Enso Released: In Memory of Jef Raskin
It all started with one man’s dream for a computer that worked the way people did; a dream for a computer that he could compose music on. That man was Jef Raskin. And the dream became the Macintosh.
Jef never could accept the status quo. When something didn’t make sense to him—whether it was in mathematics, aerodynamics, nursing, or musicology—he pressed until he either understood it, or discovered that it actually didn’t make sense. This is how he was able to formulate the philosophy underlying the orginal Macintosh design: That computers should make tasks easy for people, not the other way around. Jef’s talent was in realizing when something was flawed, challenging it, and inventing something significantly better.
Jef did not dwell in the past; he focused his energy on moving forward. He felt that, while inventing the Macintosh was laudable, there was much work left to be done and many ways to make computers more humane.
After the Macintosh came the Canon Cat, a pinnacle of design that did text editing so well that, if Canon hadn’t canceled the project prematurely, both Emacs and Vi users might have come to a truce under a common editor. Then, after a decade studying cognitive psychology, Jef established a scientific basis for the design of man-machine interfaces, bringing interface design out of the mystic realm of guruism with his book The Humane Interface. Finally came Archy, an open source incarnation of the Canon Cat. Jef died while Archy was still in its infancy.
Enso is the next step (but not the last). It extends his vision to the desktop as it stands now. It helps computers get out of your way so that you can concentrate on what you are actually doing. It brings Windows closer to being a nice place for people to work. Take a look.
On a personal note, I have trouble collecting my thoughts to describe Jef. He was very particular about his name (he dropped the second “f” because it was unnecessary). Most parents have their children call them “Mom” and “Dad”. Not Jef. He wanted us kids to call him, simply, “Jef”. He wanted us to be able to talk, think, and trust each other as equals. So, for as long as I remember, it has always been “Mom and Jef”.
Jef mentored and taught in a gentle, almost deviously subtle way: planting seeds for ideas and aiming you in the right direction so that you made all the important discoveries on your own. In the fifth grade, I remember dashing into his office with a piece of paper dense with scrawled notes clutched in my hand. The paper contained my proof for 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + … equaling 1. It wasn’t until years later that I realized—after reading a note he had written—that he had quietly led me to that discovery with a series of provocative questions and history lessons. That moment of proof—the epiphany of understanding the world a little bit better—stands as one of my most vivid memories. The biography of
Ramanujan he gave me (“The Man Who Knew Infinity”) still sits on my bookshelf.
To this day, I find myself smiling with the realization that the seeds to some discovery I had come to were planted years ago by Jef.
He was a best friend and a co-conspirator. And because he was all of these before he was a father, it made him all-the-better a father.