When you power on the Cat you are presented with a display that looks like a typewriter with a sheet of paper. Black characters appear on a white background, and a ruler bar appears at the bottom of the screen. The Cat's memory holds around 160K of data, which is equivalent to 80 single-spaced printed pages.
You move through your data using two extra keys called "Leap keys" located in front of the spacebar, and by typing strings of characters the Cat jumps to the next occurrence of that string. Raskin claimed that the Cat's Leap-key search method, to scroll from the top to the bottom of the page, takes 2 seconds, a mouse took 4 seconds, and cursor took 8 seconds. Larger documents increased these search ratios.
The Leap keys also control text selection (indicated by highlighting), deletion, copying, and moving. If the selected text is a mathematical formula, one keystroke with a special key calculates the mathematical result and the answer appears on the screen with a dotted underline overlaying the original formula. If the selected text is a computer program written in either FORTH or 68000 assembly language, then a special key will let you execute the program. You perform mail merges by selecting columnar text data and pressing anot her special key. Repetitive command sequences can be automated by assigning commands and text strings to the Cat's numeric keys. One special key lets you dial a selected telephone number either for voice or modem communications. Data received from the built-in modem flows into your text as if you had typed it.
The Cat has a 256K floppy disk for storage. Each disk holds the entire contents of the Cat's memory in addition to system configuration parameters, the user's personal spelling dictionary, and the bit-map for the screen. When you insert a disk, the Cat read the disk's entire contents into memory, including the last saved screen image. This feature allows users to transfer their entire Cat environment to another Cat by just taking their disk from one Cat and
inserting it into another.
One can say that Jef Raskin began designing the Cat during his tenure at Apple Computer.
He started at Apple in January 1978 as head of its publications department. From 1979 to 1982 Raskin was responsible for a research project called Macintosh. He resigned from Apple in February 1982, when he was Manager of Advanced Systems, over a disagreement with Steve Jobs, one of Apple's founders, concerning the Macintosh's direction. Steve Jobs took over Macintosh development and the Macintosh became a mini-Lisa computer which was totally opposite of Raskin's ideas for the Macintosh.
In Raskin's paper "The Genesis and History of the Macintosh Project" (February 1981) he provided his thoughts on the main software design criteria for the Macintosh:
My concepts in designing the software were extreme ease of learning, rapid (and thus non-frustrating) response to user desires, and compact
and quickly developable software. Key elements in designing such a system are freedom from modes, the elimination of "levels" (e.g.
system level, editor level, programming level), and repeated use of a few consistent and easily learned concepts. Such software also leads
to simple and brief manuals without having to sacrifice completeness and accuracy. The editor is similar to the LISA editor but does not
require the expensive mouse. A careful study showed that it is probably faster to use than a mouse driven editor -- although it is
probably not as flashy to see when demonstrated in a dealer's showroom.
In 1994 Raskin had the following to say about the original Macintosh's
software design (The Mac and Me: 15 Years of Life with the Macintosh):
My unifying software originally was to be a graphics-and-text editor
within which applications could run as additional commands (via menus), all input and output being through the interface designed for
the editor. Later, the PARC desktop metaphor was adopted from the Lisa group (and that from the Xerox Alto and the Star computers). Due
to the incredible work of the Mac software team, the necessary code was designed and squeezed into a Toolbox that fit into a relatively
small ROM (Read Only Memory) that we could afford to put into the product.
Raskin also had some interesting comments to say in one of his many
Macintosh design memos concerning the intended users of the Macintosh (Design Considerations for an Anthropophilic Computer, 28-29 May
This is an outline for a computer designed for the Person In
The Street (or, to abbreviate: the PITS); one that will be truly pleasant to use, that will require the user to do nothing that will
threaten his or her perverse delight in being able to say: "I don't know the first thing about computers".
The Macintosh's early hardware design was very similar to the Cat's design. One early Macintosh design from January 1980 provided a small
screen, a keyboard, and two vertical built-in disk drives. Also present in this early Macintosh design was a built-in printer.