Posts tagged “bill atkinson”.

Magic Cap on a Newton MessagePad 110

August 31st, 2009

Sony Pic 1000 running Magic Cap

Something called Magic Cap has been mentioned in the NewtonTalk mailing list lately. It has some resonance in the Newton community: Magic Cap was a competing PDA paradigm, and was helped along by two Apple pros – Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld.

Developed by General Magic, Magic Cap was an operating system that operated with a room-based metaphor: you did work in your office, you went in the hallway to grab an app, and maybe you strolled outside to get something else done. Tasks were assigned objects in each room, like a notebook to write notes or a file cabinet to access files.

Steven Levy, writing for Wired, gives a good description of the Magic Cap OS:

It had a very nice interface that obviously drew upon Bill’s HyperCard and Andy’s Mac interface, with the unmistakable graphic imprint of Susan Kare. The basic screen looked like a desktop with various tools; on the desk was a postcard that one could fill out and send to anyone…And incidentally, the interface does not use handwriting recognition. You can use a pen or your finger to draw or write on the screen, but digital text is entered with a virtual keyboard – which, surprisingly, doesn’t work too badly for short messages.

Sony (above) and Motorola, among others, developed hardware for the Magic Cap OS in the early ’90s. It became quite the operating system, using object-oriented programming and connecting with the Information Super Highway (this was the ’90s), mirroring both the user-friendliness of the Mac and the usefulness of the Newton.

Funny thing, though: there’s a psuedo-version of Magic Cap, General Magic 1.5, for the Newton.

Phil Muller pointed me to’s archived version of Magic Cap/General Magic. I read that the MessagePad’s version of General Magic only worked on Newton OS 1.3 systems, and that it had only been tested on MP120s.


My MP110, however, runs OS 1.3, so I downloaded the package file from UNNA and installed it using Newton Connection Kit (above). After a quick upload, I found General Magic in my Newton’s Extras – and what do you know, it launched fine.

Magic Cap on an MP110

General Magic presented a literal desktop interfact, complete with notepad (that led me back to Notes), calendar (that sent me to Dates), and both an Inbox and Outbox. In the upper corners of the screen, pointers directed me to the Hallway, where the rest of my packages – like Newtris and Pocket Money – sat inside picture frames. Click on the app icons with a stylus and the app opens up. Tony Kan over at My Apple Newton does a nice job of going through many of the Magic Cap apps and settings.

It’s a super-simple interface, and I supposed once you memorize what each icon represents (it wasn’t always intuitive for me), you can navigate your way around the Newton. General Magic is just another way to interface with the Newton OS (which is why it’s filed under “Backdrops” in UNNA’s archive), except with pictures and icons showing you where to go. It reminds me of Apple’s eWorld interface.

General Magic seems silly, though, when you need to make your way to your apps. Instead of the Extras drawer sliding up, showing you all your installed apps, you have to click your way down a hallway to view each app’s icon individually. I can’t imagine a circumstance where this would be easier than simply picking one icon from a few that are in the Newton’s Extras drawer.

Still, it’s a fun emulator to play with – especially considering Magic Cap was competing with the Newton back in the day.

Apple history for the rest of us

January 8th, 2009


For history buffs, Apple is a natural attraction for how modern technology companies evolve, behave, and operate. Since its founding, Apple has attracted pirate programmers and designers, a dedicated fan following, and tons of media attention. In just 30 years, the company has ridden a roller coaster of success and near-death – multiple times – has today lives on as a super-successful electronics company.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Mac, and as Wired’s Steven Levy puts it, Apple will look forward instead of back.

Which is just as well. While doing research on some design work for my day job, in the design archives of AIGA, I stumbled upon Jeff Goodell’s Rolling Stone article, “The Rise and Fall of Apple, Inc” (part two is here). Goodell writes in 1996:

The story of Apple’s decline is a morality tale for the Information Age. It is not, as one might expect, a story about how quickly the technology moves, or about how unforgiving and brutal business has become in Silicon Valley. In fact, Apple had many, many chances to save itself. But it didn’t. It was the company of the future that failed to see what was right in front of its nose. And while Apple will no doubt reinvent itself in the years to come, the central idea that animated the company for so long – that Apple is a revolutionary force, that it could change the world – is dead.

Not any more, it’s not. But there is a weird feeling of dread and uncertainty, not unlike what a lot of people are feeling about the economy, or about Steve Jobs’s succession plan, and a lot of it stems from what we don’t know about Apple. What’s the “next big thing?” What effect will the economy have on Mac, iPod, and iPhone sales?

“There is no happy ending here,” Goodell writes. At the time, it must have seen certain. But soon after Rolling Stone published that article, Steve Jobs returned, and things turned around. Taking the long view, Apple has been in far worse situations (coincidentally, mostly when Jobs was absent).

One thing hasn’t changed, with or without Jobs. The theme struck me, after I watched an interview with Bill Atkinson during the launch of Apple’s HyperCard “erector set” programming application, was that Apple truly puts the power to create in peoples’ hands. As in “for the rest of us.”

Think about it. HyperCard was designed as a application builder for non-hackers. As Atkinson put it in the interview:

A whole new body of people who have creative ideas, but aren’t programmers, will be able to express their ideas – or their expertise in a certain subject.

The original Macintosh was designed to be intuitive. Its design and interface has functioned as the standard since 1984. VisiCalc, on the Apple II, gave people the power to create spreadsheets. Apps like Garage Band and iMovie and iWeb give users a simple way to be creative (actual talent helps, of course). PageMaker was the app that launched an industry, and my very profession. iTunes and iPods give us the ability to manage and enjoy our music library like never before. It’s music, or design, or information, or programming “for the rest of us.”

Even the Newton was a product ahead of its time, giving business professionals and regular folks the ability to manage their day-to-day data in a simple and intuitive way.

As a history buff, I like reading about Apple’s early successes and tribulations. It shows a company constantly growing, constantly in flux, and – for the most part – learning from its mistakes. The common thread that runs through Apple’s story is a company setting out to make machines and applications that make our lives easier.

I almost typed “better” there, but I don’t think that’s true: if we didn’t have the iPod, we may not miss it.

But simple. Easy. More intuitive. Even fun. That’s what Apple has given us the past 30 years. The success of the Mac is a testament to that ideal.

So while Steve Jobs and Apple in general may not celebrate the Macintosh’s birthday this month, us Mac fans can in our own way. We do, everyday, when we wake our iMac up from sleep, or scroll through our music library on our iPhone, and live our lives a little easier.