Once upon a time, companies had real personalities.
While the Apple of today is a gleaming white wall of corporate press releases and carefully-timed keynotes, long-time fans of the company can remember a time when the company had far more personality.
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While there are obvious signs of this — like the old six-color logo — there are lesser-known relics of the Apple of old. Clarus the dogcow is one of them. This is her story.
It Started with a Typeface
Every good hero has a good origin story, and Clarus the Dogcow is no different.
During the design and development of the original Macintosh, Steve Jobs harped the importance of typefaces in the computer’s user interface. Jobs had audited a calligraphy course at Reed College — after dropping out, no less — and insisted that the Macintosh have multiple, proportionally-space fonts at launch.
To help create these typefaces, Jobs turned to Susan Kare, the graphic designer working on the Macintosh’s user interface elements.
Kare created several fonts for the system, all given names for world-class cities.
The original fonts by Susan Kare included:
- Athens: This slab-serif typeface characterized by bold, clean lines.
- Chicago: This heavy san-serif was the default system font up to System 7.6 and later appear on iPods, as it renders well on black and white displays. Chicago was the first font designed for the Macintosh and was originally named Elefont by Susan Kare.
- Geneva: This sans-serif font should look familiar to the modern computer user, due to its similarity to the ubiquitous typeface Helvetica. An offshoot of Geneva named Simple was used in Apple’s Newton OS.
- Monaco: This monospaced, sans-serif typeface is one of the very few old-world Mac fonts to survive in the modern era. Up until Mac OS X Snow Leopard, it was the default font in Xcode.
- New York: Inspired by Times New Roman, this bitmap font was the default serif typeface on the original Macintosh.
- San Francisco: Originally dubbed Ransom, San Francisco was designed to mimic a note created out of magazine clippings by a crazy person. Yikes.
One Kare font, however, was vasty different that the others: Cairo.
Cairo was the original dingbat font and would probably have been forgotten by history — like most of the other original Macintosh fonts — if it hadn’t been for two things: a game that used the font’s elements and the character in the z position.
A small creature named “Clarus.”
Printers and Dogcow Documentation
In the days of the original Macintosh, Apple turned to making printers.
LaserWriter was the umbrella term used by Apple to label a line of over 30 printers and the supporting software in MacOS. Launched in 1985 and powered by PostScript and applications like PageMaker, the LaserWriter printers helped propel Apple to the forefront of the desktop publishing revolution.
Starting in the late 80s, millions of pages were designed on 512×342 1-bit monochrome screens. Starting in 1987, Apple started shipping external monitors alongside the Macintosh II.
In this world, Clarus enjoyed great prominence — being present on the page setup dialog box for many versions of the system’s printer software, reminding users which orientation their print job would be using:
Apple was still performing well at this point, with the dark days of the mid-90s still several years off, and the company had a sense of humor about itself.
Apple employee Mark “The Red” Harlan took to his Mac in the spring of 1989 to write Technote 31 in the now-defunct Developer Technical Support collection of documents. Harlan wanted to clarify the small animal found on the Page Setup dialog box. The title of his entry? Simply “The Dogcow.”
Harlan opened his document by explaining what a dogcow is:
Dogcows, by their nature, are not all dog, nor are they all cow, but they are a special genetic hybrid. They are rarely seen in the wild. Since dogcows are two dimensional, they will stand facing a viewer “on edge” to avoid being seen.
(Another common cause of death? Falling off of cliffs while eating. Yikes.)
Scott “ZZ” Zimmerman is given credit for coining the term “dogcow,” and Harlan gave her a name — Clarus. He also gave readers directions on how to draw the character:
So, if the animal’s name is Clarus, where does the word moof come from?
Well, as it turns out, that’s the sound a dogcow makes:
In an email to me, Zimmerman explained how he created this sound:
I remember doing it one night in my apartment. I used a cow sound from a sound effect CD I had and then recorded myself going “oof” over and over again using a MacRecorder. I eventually blended the two samples into the sound you have on the site.
The Golden Era of Dogcow
In the early and mid 1990s, Clarus was at the height of power.
In 1991, the Dogcow was spotted in early versions of QuickTime, in these projects created by Zimmerman. At the time, he was working in Developer Technical Support helping Pixar with MacRenderman, and he told me the render for each video took over 24 hours on a Mac IIfx.
Clarus’ move into multimedia was outlined in Technote 1031:
This Technote attempts to document the Dogcow’s various and sundry exploits — most recently, in the world of QuickTime VR. Indeed, some might say that the Dogcow has “gone VR.” In any case, this Note looks at some of the Dogcow’s history and peregrinations and then explains the technique for creating a QuickTime VR object movie with the Dogcow as star. Could a part in the next Babe movie be far behind? Stay tuned for details.
In addition to these QuickTime demos, Clarus showed up all across Apple, in everything from documents about how to render on-screen graphics to mousepads and shirts.
Not content to be part of a brand-new media platform and run a growing branding empire, Clarus installed as part as the long-gone Icon Garden on Apple’s then-new campus on Infinite Loop.
image via James Thomson.
In June of 1994, Apple’s developers were allowed access to a two-part series on the history of the Dogcow, written by our friend Mark Harlan:
The dogcow was originally a character in the Cairo font that used to ship with the Macintosh; it was designed by Susan Kare. I had always been interested in this critter ever since I first saw it in the LaserWriter Page Setup Options dialog, sometime during my stint in Apple’s Developer Technical Support (DTS) group in 1987. To me it showed perfection in human interface design. With one picture it was very easy to explain concepts like an inverted image or larger print area that otherwise would be nearly impossible to communicate.
Interest became an obsession when one day I was talking to Scott (“ZZ”) Zimmerman about the dialog and suddenly thought, “Just what is that animal supposed to be, anyway?” Since ZZ was the Printing Guy in DTS (now in the Newton group), and my favorite pastime was to bother him endlessly anyway, I started pressing him on whether the animal was a dog or a cow.
In an act of desperation he said, “It’s both, OK? It’s called a ‘dogcow.’ Now will you get out of my office?” The date was October 15, 1987, and I consider this to be the first use of the term. It should be noted that since then a few people (including Ginger herself) have told me that actually the phrase was coined by Ginger Jernigan (ex-DTS, now ROM software) at a meeting of Apple’s Print Shop sometime shortly before that, which very well could be the case. Nevertheless it was ZZ who pressed it into common usage, and he certainly was the first person I ever heard use the term.
Moof Bräu & Disney’s 101 Dalmatians Print Studio
At WWDC 1996, Apple featured beer brewed in California, and one of the examples was dubbed “Moof Bräu.” A photo of the bottle can be seen here, pulled from an old QuickTime VR document:
On the other end of the spectrum, the 101 Dalmatians Print Studio that shipped with the Apple Magic Collection software on some Macs in the mid to late 1990s included an Easter Egg that when activated, would add Clarus to a user’s certificate-making project:
You can learn more about this Easter Egg and many others in this talk by the aforementioned James Thomson.
Clarus’ Slow Return
While it’s hard to pin the Dogcow’s decline directly on Steve Jobs, Clarus became harder and harder to spot after his return to Apple. The Icon Garden came down and Mac OS X used a less-fun image on the Page Setup screen. While Clarus made a brief appearance with OS X’s Address Book, it was hardly a comeback.
However, slowly over time, Clarus began to resurface. Clarus is present in some of Apple’s Swift documentation:
The dogcow is also present in Apple’s Classic Mac iMessage Sticker Pack:
Some hardcore fans — myself included — have chosen to honor Clarus with permanent ink.
For a while, it was rumored that the dogcow was still present in a very specific way at Apple’s new HQ in Cupertino. In fact, the video I made on this subject includes the story, which says that in the Visitor Center’s AR model of the campus, users can remove the roof of a small barn on the site to reveal a small version of Clarus.
When I visited that Apple Store during WWDC 2019, I busted the myth myself; sadly the barn houses a regular, boring cow.
As of the first developer build of macOS Ventura, Clarus is back where she belongs:
I have mixed feelings about the new design, but I couldn’t be happier to see my old friend.
For some additional reading, I’ve rounded up as many documents as I can about Clarus. Happy exploring.
- Adventures with Clarus (2000)
- Develop 17 – History of the Dogcow, Part 1 (1994)
- Develop 17 – History of the Dogcow, Part 2 (1994)
- Technical Note PR510 – Printer Driver Q&As (1990)
- Technical Note PT35 – Stand-Alone Code, ad nauseam (1989)
- Technical Note TN1019 – Plotting Small Icons – The ‘SICN’ Resource (1996)
- Technote 31 – The Dogcow (1989)
- Technote 1031 – The Dogcow Goes QuickTime VR (1996)
The Adventures of the Dogcow
Justin Hamilton has made an amazing game featuring the dogcow.