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A Remembrance of Jef Raskin, by Richard Karpinski

Jef was the smartest and nicest and most accomplished man I ever knew. He shared his vision with respect to computers and people in many ways. He started the project which made computers accessible to ordinary people. Hundreds of millions of people use the results of that project.

And yet there are fundamental flaws in the structure of modern GUI based systems. He not only recognized many of these flaws, but he made very large efforts to address them over the course of three decades. These projects included Swyftware, Information Appliance, and the Canon Cat in concrete developments. But they also included intellectual property like the patented Leap technology and even contracts carefully drawn to preserve the utility of those patents.

These efforts generated some incredible successes, like selling twenty thousand machines where no user ever reported a bug. Like building a machine which made its users smile and appreciate it rather that generating the more usual frustration that computer users experience. But there were also repeated and mysterious failures which would have completely stopped many a lesser man. Why was the Cat dropped? Why was the laptop abandoned? Why did use of Leap just fade away?

Then he sought to develop the academic theory to support these ideas and created the first broadly systematic treatment of the human computer interface ever presented. His book shows success in opening the eyes of readers, in sales, in published translations, and in adoption for university level courses.

In some sense, our efforts to build and promulgate Archy constitute the natural completion of the work laid out in The Humane Interface, the proper path toward rescuing our species from the continuing frustrations built in to the current ways of doing computing. Perhaps some of Jef's goals were loftier and purer than this endeavor to improve the interaction between people and the things they build, but fixing subtle problems for hundreds of millions of computer users is no small task.

Accomplishing that project will be a fitting monument to a wonderful and inspiring human being. Let us push past the many problems and failures we can expect to encounter in the coming months and years. Let us build and promote systems worthy of the man who led us to where we find ourselves today. Let us enjoy and celebrate the successes we have along the way. I am sure that Jef wanted each of us, and all those who join us on this path, to proceed with confidence and pleasure each day. That is the way he was.


See Also:

Index of all Remembrances

The Raskin Center for Human Interfaces, home of Archy

Back to Jef Raskin's Pages at the Digibarn

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