Apple hands over MacPaint source code to the Computer History Museum

Tue, Jul 20, 2010

Apple History, News

Apple has handed over the source code to MacPaint, the first drawing program for the Mac, over to the Computer History Museum. Released in 1984 and coded by Bill Atkinson, MacPaint pioneered many features that would eventually become standard on nearly every graphics editor. Some of these features include the lasso tool for selecting irregular shaped areas and the paint bucket.

The Computer History Museum writes:

For those who want to see how it worked “under the hood”, we are pleased, with the permission of Apple Inc., to make available the original program source code of MacPaint and the underlying QuickDraw graphics library.

Also worth noting is this brilliant anecdote detailing the amount of work that went into creating MacPaint:

A reporter asked Steve Jobs, “How many man-years did it take to write Quick Draw?” Steve asked Bill, who said, “Well, I worked on it on and off for four years.” Steve then told the reporter, “Twenty-four man-years”. Obviously Steve figured, with ample justification, that one Atkinson year was the equivalent of six ordinary programmer years.

And as for how the entire process to acquire MacPaint’s source code came about, BusinessWeek writesthat the seeds were first planted back in January 2004, at an event honoring the 20 year anniversary of the Mac, when Stanford Computer Science professor Don Knuth unabashedly called MacPaint “the best program ever written.”

Knuth then asked a panel at the event if it would be possible to acquire the original Mac Paint source code from Apple “to study it under the hood as research for his multivolume book “The Art of Computer Programming.” Andy Hertzfeld, who was on the panel that night, liked the idea and subsequently called Bill Atkinson to see if he happened to have a copy of the source code lying around.

Persuaded to dig through his attic, he found a set of original MacPaint floppy disks formatted not for the original Mac, but for a flavor of the old Lisa — a Pre-Macintosh machine – that had never been released to the world. Eventually a Lisa machine with a network connection was found, suitable, for, as Hertzfeld put, “getting the bits out of the box.”


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