“Revolution In The Valley”

Filed under: Books

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“Revolution In The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made”
Authors: Andy Hertzfeld & VVAA
Publisher: O’Reilly
Other info: 320 pages of text with pictures; also available in ebook form

“Revolution In The Valley” is the most authoritative text on the origins of the Macintosh: it is fundamental reading, and also a funny one. This can sound as excessive praise but the fact that Andy Hertzfeld and the other authors were all Apple employees and part of the original Mac development team, is the first clue that this is probably a must-read book if you are an Apple historian, fan or long-time user.

The textual contents of the book have been originally published online, since 2003, on the Folklore.org website. The project started with Hertzfeld’s recollections, written in mid-90s, about working at Apple on the Macintosh project, and was later expanded.

Unlike other journalistic works about Apple, folklore.org and its printed version, “Revolution In The Valley”, are basically an attempt at choral storytelling, penned firsthand by many of the people who created the hardware and software of “computer for the rest of us”.

Alongside Hertzfeld (who wrote the bulk of the material) you will also discover contributions by (among others) Steve Capps, Donn Denman, Bruce Horn, Bill Atkinson, Susan Kare, Daniel Kottke and Caroline Rose, all adding to a mesmerizing and vivid patchwork of tales and tidbits about groundbreaking hardware decisions, managerial dead-ends, personality clashes, crazy jokes, cool hacks, eureka moments and days and nights of heavy work under impossible deadlines by a group of insanely talented people.

Among my favorite stories are two that offer a mix of behind-the-scenes insight and humor: “I Still Remember Regions”, where after a serious accident Bill Atkinson’s strives to assure Steve Jobs that he still remembers a key programming solution he devised, and “Quick, Hide In This Closet!”, a group effort to go behind Jobs’ back and make sure a new (and better) technology will work with the Macintosh.

The book, of course, has a conventional table of contents and lacks the hypertextual nature of the website (which is very handy) and leaves to the reader the task of putting the whole picture together after reading the many stories. On the other hand “Revolution In The Valley” is a beautifully designed object and also offers some extra content, most of all an expanded iconographic component. In its pages, alongside the texts, you will find sketches, pixel-art, ads, screenshots, Susan Kare’s internal flyers done with MacPaint, nice full-resolution pictures of the authors and some rare and eye-opening images such as a series of Polaroids chronicling the evolution of the graphical interface of the Lisa.

Wednesday 20 November 2019, 12:30 pm
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Working at Eazel – An Interview with Gene Ragan

Filed under: People

Gene Ragan has had “the privilege of working with many of the legends of Apple”. The list of people is impressive and includes Mike Boich, Jean-Louis Gassée, Andy Hertzfeld, Erich Ringewald, Steve Sakoman, Bud Tribble, Susan Kare and many others.

Ragan started out at Be and then went on to Apple where he had two stints. The first time he was on the Final Cut Pro team, while later he was in the User Experience Group where he worked on the Finder, Spotlight and wrote substantial parts of Time Machine and Core Animation.

Regan came to Apple after working at Eazel. Founded and staffed by key Apple people such as Andy Hertzfeld, Bud Tribble and Mike Boich, Eazel is a little known VC-backed startup which tried to build a better interface for GNU/Linux and open source software systems, while still making some money out of it. Unfortunately it didn’t work and Eazel went out of business in May 2001. This was just a couple of months after releasing its first product, a file manager for the GNOME desktop environment, called Nautilus, which later served as the base of the current GNOME Files.

I asked Mr. Regan to talk about his experience at the startup. (more…)

Tuesday 20 February 2018, 12:59 pm
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The first fonts of the Macintosh

Filed under: People,Software

During the summer of 1983, after spending more than six months creating symbols and icons for Macintosh files and menus, designer Susan Kare‘s attention turned to an issue she very much cared about: fonts.

Apple Macintosh Commercial - Susan Kare

At the time, on most personal computers, each letter was allotted the same space regardless of its shape. Thanks to its bitmap high resolution display (and Steve Jobs’ obsession with calligraphy) the Macintosh was capable of rendering proportional fonts, “leaving behind the tyranny of monospace alphabets with their narrow m’s and wide i’s” as Kare recalls.

The tireless engineer Bill Atkinson had already given two fonts to the Macintosh, a calligraphic one and a placeholder one, the latter converted from Xerox’s Smalltalk systems that inspired Apple.

xeroxfonts-byte081981pag120

Free from the requirement of making digital versions of print, scalable or already existing fonts, Kare focused on optimizing screen readability creating new bitmap fonts in specific sizes, controlling every single pixel as she was wont to do. (more…)

Tuesday 24 February 2015, 2:30 pm
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The future of personal computing according to Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld

Filed under: People,Software

In June 2004 Grady Booch interviewed Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld for the Computer History Museum. His last question for the creators of the Macintosh was about how we will use computers in the future:

Booch: […] Predicting the future has always been impossible, but what’s your hope, and vision for what computers- and what’s it like at 20?
Atkinson: The first thing is, get rid of the keyboard and the mouse, and replace them with a smooth plate called a touch plate; it’s responsive to gentle, stroking touch. We can enter characters by touching on a character and stroking through others around it, and we can enter whole- instead of typing i-n-g, we’re typing “ing” – we’re entering text at a higher level. Shift key and the whole thing becomes a touching-pointing device. Forget this teeny little scratch pad on your portable. So, one is the touch plate. Another avenue is that as computers get smaller and ubiquitous, working with computers has to enter into a dialogue, not this thing where you’re commanding the computer, but where actually you’re having a conversation. The computers have to get to where they actually understand the flow of a conversation. It’s not just a speechrecognition thing. It’s a language understanding problem. And when it does, we can have, like in the Ender series, a little crystal in our ear that’s listening to everything we’re listening to and whispering little things in our ear, and it’s connected into the wireless net.

Booch: You’re referring to Ender’s Game?
Atkinson: Yes, Ender’s Game and the whole series of Orson Scott Card books. I think the smaller we go, the more we need to rely on audible interfaces. And I think that programming needs to be a conversation of what it is you’re looking for. You say, well I want to do this, and then that’s ambiguous, but whatever you’re talking about, this other entity is asking you some questions about it, and you refine it.

Booch: Very cool. Andy, what are your thoughts?
Hertzfeld: Oh, a lot of what Bill said. I think that clearly the next really big frontier in user interface is going to be the language understanding. That really is as much of a leap as the graphic user interface was. There are lots of problems to be solved but it’s pretty fair, as Bill said, for the mobile application, the keyboard. I’ve been experimenting with little ideas in that space myself. The voice recognition software is really good today, but it doesn’t make sense to use it at your desktop because you can still do it better with the keyboard and the mouse. But suddenly, when you’re standing up, the keyboard and mouse are useless. Of course, computers are going to be everywhere. You’re going to need to have the computer on your person. So, the speech recognition I think is important. But I would say the next really important thing is getting the software industry on a level playing field, a place that’s really open to innovation. I think the way that’s going to happen is if the shared infrastructure becomes available and is owned by the community of its users and developers instead of a psychotically driven business force. And that’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen over the next year. So, it’s not the far years. I think once we have a level playing field open to innovation, we can start to really explore the possibilities better. And then I’ve been thinking about agent-type user interfaces. Bill’s into that too. But the graphic user interface, there’s always direct manipulation. If you’re steering it at the steering wheel, you can only do things while you’re at the steering wheel. Eventually we’re going to want to set up policies where the tireless computer can execute our policies for us, continuously, especially with the network.

Atkinson: Yes, drive me to work and let me know when we get there.
Hertzfeld: I think there’s a very fertile area right now in exploring and getting it right – like Apple more or less got right with the Mac – getting the agency-user interfaces right. Things that can happen while you’re not directly controlling it will be a frontier in the next few years.

Magic TrackpadIn July 2010 Apple introduced, as a standard accessory, the Magic Trackpad, “the first Multi-Touch trackpad designed to work with your Mac desktop computer [which] uses the same Multi-Touch technology you love on the MacBook Pro [and] supports a full set of gestures, giving you a whole new way to control and interact with what’s on your screen”.

Also in 2010 Apple bought Siri, Inc. and in the October of 2011 integrated into the iPhone its product, the intelligent voice assistant, called Siri, which “lets you use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls, and more” without looking on the screen. Siri on an iPhoneThanks to the “Eyes free” feature, Siri can also be used in a car, activated through a voice command button on the steering wheel, making users able to ask questions without taking their eyes off the road.
In 2012 Siri was also made available on other iOS devices such as recent iPod touch and iPad models.

It’s also worth mentioning that at least since October 2010 Google (for which Hertzfeld now works) has being testing the Google Driverless Car and as of September 2012 three U.S. states, Nevada, Florida and California, have passed laws permitting driverless cars.

Note: all pictures are “Courtesy of Apple”.

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Friday 26 October 2012, 1:05 pm
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