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February 28, 2005

Mac creator Jef Raskin dies of cancer
Filed under: None

The death of Jef Raskin marks the passing of an technology industry legend who led the design of the first Macintosh computer for Apple Computer and who also clashed with rival Steve Jobs.

Raskin, who died Saturday at age 61, was a leader of Apple during the crucial days of its development. Friction between Raskin and Jobs led to Raskin's departure in the early 1980s, his son, Aza Raskin, said Monday.

"He (Jef Raskin) started the Macintosh project," Aza Raskin said of his father. "It was canceled (but restarted by Raskin) three different times."

With a rivalry with Jobs creating tension on the project, "Jeff decided that rather than play political games, he would move on and 'do it right,' as he said," Aza Raskin recalled.

"Steve Jobs and Jeff came close to reconciling toward the end," Aza Raskin added. "When the millionth Mac was made, Jobs gave it to him with his name engraved."

Raskin had been diagnosed recently with pancreatic cancer, his family said in a statement.

Raskin joined Apple Computer in 1978 as employee number 31 and headed the company's Macintosh development team from its inception until 1982. He named the project after his favorite type of apple, changing the spelling for copyright reasons, IDG News Service reported.

Raskin is credited with significantly advancing the design of user interfaces, which in the early 1980s were largely text-based and required users to memorize complex commands. Raskin convinced his peers at Apple that to reach a wider audience, the Macintosh needed an interface that was elegant and easy to use, the news service said.

"Up to that time, at Apple and most other manufacturers, the concept was to provide the latest and most powerful hardware, and let the users and third-party software vendors figure out how to make it usable," he wrote later on his Web site.

Raskin left Apple in 1982, two years before the Macintosh went on sale, but he continued to influence the design of computers through his writing, lectures and consulting work. Soon after leaving the company he founded Information Ap-pliance, where he designed the Canon Cat computer for Canon USA, although the product was not a commercial success.

His consulting clients have included Intel, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and many other big names in computing. In 2000 he published a book, "The Humane Inter-face," that is widely assigned at universities.

According to his family's statement: "Jef strongly believed that computers should make tasks easy for people, not the other way around. For twenty-five more years, his work focused on improving interfaces, culminating in his book, The Humane Interface (Addison-Wesley, 2000). Jef created the Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces (RCHI), which will soon release a preview of Archy, a culmination and exemplar of his design principles. Archy redesigns the basic building blocks of computing to demonstrate an entirely new paradigm for computer use. RCHI will continue under the technical leadership of Aza Raskin."

Raskin's interests were not restricted to computers: He taught the recorder, harpsichord and music theory at San Francisco Community College in the 1970s, and his family described him as an orchestral soloist and composer. He also founded a company that designed and sold radio-controlled model aircraft.

Along with Aza, he is survived by his wife, Linda Blum, and his other children, Aviva and Aenea. Raskin lived most recently in Pacifica, Calif.

Posted by Jack McCarthy on February 28, 2005 04:59 PM

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