This article comes from Andy Hertzfeld’s Macintosh history site
Folklore.org and is licensed under
a Creative Commons
By the spring of 1982, the Lisa User Interface was finally settling down, and
the software team was working feverishly to get everything ready to ship by their
deadline in the fall. Most of the applications were shaping up, although myriad
problems remained, and the team could finally sense a glimmer of light at the end
of the long tunnel.
Dan Smith and Frank Ludolph were working on the Lisa Filer, the key application that
managed files and launched other applications. It was beginning to come
together, but Dan was still unsatisfied with the current design.
The Filer was based on a dialog window that prompted the user to select a
document from a list, and then select an action like “Open,” “Copy”
or “Discard,” and then answer more questions, depending on the
selected action. There was so much prompting that it became known as the “Twenty
Questions Filer.” Dan thought that it wasn’t easy or enjoyable to
use, but there just wasn’t enough time left in the schedule for further
experimentation, so they were pretty much stuck with it.
One afternoon, Dan mentioned his dissatisfaction to Bill Atkinson, the main
designer of the Lisa User Interface. Bill suggested that they meet that
evening at his home in Los Gatos for a brain-storming session to see if they
could come up with a better design, even though it was probably too late
to use it for the initial release.
Bill favored a more graphical approach, and wanted to use small graphical images
to represent files, which could be manipulated by dragging them with
a mouse. He remembered an interesting prototype that he saw at M.I.T. called
Dataland, where data objects could be spatially positioned over a large
area. He adapted the idea for Lisa, allowing icons representing files and
directories to be positioned on a scrolling, semi-infinite plane.
After a couple of nights of fiddling around, Dan and Bill had an interesting
mock-up going, with icons representing documents and folders, complete with
a trash can with flies buzzing around it. The icons used a mask bitmap to
define their borders, so irregular shapes could be rendered seamlessly
on the gray desktop. The new design seemed to have the simplicity and elegance
that they were striving for, so they began to get excited.
They were both eager and afraid to show the mock-up to the rest of the
team, since the design of the Filer was supposed to be frozen, and embarking
on such a major revision would surely slip the schedule, which was already
precariously close to unrealizable. They gathered up their courage and approached
Wayne Rosing, the Lisa Engineering Manager, and explained their dilemma.
Wayne appreciated the potential of the new approach, but wasn’t ready to
slip the schedule to accommodate it. He thought it was perhaps barely possible
to go with both the new design and the current schedule, if they could turn
the mock-up into a solid working prototype in record time. He proposed a
deal: he gave them permission to work on the new design in secret for the
next two weeks. If they had a robust, stable prototype by then, he promised to
support it. If they didn’t, Bill and Dan promised to forget it and work
to finish the earlier design.
Wayne extracted one additional promise from Bill: under no circumstances was
he to show the mock-up to Steve Jobs. Wayne knew that Steve would have a strong
reaction and would probably wreak havoc with the schedule accordingly. He didn’t
want Steve to see it until they knew if they could pull it off.
Bill was used to showing off his latest advances to the Mac team, and this
new, icon-based approach to file management was a particularly important
one. Bruce Horn had started working on the Mac team the previous month, and
he was already starting to develop our file manager, which Bud had
christened “The Finder.” Bruce had similar ideas about spacial
filing, and he and I had created a prototype called the “micro-finder”
which represented files as tabs that were spacially organized on a picture
of a diskette. Bill thought it was important for us to see the new direction
as soon as possible, so he left us a copy of his prototype, under strict
instructions not to show it to Steve.
We had a few close calls over the next couple of weeks as we played with
the prototype, frantically quitting it when we heard Steve approaching. Finally,
on the last day before the deadline expired, we must have cut it too close,
because Steve knew that we were hiding something from him. We explained our promise
to Bill, but Steve still demanded to see it, so we had to show it
to him. He immediately fell in love with it, and ran off to talk to Bill and
Wayne about it, just as we feared.
Luckily, the development had gone well the last two weeks, and Wayne was ready
to commit to the new approach and unveil it to the entire team. He called
an all-hands meeting, to which Bill, Dan, Frank and Wayne wore newly minted
T-Shirts labeled “Rosing’s Rascals.” Wayne explained the
surreptitious nature of the two week effort to the team while Bill set up
the demo. Rosing’s rascals had pulled it off, endowing the Lisa with a
much more intuitive file manager that quickly became a hallmark of Apple’s
new user interface.