Back to Cupertino
After the success of Toy Story, Jobs may have been rich, but his wealth came from an industry with which he was unfamiliar. Since he was a 12-year-old, fiddling about with stuff his neighbor HP engineer Larry Lang showed him, his first love was hardware.
And he missed Apple. "It was like the first adult love of your life," he told a New York Times reporter in November 1996, "something that is always special to you, no matter how it turns out."
Fortunately for Jobs, Apple was in the crapper. The much-ridiculed Newton hadn't taken off, Apple was hemorrhaging money from a poorly thought-through OS licensing scheme, and thanks to its success with Windows 95, Microsoft was eating its lunch.
The Mac's operating system was creaky and unreliable, and efforts to replace it were going nowhere. Apple's "Pink" OS skunkworks had been merged with IBM to form Taligent, which eventually produced the IBM-only CommonPoint, which soon vaporized. Apple's next – no pun intended this time – new OS effort, Copland, was going nowhere fast.
Apple's new, no-nonsense CTO Ellen Hancock decided that Copland was a lost cause, killed it, and in 1996 started shopping around for a third-party operating system to replace the Mac's operating system, at that time System 7.5.
Apple first made an offer to Jean-Louis Gassée, the man John Sculley had picked to replace Jobs as head of Apple's hardware division, to buy his company, Be, and its still-unfinished BeOS, which was slated to power the company's BeBox hardware. Gassée deemed the offer too low, however, and was holding out for $200m – an amount that Apple chairman and CEO Gil Amelio termed "outrageous".
Apple's discussions with Gassée were hardly a well-kept secret, and so – having an operating system of his own to peddle – Jobs called Cupertino. Amelio was out of the country, so Jobs left a message for Hancock.
"I was startled to see Steve Jobs had called," she recalled to the NYT, "but I returned it immediately."
During the ensuing conversation, Jobs was reported to have not made a sales pitch for NeXTStep/OpenStep but only to have discussed operating systems in general – and, likely, Gassée and Be in particular. But it can only be assumed that Hancock, being nobody's fool, knew what was what.
A few days later, a couple of NeXT managers called Apple on their own, and Apple engineers met with them. Soon Jobs himself was invited to Cupertino to talk to Amelio, Hancock, and Apple strategist Doug Solomon. "It was the first time I had set foot on the Apple campus since I left in 1985," Jobs told the NYT.
A week later, NeXT and Be met separately with top Apple execs at a Palo Alto hotel frequented by the Silicon Valley geekerati, and the word was out: Jobs and Apple were courting one another.
And it wasn't only Jobs' operating system that Apple was interested in. "We always talked about him being on the inside," Hancock said at the time. "We're hoping he can show us where to go from here in emerging markets and technologies."
On December 20, 1996, Amelio announced the acquisition of NeXT Software. "We chose Plan A instead of Plan Be," the soon-to-be-ex-Apple-CEO is reported to have quipped.
Apple's then-chairman and CEO Gil Amelio on stage with Steve Jobs at Macworld Expo 1997
Then, on January 7, 1997, Amelio gave what many observers ridiculed as the most discombobulated, rambling keynote speech imaginable at Macworld Expo in San Francisco – one that your reporter once described as having "a lack of focus matched only by Apple's product line, which was lumbered with ill-performing Performas and other humdrum machines".
As Amelio mercifully brought his talk to an end, he invited Jobs on stage to demo what Apple had just bought: NeXTStep and its cutting-edge OpenStep development environment. After enduring well over an hour of Amelio's stultifying speechifying, the crowd went wild when Jobs bounded onto the stage, strutting and beaming as he showed off his slick software. His adoring fans bruised their palms with applause, and a new era – both for Jobs and for Apple – began.
And Hancock? The person who did more to return Steve to his "first adult love" than anyone else at Apple? Word soon began to circulate among Apple managers that, behind her back, Jobs dismissed her as a "bozo".
Of the $427 million in cash and stock that Apple paid for NeXT, Jobs took $100 million for himself and kept all 1.5 million shares of Apple stock that were part of the deal. No NeXT staffer got as much as a share.
Good Steve. Bad Steve.
Next page: Jobs takes over
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.