The History of Clarus the Dogcow

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.

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.

 

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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.

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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 & 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:

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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 April 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 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,” but Harlan gave her a name — Clarus. He also gave readers directions on how to draw the character:

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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.

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:

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.

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image via Flickr

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.

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.

The party, as they say, was over.

Clarus Today

While Apple may not officially recognize the glory of the Dogcow, Clarus lives on. Clarus is present in some of Apple’s Swift documentation. Some hardcore fans — myself included — have chosen to honor Clarus with permanent ink.

 

I’ve rounded up as many documents as I can about Clarus: