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A Remembrance of Jef Raskin, by Koosje de Ridder:
Interview conducted by email on Nov 21-23, 2004

Interview with Jef Raskin:

Q: Who coined the term interface in the first place?
A: The term comes from an earlier use of "interface" to mean the electrical junction between different parts of a system. I don't know who first spoke of "human-machine interfaces", however.

Q: Is there anything good about the GUI we use now or is it just humbug?
A: There are many good things about it, especially compared to what came before. The GUI has made computers accessible to millions of people. That we can do better does not mean that it was bad, and that it is flawed does not mean that it was not beneficial.

Q: If the interface is this badly in its design, howcome we are still using it?
A: Inertia and a lack of alternatives.

Q: Why is it so hard to change the ruling idea about what an interface should look like?
A: It is a human trait. The earliest cars had holders for buggy whips, I am told. We tend to stick with the familiar. My book has many quotes about that.

Q: What do you think about Microsoft and its products anyway?
A: That is a book-length question. In short, I think that Microsoft has not taken upon itself the ethical position that it must use its financial strength and market dominance to help its users; instead it uses its position primarily to further enhance its finances. Its software causes immense losses of productivity compared to what it could provide.

Q: So Microsoft is less concerned with ethics and productivity, and more concerned about finances. Apple is not?
A: Apple used to be different, but now it is a pretty standard corporation.

Q: Should the metaphor completely disappear from the interface design altogether and is this even possible?
A: There are various metaphors, some work better than others. Of which are you speaking?

Q: I was speaking of the desktop, and the windows metaphor.
A: The desktop should go entirely. And probably the idea of windows as well.

Q: Could you tell my why I find it easier to collect information about Apple and literature written by (former-) Apple employees than about or from Microsoft employees?
A: There are books written about Bill Gates and Microsoft; perhaps you have not been looking in the right places. On the other hand, Apple's history is very colorful.

Q: I am referring to the number of enthusiasts of Apple fanatics which are active on the internet, compared to the number of Microsoft enthusiasts. Why do you think it is that I'm not encountering the same number of enthusiasts of Microsoft? In other words, why do you think (some) people are so fond of Apple products?
A: It used to be a lot better than anything else. Now it is only a little better. But better builds brand loyalty.

Q: Since you've worked with Wozniak and Jobs, maybe you can tell me how the name "Apple" became the name of this company. I've been searching for someone to give me a straightforward answer I can rely upon for being correct. On the internet and in the books I’ve read, I find contradicting answers. Did Steve Jobs choke in an Apple and thought up the name? Is it because he was fond of the Beatles? Is it because of Newton? Is because of the biblical association with the forbidden fruit? Some even say that Jobs was a lunatic with an obsession for apples.
A: Originally, the logo showed Isaac Newton sitting under a tree.

Q: Suppose the design of the interface is adapted as you suggest, and the user will notice the computer itself less while completing tasks, what does this mean for the notion that the user had of the underlying technique? The technique is wrapped up by the interface and the user is not expected to know how this wonderful machine works.
A: No more than you are expected to know the chemistry of the artificial fibers in your clothes. If you want to learn about it, that's fine. But you shouldn't be required to.

Q: A few weeks ago I spend almost a whole day trying to figure out how to install a new hard drive in my computer. I was constantly asking myself questions like "What colored string or wire should go where?". So I wondered, if this interface idea never came up, would I now know all the commands by heart? If the technique wasn't wrapped up in this (goodlooking and also very practical) interface, would I have had more knowledge of the computer itself?
I think what I am trying to say is, that the interface is not meeting our needs anymore. But we welcomed it because it did meet our needs. If our needs are different, if we are ready to leave the learning phase, why go the way you suggest, and not in the other direction. Maybe we now we are able to understand what this technique, that is making everything possible, is about ?
A: That's not the point. The point is that the standard GUI was the best we could do at the time. Science and technology have moved forward, and now we know how to do better.

Q: All this is part of the idea, off course, that the enwrapment of technology in, for example in the interface (metaphor), has a paradoxical effect. The user gets the illusion that technology is closer at hand when it is easier to use. But to make it easier to use and understand, technology is covered, and is actually drifting further away from the user.
How is it possible to gain more real freedom from or more control over technology if this whole notion is an illusion?
A: My new interface has more freedom AND more control for the user. For example, you can add new commands easily to the system. Your assumption that "to make it easier to use and understand, technology is covered, and is actually drifting further away from the user" is incorrect.

Q: Personally, I agree something has to be changed in the interface design. Especially because everyone seems to be "okay" with the current interface. I am still discovering new cool stuff I can perform through my windows interface, like functions in microsoft word I have been looking for for years. It really isn't this advanced (anymore).
On the first page of The Humane Interface the text "we are oppressed by our electronic servants. This book is dedicated to our liberation." is printed (as you will know). I assume this refers to the idea that the way technique is designed can either improve our productivity and in that sense free us, or it can slow us down while operating a machine, and oppress us. So this is also about the balance of power?
A: Not really, it is about how annoying computers can be.

Interview conducted by Koosje de Ridder

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