women in mac

I was watching Welcome to Macintosh a few nights ago, becoming engaged in a mindless indulgence in Apple, I do remember these old things… It was though, a very male affair. Lots of tech geek guys. There was one woman and she I do remember… or rather I remember her work… or rather when I think of Macs it’s her I’m thinking of.

When OSX 10.2 came along with the new startup screen grey on grey bitten Apple logo monotone, much discussion ensued about how to hack the boot loader and replace the apple with the old, friendly pixel art smiley computer Happy Mac. Generally a deeply unsettling process involving editing hex addresses and .raw files, run length encoding and exclamations of “holy crap” when it worked instead of trashing your entire system.

But what of Happy Mac? And Moof the Dogcow? Bomb? Sad Mac? Watch cursor and page of text and font suitcase, floppy disc and all the icons of OS9 which were OS8 and 7 and… I’d never given it too much thought, and certainly not enough to imagine they were penned by someone more-or-less computer illiterate at the time (mostly due to lack of gui interface) using graph paper and filling in the squares.

Susan Kare whom I doubt I’d heard of until a couple of weeks ago is possibly the biggest influence on my design aesthetics and responsible for my emotional love affair with the Apple interface. Strange to look at OSX 10.5, the Aqua design, and then return to OS9 or even earlier and see her hand is indelible still.

And the other, whom I am nearly certain I’d never heard of, though I recall the ripples of her decisions, at least as somewhat recent history by the time I discovered computers. She was responsible for trashing Copland, the operating system that was to replace OS7, the purchase of NeXT and their operating system to replace it with, what became OSX, and the return of Steve Jobs, who promptly ridiculed and demoted her.

Ellen Hancock, without whom I would not be using OSX. Would Apple still exist? OSX was somewhat a torment to use until 10.3, at first there wasn’t even network or printing, swarms of kernel panics, much horribleness, but within this was… mmm like seeing the future. It was a special moment when I got my first laptop, a PowerBook G4 550mHz and 256Mb of RAM (20gig harddrive!) but the only question was, “Does it have OS ten?” … “uuuhhh… yeah…”

Why did I decide to write this?

It’s Apple’s 25th anniversary, and I’ve been reading Macworld’s celebrations. Of their 20 most important people in the history of the Mac, only two are women: Sarah Kare and Ellen Hancock. And in Welcome to Macintosh Sarah was the only woman out of a cast of guys to receive any attention. But maybe it’s because the tech industry is so heavily skewed to being a guy place, or maybe Apple has been a bunch of guys. But…

When I read about the history of Mac, it’s Steve Jobs, Johnathan Ive, Stephen Wozniak, others too, even Bill Gates. Yet what I loved Mac for before OSX was Moof and Happy Mac and the interface, and what I love now is OSX, that it exists, my interaction with an operating system. I feel a little stupid somehow to say I want to write about these two people who have had a profound effect on me precisely because they are women. To do so is important so as to remember by saying, that there are women who have had such a unique extraordinary influence on Macs, on technology, on science, on culture and it’s really good to have someone to look up to.

Oh, and Sarah made the Apple Mac team Pirate Flag so of course I adore her.