Canon Cat
Released:July 1987
Price:US $1495
How many:20,000 sold
CPU:Motorola 68000 @ 5MHz
Storage:internal 3.5-inch floppy drive
Display:9-inch white CRT
640 x 400 resolution
80 x 24 text
Ports:serial, parallel
OS:proprietary, written in FORTH

The Canon Cat was designed by Jef Raskin, who in 1979 initiated the original Macintosh computer project while working at Apple (Raskin was Apple employee #31).

The Macintosh, so-named by Raskin, was to be an inexpensive, text-based, keyboard-controlled system meant for the average "person in the street" (PITS). After Steve Jobs took over the project while still in its infancy, Raskin left Apple to start his own company, Information Appliance, Inc., where he was free to develop his ideas without external influence.

Continuing his "user interface" (UI) concepts, he developed the SWYFT, a protoype system which eventually evolved into the Cat, after Canon bought and financed the development.

The Canon Cat is an single unit, with the keyboard, electronics, and monitor all housed in an ergonomically-design enclosure. A convenient carrying handle is formed into the enclosure, behind the display.

Although the Cat has a serial port and software routines to support input devices such as a mouse or pointing pad, none were released or supported by Canon. The Cat also has advanced graphics tools in ROM, but they were never utilized - the Cat as released supports text only.

The optional Cat180 (Canon PR100) daisy wheel printer can print only text, and it does it very well, but at only 18cps (characters per second).

All of the required software is permanently stored in system ROM. Floppy disks are required only to save and restore documents and other work. Approximately 80 pages (180kB) of text can be saved to each floppy disk.

The operator can easily and quickly save all current work to the floppy drive, by simply hitting a two-key combination - the entire 256K system memory is saved to the SSDD disk. When the Cat is restarted, the system RAM is restored from the floppy disk, allowing the operator to continue where last left off. By design, there is no operating system, as far as the user is concerned.

It's the "Leaping" ability of the Cat which gives it its name, as well as its unique ability to quickly move about within a large text document without using a mouse or cursor keys.

Navigation is performed using the "Leap" keys. With different Leap key combinations, it's possible to instantly jump to any paragraph in the document, any sentence, or any individual word to perform editing or correction. It's just as easy to return to the end of the document to continue writing.

The software is advanced enough to perform mathematical calculation right in the text document, using the [CALC] button. Columns and rows can be combined to act as a spreadsheet, allowing the use of advanced and complicated formulas.

The built-in 90,000 word dictionary helps minimize spelling errors, while the [EXPLAIN] key offers instant help on most topics and key useage.

The Cat has an internal 300/1200 baud modem, capable of connecting and transferring text (only) to and from another computer, or even another Cat. Simply highlight the desired text on the screen and hit [SEND] to transmit the text to the other system. All incoming text appears on the screen and becomes part of the current document. The Cat can also act as a 24-hour message center, saving all incoming messages to the floppy drive.

The Cat is actually much more powerful than let on by Canon, who marketed it as a closed-architecture secretarial workstation, not as the real computer which exists under the hood.

Because of poor sales, Canon discontinued the Cat after only six months. This was due to poor marketing, according to Raskin.

Related Links

  • "Jef The Movie"
  • - Celebrating the different user interface.
  • Canon Cat manual, from - official site of Jef Raskin
  • - Jef Raskin: A Life of Design
  • "The Creation of the Mac according to Raskin & Horn"
  • Anecdotes about Jef from
  • Canon Cat brochure on
  • Macintosh History by Jef Raskin from Matthew Xavier Mora's Homepage
  • "Canon's Cat Computer: The Real Macintosh" from Jag's House

  • Return to the Obsolete Technology Homepage