MultiFinder was the name of an extension to the Finder in Macintosh System 4.2 to 6.0.x. It added the ability to cooperatively multitask between several applications at once, a big improvement over just the Finder on its own, which could only run one application at a time. With the release of System 7 in 1991, the features of MultiFinder became a standard integrated part of the operating system.
MultiFinder was an obvious response to the needs of users, but it had an interesting history. The first Macs had such limited memory that it was decided early on to abandon the multi-tasking that Apple had developed for the Lisa. To allow some degree of freedom, the Mac added desk accessories, but these were deliberately limited so that they would not use up too much of the very limited RAM available. Each new Mac model increased the amount of RAM available, with 1MB as standard on the Macintosh Plus. By this time there was sufficient RAM to support some kind of multitasking, and the first effort was a clever utility called Switcher, written by Andy Hertzfeld and released in April 1985. This worked by offering a number of fixed "slots", into which an applcation could be loaded. The user could then switch between these applications by clicking a small button on the top of the menu bar - the current application would horizontally slide out of view, and the next one would slide in. This approach was interesting, but rather false. However, it did fit well within the current scheme for memory management, and applications needed to have no special programming to work with Switcher. Continued work on Switcher by Phil Goldman led to MultiFinder.
MultiFinder extended the system in a number of significant ways. Apart from giving each application time, it provided a way for windows from different applications to co-exist by using an application layering model - when an application was active, all of its windows were brought forward as a single layer. This approach was necessary for backward compatibility with many of the windowing data structures that were already documented. It also provided a way for applications to supply their memory requirements ahead of time, so that MultiFinder could allot a chunk of RAM according to need. In fact this scheme was severely limited, and caused many problems for users. The integration of MultiFinder into System 7 did not fix any of these memory management shortcomings.
While MultiFinder as a separate entity disappeared with System 7, its legacy remained through Mac OS 9.2.2. Only with the change to a modern UNIX-based kernel with preemptive multitasking in Mac OS X did the idiosyncrasies and disadvantages of MultiFinder finally get dealt with.
- Switcher by Andy Hertzfeld, Folklore. 1984-10.
- Technote OV 17: MultiFinder Revisited: The 6.0 System at Apple (1988-08, archived 1997-06-15)
- MultiFinder User's Guide (PDF) by Apple Computer (1987, archived by VintageApple)
- Programming for MultiFinder by Jörg Langowski at MacTech (vol.3 no.11)
- MultiFinder at WikiWikiWeb (2005-05-27)
- MultiFinder at Wikipedia