Visions 1: How to build a computer

Unfortunately for the world, we are losing visionaries at an unacceptable rate. This month marked the passing of Jef Raskin, who believed (against all odds) that computer systems can be built that don’t break and are understandable to users. At his death, he was working on putting into use a way for users to work quickly and efficiently with computers. To quote from Raskin’s proposal (nicknamed “Archie” for RCHI or the Raskin Center Humane Interface):


A user should never be responsible for cleaning up the system, whether it is leftover debris from internal operations, fragmentation of the file structure, garbage collection, or whatever.

Computer resources belong to users, not to developers.


The state of the system, when it has been turned off or slept and then turned on again, is whatever state it was in when it was turned off or entered into the sleep state. The saved appearance, which reflects the saved state, includes cursor position, selection markings, and all other indications of state. In other words, the way it looked and worked when you left is exactly the way it looks and will work when you return.

Even though these are old ideas of Jef’s (from the dawn of the Macintosh era), the juggernaut of commercial computing ignored them, leading to our wonderful world of “AutoSave”, “AutoBackup”, and “Save As”; programs that crash leaving unworkable documents, the delete and backspace keys, and other oddities that we all work with everyday.

Like the Dvorak keyboard, Archie could help us get to the point that I blithely tell the teaching staff will come “in the next generation,” when using computers is an uncomplex as answering a telephone (an old-style telephone with the “pick up equals answer” syntax).

We may have to wait for the demise of the “computer” for this to happen.