🐫Canon Cat

Canon Cat is a good computer by Jef Raskin.

Article from 2021-09-10

Originally published on Lion Kimbro's repository somewhere. Content not modified, except for one small typo and markup.

Good things about Canon Cat

Canon Cat was a computer developed by Jef Raskin, the same guy who designed Macintoshes. He calls it ‘word processing appliance’, highlighting the way you are meant to use it.

This computer featured his views on how user interfaces should be. You can learn about the views in his book The Humane Interface that you should read now. Despite being written in the long past, it is still a good read.

The Canon Cat is a word processing appliance which was sold by Canon in 1987. It was designed by Information Appliance, Inc.

The Cat has a remarkably different user interface. It was a true information appliance which allows you to just type. It packs a surprising amount of power in a small set of tools and commands.

Objectively speaking, Canon Cat's interface was truly revolutionary. But the revolution failed, our modern-day interfaces are still like 1980's window systems (open-source unices (X11 and Wayland), Mac, Windows). Our world is too complex to fit into Canon Cat's restricted paradigm, that's why I think that it was expected for the Cat to fail.

Despite the Cat's death, we should learn from it to create better text-editing interfaces.

Here are some key ideas I remember from reading Jef's book The Humane Interface:

  • No modes

    • To better understand what does it mean to have no modes, you should read the book. If you don't want to, glimpse through this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mode_(user_interface)

    • Consequentially, no modal windows. How do we signal errors? We try to not have errors at all, and if do have them, we try to not irritate the user with them.

  • Just write

    • You don't need to select anything, think about anything. You press the keys, the text is written. Always. No exceptions. No system nowadays lets you do that, because it is hard.

  • No filesystem

    • You can write immediately, you don't need to create a file or anything. Separate documents with a special character.

  • Two cursors

    • I find this idea questionable, but maybe I'll like it more if I contemplate over it again.

I have an idea of a system that could mimic some of Canon Cat's features. I will describe the system in a different article.

As of the different article, I had indeed written in it, and published it nearby. Then I republished it: Patchouli.