blow. ‘He said to me in January, ‘I finally got funding. I got support for what I do, and then this happens,’’ Damer said.

Damer said he was informed of Raskin’s death by his widow, Linda Blum, who sent out an e-mail late Saturday night to about 50 friends. Raskin is survived by his wife, two daughters and a son. The family, who live in Pacifica, California, has yet to announce details of a memorial or funeral.

‘He went from being diagnosed to having very little energy in no time,’ Damer said. ‘He was just resigned. He felt that was it.’

Raskin started the Macintosh project in 1979 while working at Apple writing computer manuals.

Raskin, a former college professor, had a keen interest in human factors and ergonomics. He envisioned a low-cost, computing ‘appliance’ that did one thing and one thing only – processed words and documents. He named the project after his favorite apple, the McIntosh, but changed the spelling to prevent any conflict with an audio manufacturer of the same name.

Raskin worked largely in isolation until the project was taken over in 1981 by Steve Jobs, who had earlier tried to shut it down. The Mac quickly went from a backroom skunkworks effort to a full-blown product development. But Raskin and Jobs constantly fought, and Raskin was eased out. He quit Apple in 1982, two years before the Mac debuted.

Last year, Steve Jobs was also diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. But Jobs’ cancer was more benign, and he was treated successfully.

Damer said 8,000 of Raskin’s photographs were recently scanned. The pictures document decades of computer designs and art projects, as well as his professional and personal life. Some are reproduced on the Digibarn’s Jef Raskin page.

Raskin also granted a last interview to Damer in January, which was also filmed by a New York filmmaker working on a biography of Raskin.

Damer said he was saddened that Raskin’s later career was marred by questions about his contribution to the Mac. See, for example, original Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld’s The Father of The Macintosh, or Apple historian Owen Linzmayer’s account.

‘When you visit his house, it’s just crammed full of books and tools and radio-controlled airplanes,’ Damer said. ‘What a life. What an incredibly creative life. I think it’s a shame. There are so many other things he did.’Update: Glenn Fleishman notes Raskin’s sometimes prickly personality, and recounts a great anecdote. A true Renaissance man, Raskin quit a teaching job by flying off in a balloon: ‘When I resigned I got into a hot air balloon in the middle of Revelle Plaza and flew over the Chancellor’s residence playing my sopranino recorder so that he would hear the sound. He came out and I yelled down that I was resigning and floated off. I was an art professor at the time and it seemed arty to leave that way.’

[ Via Cult of Mac ]

Leave a Comment