The best example of my commitment to Canvas? I wrote to Steve Jobs to keep it alive on the Mac

Mike Hibberd, VP of Marketing

Medical research is a high profile sector in normal times. But since the Covid-19 pandemic hit earlier this year it has been under a constant spotlight. Research scientist and career-long Canvas user Peter Allen heads a laboratory at the research arm of one of the USA’s leading medical providers where the fight against the pandemic is becoming a focus across the organization.

Peter’s lab, one of almost 200 within the research organization (making it about the same size as a typical medical school), focuses primarily on cardiovascular research and heart disease, as well as cancer and neurologic diseases including Alzheimer’s.

But with the global medical community working in concert to address Covid-19, Peter’s team are also developing experiments in areas where their existing research overlaps with work on the virus.

With a background in mathematics and computer science, Peter had written his own graphing software in the 1980s before Mac computers began to become established within his organization.

And with illustration of data being pivotally important to the publication of research, Peter and his colleagues “very quickly standardized” on early Canvas software in the 1990s. He’s been a dedicated Canvas user ever since.

“I have it open on my computer 100 per cent of the time and every visual that I create, at some point, goes through Canvas”

Timeline showing the orgin and evolution of a fusion protein

“I live with Canvas,” he says. “I have it open on my computer 100 per cent of the time and every visual that I create, at some point, goes through Canvas.”

Peter creates a range of outputs using Canvas, with the software functioning as a hub for improving and completing visualizations which begin in other, more specialized applications. Graphing programs used to plot data lack good graphics capabilities, he says, so data visualizations are always enhanced using Canvas annotation and illustration features.

Images of molecules created in dedicated modelling programs are also imported into Canvas for additional illustration and mark-up, as are photographs of cells grown in dishes as part of the team’s experiments.

Dear Steve Jobs – you should buy Canvas!

Graphic illustrating a uprocentric view of iron metabolism

Long term loyalty to Canvas is something we see a great deal across a variety of industries but Peter may well lead the field when it comes to commitment to the software.

When Apple made a change in their hardware early in the last decade it meant that Canvas would no longer run on new Mac computers. Worried that he and many other research scientists would find working without Canvas damaging to productivity, Peter decided to write directly to Steve Jobs. He fired off an email to the Apple boss which began:

“I hope you can help tens of thousands of scientists like me who depend on an excellent illustration software for our livelihood…”

Despite an impassioned plea which even involved the suggestion that Apple itself buy Canvas, his campaign was unsuccessful.

He did hear back from Jobs, though. The response?

“Nope. Sorry.”

Peter didn’t give up. “My solution – this is how important Canvas is to me – was to go out and buy seven brand new macs which would last me five years, and which I could give out as new team members joined my labs. For a long time we were using old Macs. So I was thrilled when Canvas Draw came out and I could use it on a new Mac.”

“My solution – this is how important Canvas is to me – was to go out and buy seven brand new Macs.”

Both Canvas X for Windows and X Draw for macOS are now being distributed more widely throughout Peter’s organization as its work to fight deadly diseases, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic, continues apace.

Everyone at Canvas is honored to know that our software is playing a part in work that is saving lives every day. We’re proud to have Peter as a Canvas Original who went the extra mile to lobby the great Steve Jobs on behalf of the software.

Canvas X Badge
Peter’s drive to keep Canvas available for his community makes him a real Canvas Original.

If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to get it. While Peter wasn’t successful in persuading Steve Jobs to buy Canvas – which perhaps isn’t surprising – the fact that he tried, and his subsequent workaround of stockpiling Macs that would still run Canvas really blew us away as evidence of the importance of the software to his work. Fortunately Canvas X Draw is available for macOS users everywhere and there’s no longer any need to hoard expensive hardware.

If you would like to participate in the Canvas Originals series, please email