Remembrance of moofs past

All the old Mac users—and some not so old—had wistful smiles on their faces today. Clarus the dogcow is back.


If you need an introduction to Clarus, this history by the not-so-old Stephen Hackett is a good place to start and has lots of links to follow. My memories of Clarus—who didn’t have a name when I encountered her—are very closely tied to a piece of Mac software that has nearly faded away altogether: the Page Setup dialog box.

LaserWriter Page Setup

Nowadays, you can go years without using Page Setup. Many apps, including the editor I’m typing this in and the web browser behind it that has all my links open, don’t even include a Page Setup item in their File menu. As you can see, much of what it did has been rolled into Print.

And here’s the thing about Clarus and Page Setup: although Stephen’s history—and the screenshot above, which I nicked from him—puts her in the LaserWriter’s Page Setup, my memory is that she started in the ImageWriter’s Page Setup. And she did a lot more than just stand around inside a page-shaped box.

In addition to the rather dull options for portrait or landscape printing, the ImageWriter’s Page Setup gave you checkboxes for more exciting options.1 And Clarus would do tricks when you selected these other options.

There was even a lifehack (a word that didn’t exist back then) that got passed around for using Page Setup to get a kind of poor man’s heads-up display for your car. You could type out driving directions and print the page with a combination of left/right mirroring and inverted colors. Put the resulting piece of paper on your dashboard and you could read the directions without taking your eyes off the road. As the Clarus nostalgia washed over me today, I made a simple one to demonstrate.

Heads-up display

The black background made most of the reflected image see-through so it didn’t obscure your view. I’m not sure where this idea came from, but I’m guessing it was someone who sold ink cartridges.

Should I be pitting my memories from 35 (or more) years ago against Stephen’s research? Seems foolish. And although it’s not the way I remember it, I’m perfectly willing to believe that Clarus did debut in the LaserWriter’s Page Setup and then got backported to the ImageWriter’s. Maybe it’s because I had an ImageWriter for a couple of years before I got access to a LaserWriter that has me associating her with the ImageWriter first.

But I am absolutely certain Clarus performed those tricks in the ImageWriter’s Page Setup dialog box. That was what made her so charming, even before we knew her name.

  1. For moderate varieties of exciting.