I thought I'd take the opportunity in this column of looking back on the work and design philosophies of computer scientist Jef Raskin, who recently passed away. This was the man that 30 years ago encouraged Apple to make sure its computers where not just user-friendly, but user-inspiring.
Jef Raskin worked closely with Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Its only fair to say that Steve Jobs was a major influence on the way Apple computers developed in those early years. However, it was Jef Raskin that steered the Macintosh project through its formative years, and it was his imaginative contribution that led to him being regarded as the "father of the Macintosh." The project was initiated in 1979, and for three years Jef Raskin was at the helm. It was he who came up with the name Macintosh after his favourite apple, the McIntosh. The name was adjusted slightly for legal reasons.
Raskin was passionate about good design and maintained that designers should adhere to a philosophy that always put end user needs first. In a similar vein to Isaac Asimov's robotics laws, Jef Raskin strongly maintained, "systems should not harm content or through user inaction, allow content to be harmed." He was also responsible for inventing one of the most practical aspects of computer operation, that of click and drag
A major part of Raskin's life work focused on how humans interface with machines and technology. Only recently, Raskin concluded that the way in which we interface with and use computers these days is no longer acceptable, and that it is high time new interface methods were developed. Let's hope somebody accepts the challenge.
Yahoo is now ten years old, which in Internet terms makes it a real veteran of the cyber society. It's seen a lot happen over the past decade, managing to survive the dotcom fiasco and even coping fairly well with the relentless progress of Google. But now with hindsight, Yahoo probably realises it didn't do itself any favours when it decided some time back to let the younger Google engine power Yahoo's search operation. Little did it realise that Google would mushroom into an all-pervading portal in its own right. These days it can reflect on just how important the search facility is for net users. But that aside, Yahoo and Google do have something in common. Both have lost value on Nasdaq as AOL muscles its way into the field.
Obviously, for users of the net and for consumers in general, the AOL competition is healthy, particularly as AOL will be providing a new service whereby directories of local information will be available to help people find information relative to their neighbourhood. Maybe now is a really good time for Google to finally get its Gmail off the ground. And as for Yahoo, well it certainly has learned the lesson of history and is now busily developing its own email search function rather than leaving it to the younger generation.