Andy Hertzfeld: Mac Truly a Better Way

Andy Hertzfeld was a key member of the Macintosh development team. He was the Software Wizard behind much of the Mac’s built-in ROM code and the user interface. His goal is to make computers easier and more fun to use.

After leaving Apple, Hertzfeld helped co-found three companies: Radius, General Magic, and Eazel. He is a proponent of free, open source software and joined Google in August 2005.

Tom Hormby: The Macintosh introduced, or at least made popular, the desktop metaphor. Do you think that metaphor will remain dominant, or do you think that interfaces will eventually begin to mimic Raskin’s Humane Interface or some other metaphor? Could we move to Web-based or network-based apps that use browsers and move away from desktop computing altogether?

Andy HertzfeldAndy Hertzfeld: No, I don’t think the desktop metaphor is best in all circumstances, and I doubt it will remain the dominant metaphor for another twenty years. While I am a fan of zoom-based interfaces [such as Raskin’s Humane Interface], I don’t think Jef’s work will ever appeal to a broad range of users. I think the best UIs of the future are most likely to be explorable 3D worlds, resembling current video games more than anything else. But I don’t think a single UI will fit every circumstance – there are many different input options when you’re sitting at a desk than when you’re driving your car, for example.

TH: What was so appealing about the early Macintosh? Why are Mac users so much more loyal than PC users (the OS-Sucks-Rules-O-Meter shows that slightly fewer users say Windows is great than VMS users say OpenVMS is great)?

AH: I think the main thing was that the Macintosh was truly a better way of doing things than the PC, so users quickly became excited about it. I think they also could feel the excitement that the design team had invested in the product.

TH: Have modern devices fulfilled General Magic’s goal of creating personal communicators? Do you think modern Web applications have replicated the features of Telescript? Where do you see a need for improvement?

AH: They have to some degree. The modern Web has a very different architecture than General Magic was trying to establish with Telescript, which is better in many ways, but worse in a few. I have to say the scope of the Web today far exceeds our wildest dreams at General Magic.

The improvement that Telescript promised that still hasn’t arrived has to do with the user projecting her will into the network and having useful things happen automatically while the user’s attention is elsewhere. That will probably happen eventually, though.

TH: In an interview with Wired about Magic Cap, you stated you will have succeeded when personal communicators become as necessary as the telephone, do you think that has happened (with cell phones and PDAs)?

AH: It hasn’t happened with PDAs, but I would say that email is now as necessary as the telephone, so it came true in that sense.

TH: What would you have done differently if you were leading the General Magic team at Apple? Do you think that anything could have changed to help the products be widely adopted?

AH: The General Magic team wasn’t at Apple. General Magic made a lot of mistakes, and so did Apple. Maybe if General Magic and Apple had continued to work together, instead of splintering into Newton vs. Magic Cap, we both would have had a better chance of succeeding.

TH: When you were at Eazel, did you anticipate the success of Sun JDS (Java Desktop System) and Novell Linux? When do you think that Linux, or some other operating system, will be able to replace Windows on the home desktop? Should that be a goal of the Linux community?

AH: At Eazel, we believed in the long-term success of free software, but not necessarily in terms of any specific product. I think free software will eventually displace Windows, but it still might take another five to ten years. I think becoming a dominant platform on the desktop should be one of the goals of the Linux community, but not the main goal – the main goal should be to be great and as useful as possible for the broadest class of users.

TH: What do you think about when you develop software? Do you ever anticipate the impact you will have on others lives, or do you focus on the programming itself and making a product that you can be proud of?

AH: It varies from project to project. Usually, I’m thinking about the design and implementation details, trying to breathe life into an idea and then evaluating it to see if it’s a keeper. When I was working on the Mac, we thought about its impact fairly frequently, mainly because Steve Jobs talked about it incessantly.

TH: Do you think that a highly centralized and well-controlled project like the Macintosh will ever succeed again? Are the greatest innovations and changes to come from decentralized organizations like the OSAF and Mozilla?

AH: The Macintosh was not a highly centralized and well-controlled project for most of its development period; it was more like a maverick skunkworks rebelling against the central organization. I think great innovations will continue to come from many different kinds of unlikely places and projects, including companies large and small.

TH: Internet email became the killer app of the late 90s. What do you see ahead? What will be the next killer app for the personal computer?

AH: The network will continue to drive innovation for the next decade or more. The personal computer itself will become less important as the user’s computing world expands into dozens of different devices, all united by the network. The personal computer will continue to morph into more of a communications device than anything else.

Further Reading


Some of the sources used in writing this article:

short link: