Jobs' NeXT step
In an interview with Newsweek in late September 1985, Jobs mused about his post-Apple plans: "I personally, man, I want to build things. I'm 30. I'm not ready to be an industry pundit."
Jobs' desire to "build things" led to him gathering the five senior Apple engineers he had been courting and hiring them as the core of his next computing effort, which eventually became known as NeXT.
Apple management, to put it mildly, wasn't pleased, and started legal action against Jobs for a "nefarious scheme" in which, they alleged, he was not only poaching senior staff, but also planning to use proprietary Apple technology and confidential information.
That lawsuit was eventually dropped, but not before Jobs fired back in the press, saying in the same Newsweek interview: "There is nothing ... that says Apple can't compete with us if they think what we're doing is such a great idea. It is hard to think that a $2 billion company with 4,300-plus people couldn't compete with six people in blue jeans."
Jobs soon had a great stroke of luck: billionaire entrepreneur and eventual presidential candidate H. Ross "giant sucking sound" Perot became NeXT's principle investor, as well as – as BusinessWeek put it in an October 1988 cover story – its "head cheerleader".
Salesman Steve and the original NeXT Computer – Jobs' first "Cube"
The workstation line that NeXT created was aimed at scientific and academic users who needed brawny computing power on their desks. It was inarguably elegant, but sold poorly. However, one of those workstations' supported operating systems, Next System (which morphed into NeXTStep), was eventually key to Jobs returning to Apple in late 1996.
A quick side note: there were at least five different ways of writing NeXTStep, with four being official usages that depended upon exactly what parts or version of it you were referring to: NeXTStep, NeXTStep, NeXTSTEP, and NEXTSTEP – the fifth, which NeXT acknowledged but didn't use, was NextStep. For the sake of sanity, we're going to consistently use NeXTStep. The same goes for the related API definition, OpenStep/OPENSTEP, aka NEXTSTEP 4.0.
NeXT System, the OS that eventually morphed into Mac OS X (click to enlarge)
The original NeXT Computer seemed to be Jobs' attempt to one-up Apple's Macintosh. It was powered by a Motorola 68030 processor, 68882 FPU, and DSP56001 digital signal processor, all running at 25MHz. When the NeXT Computer debuted in prototype form on October 12, 1988, the top-end Mac of the time – the IIfx – had a 16MHz 68030 and 68882, and no DSP.
Other better-than-Mac features of the NeXT Computer included Display PostScript and built-in Ethernet. The full NeXT system included a 17-inch monochrome 1120x832 pixel display – Apple's 1152x870 two-page monochrome display wasn't released until March of 1989. NeXT also offered a 400 DPI laser printer that, since the computer itself included Display PostScript, cost just $2,000 – a steal compared with Apple's 300 DPI LaserWriter IINTX, which had a built-in PostScript interpreter that helped boost its list price to $6,999.
Jobs also added a typical 'I know what's best' touch: rather than a hard drive and/or floppy drive, the NeXT Computer included a 256MB magneto-optical drive – a relatively unusual item in those days – which the original NeXT brochure described as being "bound to become the standard technology of the '90s".
There was, however, a bay inside the NeXT Computer for a hard drive, should you choose to install one. As the brochure pointed out: "Its possible configure [sic] your NeXT system to allow access to truly enormous amounts of storage - approaching one gigabyte and more."
The NeXT Computer was a cubical black box, which led to it often being called the NeXT Cube. That name was then officially applied to the company's next product, 1990s 40MHz 68040–equipped NeXTcube, which appeared along with the color-capable NeXTdimension. The final NeXT line, the NeXTstation, flattened the cube into a more-standard "pizza box" shape and added a floppy drive.
But none of NeXT's nifty hardware offerings sold well – although some boxes are still in use. No official total sales number is available, but it's generally accepted to be in the range of 50,000 – from the debut of the original NeXT Computer in 1988 to the demise of the black beauties in 1993.
NeXT's Interface Builder, which eventually found its way into Mac OS X's Xcode (click to enlarge)
There's one possibly apocryphal anecdote about Jobs' difficulty – and naiveté – in selling NeXT boxes that bears retelling. According to Alan Deutschman's The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, Jobs presented both black and white and color versions of his workstation to a group of Disney execs, hoping to convince them to put in a large order.
In his audience was Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of Disney's feature film division. After Jobs said that the color NeXT box would put image-making power in the hands of ordinary people, Katzenberg interrupted him. The bare-knuckles exec complimented the black-and-white unit, but he had a different opinion of the color version
"'This is art,' Jeffrey said," according to Deutschman. "'I own animation, and nobody's going to get it.' His voice was fierce and intimidating and commanding. 'It's as if someone comes to date my daughter. I have a shotgun. If someone tries to take this away, I'll blow his balls off.'"
Jobs' reality distortion field was breached.
Although the NeXT hardware had its fans, sales were skimpy. However, NeXT's Unix-based operating system and its set of libraries, services, and APIs eventually known as OpenStep, attracted many programmers as devoted fans.
Tim Berners-Lee, for example, wrote the first browser, WorldWideWeb, on a NeXT. "This had the advantage that there were some great tools available," he wrote. "[I]t was a great computing environment in general. In fact, I could do in a couple of months what would take more like a year on other platforms, because on the NeXT, a lot of it was done for me already."
The NeXT System's application-development prowess would eventually change Steve Jobs' life – but not before NeXT's hardware business imploded.
Next page: The accidental movie mogul
A fully tricked-out Apple II – every geek's object of lust
Indeed it was.
I was but a young whippersnapper when my school received its one and only Apple ][ computer way back in 1980 and what a time of wonder it was.
We used to book time on "the computer" in 10 minute lots, most of which were spent copying each others disks.
Apple Panic (aka Lode Runner) , Escape From Castle Wolfenstein (Ach Leiben, your caught!"), Wizardry and Blitzkreig! were favourites that I remember to this day.
I had a disk box that I built out of wood with my own hands that would hold the handful of 5.25 inch single sided floppies that I could afford to buy.
Joyous was the day when we discovered that the judicious application of a boxcutter knife enabled us to double our "storage capacity" x2 by cutting out the write enable notch allowing the flip side of the diskette to be used.
Learning how to write programs in BASIC and later 6502 "machine code".
PEEKS and POKES.
In those days computers were exciting. They were a new frontier. It was like riding a wave. With a computer *anything* was possible.
These days it is all about lock down and lock in.
Computer users are something to be controlled and harvested for personal information.
Gone are the exciting days of finding a new program and the wonder of what can be achieved.
Ditching Windows (which has long been a tool for corporates intent on user control) for the "wild west" of Linux (and the Internet) has bought some of that innocent wonder of old back but the truth be told we will never see those halcyon days again.
I'm just grateful that I had some small involvement in the wonder of those times
I pity the kids of today. Bought up on Windows and WGA not to mention iOS and the "walled garden".
The tech is much more impressive these days, but it is also much more cold and sterile.
God I feel old.
You can hate Apple and there business practices all you want, but remember this, without the drive of Steve Jobs in the last 10 years we wouldn't have things as good as we do now. Apple products have forced other companies to up their game and that's a good thing for everyone.
RIP Steve :(
My Nan used to tell me "if you've got nothing nice to say, say nothing". Sage advice, but I'm going to ignore it for now. We all know what a vitriolic little shit you can be, so please do the world a favour and keep it to yourself for a day or two, not out of respect for anyone but yourself. You really are a petty and small man.
Name ten or so things you've done to change the world for the better?
It's very easy to be an armchair pundit and slate people, but the medium you are using to spew your negative comments (ie. the WWW) was developed on a NeXT computer, y'know the company Steve Jobs created when he left Apple.
Who knows, maybe the WWW would have been worse if Tim Berners-Lee had written it on another computer. Those who have programmed NeXT machines were always praising its ease of development.
Monopolies don't help any industry and the re-emergence of Apple has been good for the industry. Windows Vista and Windows 7 are heavily inspired by OSX.