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The Canon Cat was a task-dedicated, desktop computer released by Canon Inc. in 1987 at a price of $1495 USD. On the surface it was not unlike the dedicated word processors popular in the late 1970s to early 1980s, but it was far more powerful and incorporated many unique ideas for data manipulation.
The Cat was primarily the brainchild of Jef Raskin, originator of the Macintosh project at Apple in 1979. It featured a text user interface, not making use of any mouse, icons, or graphics. All data was seen as a long "stream" of text broken into several pages. Instead of using a traditional command line interface or menu system, the Cat made use of its special keyboard, with commands being activated by holding down a "Use Front" key and pressing another key. The Cat also used special "Leap keys" which, when held down, allowed the user to incrementally search for strings of characters.
The machine's hardware consisted of a 9 inch (229 mm) black-and-white monitor, a single 3½ inch 256 KB floppy disk drive and an IBM Selectric-compatible keyboard. It used a Motorola 68000 CPU (like the Macintosh, Lisa and Amiga) running at 5 MHz, had 256 KB of RAM, and an internal 300/1200 bit/s modem. Setup and user preference data was stored in 8 KB of non-volatile (battery backed-up) RAM. The Cat's array of I/O interfaces encompassed one Centronics parallel port, one RS-232C serial port (DB-25), and two RJ11 telephone jacks for the modem loop. The total weight of the system was 17 pounds (7.7 kg).
An extensive range of application software was built into 256 KB of ROM: standard office suite programs, communications, a 90,000 word spelling dictionary, and user programming toolchains for Forth and assembly language.
There is a current software project underway, that was initiated by the late Jef Raskin himself, to develop a similar yet even more capable system for today's computing systems. The project (called Archy) is designed to eventually replace current software interfaces.
- DigiBarn Systems: Canon Cat
- OLD-COMPUTERS.COM Museum: Canon Cat
- Canon Cat Manual
- Canon Cat Reference Manual
- Promotional Video for Leap and Canon Cat