Mac Nostalgia: A Look Back at Clarus the Dogcow

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In a new video shared this week by 512 Pixels, Stephen Hackett looks into the history of Clarus the Dogcow, a bitmapped image designed as part of the Cairo font for use on the Macintosh. While starting as part of a simple font language, Clarus grew to prominence on Mac over the years, becoming a popular part of Apple iconography throughout the 1980s and 1990s.


As Hackett explains in his video, Clarus was designed by graphic designer Susan Kare in 1983. Kare created the various fonts for the Macintosh's user interface, and one font in particular had a unique set of glyphs and images to represent the alphabet, referred to as a dingbat font. The letter "z" was represented by a small creature that appeared to merge a dog together with a cow.

Clarus became so endearing to Apple engineers that the Dogcow appeared in various printing programs on Macintosh computers, indicating to users which orientation the paper would be in when it was printed. Eventually, Scott Zimmerman coined the term "Dogcow" in 1987 and Apple employee Mark Harlan named the character Clarus in Technote 31 in the Developer Technical Support documents, to clarify the small animal people were seeing in the printing software.

clarus the dogcow

Images via 512 Pixels

In the entry called "The Dogcow," Harlan stated, "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."

Hackett: "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."

Clarus the Dogcow rose to prominence in the early and mid 1990s, thanks to a few videos of the character in early versions of QuickTime. One video shows Clarus riding a merry-go-round, while another has the character spinning in various directions.


At this time, the appearance of Clarus as an Apple icon really began to take off, with the Dogcow showing up in official Apple documentation about rendering on-screen graphics, mousepads, t-shirts, a brand of beer called "Moof Bräu", and even in the Icon Garden on Apple's Infinite Loop campus.

As the 1990s ended, so did the height of Clarus the Dogcow. According to Hackett, "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 has made occasional appearances in recent years, with WWDC developers last year receiving a Clarus the Dogcow pin as part of their swag bags.

Those interested in the history of Clarus the Dogcow should check out the 512 Pixels video and Hackett's History of Clarus the Dogcow.

Top Rated Comments

MysteriousStain Avatar
25 months ago



It’s CLARIS NOT CLARUS!

Ross.

Claris was the subsidiary that produced Apple software applications. Clarus is the Dogcow
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AngerDanger Avatar
25 months ago

Clarus became so endearing to Apple engineers that the Dogcow appeared in various printing programs on Macintosh computers

It’s a damn shame MacRumors wasn’t around back then; just think of all the complaints we’ve missed about how Apple’s hardware engineers need to focus less on stupid typable pictures, or how the dogcow is a sure sign that Apple is doomed! :(
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ingik Avatar
25 months ago
Here is another forgotten part of Apple history

Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
v0lume4 Avatar
25 months ago
[USER=3571]@DakotaGuy[/USER] Oh my gosh. I finally understand your profile pic.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DakotaGuy Avatar
24 months ago

[USER=3571]@DakotaGuy[/USER] Oh my gosh. I finally understand your profile pic.

Yes Clarus the dog cow is from a different era, but those of us who ran Macs 25 years ago or so remember it well.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
cosmichobo Avatar
25 months ago
I can remember in 1991 when I was looking at buying my first computer, and a friend persuading me to go Mac (it wasn't a hard sell - I'd already fallen for them after meeting a Mac Classic a year earlier). He gave me a grand tour of his Mac Plus, which included pointing out absurdities like "Moof", and various easter eggs, like the brickles game. (Was that System 6??)

I think Clarus added a lot of character to the Mac, along with the other things that just were "fun".
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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