NEXT Computer company logoThe moment I caught my first glimpse of the NeXT Cube and its revolutionary operating system, NEXTSTEP, I was spellbound. Never had a computing system been even vaguely as elegant as what lay before me back in 1989 on the pages of Bruce F. Webster’s The NeXT Book, a highly illustrated delve into the inner workings of NeXT‘s new hardware and software. (As it turns out, The NeXT Book would be my only exposure to NeXT for years – if, despite my lust, the book itself at $22.95 was too expensive to buy, the $6,500 Cube was rather beyond possibility.)

I finally became a NEXTSTEP user in 1994 with the purchase of a 66MHz 486 workstation specifically fabricated to run NEXTSTEP for Intel. It ran the full developer version of NEXTSTEP for Intel v3.2 which retailed for $5,999 ($299 with student discount)! But sadly, within a year I was running Windows (where elegance has no home) on that box thanks to the dearth of mainstream apps available for NEXTSTEP. My prayers were answered, however, several years later with Apple’s announcement that it intended to acquire NeXT and NeXT’s subsequent takeover of Apple. OPENSTEP (basically NeXT’s latest version of NEXTSTEP) was to become the basis for the Mac OS. I ran right out and bought a Mac.

As it turns out, I used that Mac for a couple of years before Mac OS X finally debuted, but on March 24, 2001, Mac OS X v1.0 arrived. NEXTSTEP gave rise to OPENSTEP, which was transformed into Rhapsody, which evolved into Mac OS X. With mainstream apps and everything! I run Mac OS X on three Macs presently and have been using it as my primary OS for over six years now. I know exactly where elegance lives.

And it’s not just me. Apple, presently owning about 5% of the PC marketshare, shipped 1,764,000 Macs this past quarter alone. There are millions and millions of people out there running what could be described as the latest version of NEXTSTEP. I find that so great!

Original iPhone sitting in a dock on a deskHere’s another thing that’s kind of crazy to think about, and is what prompted me to make this post. As I type this, there is an Apple computer featuring advanced graphics and sound, wireless data capabilities of several varieties, a web browser able to view even “Web 2.0” sites, a digital camera, a revolutionary touch-based user interface, running OS X (the modern evolution of NEXTSTEP, mind you), sitting in the front-right pocket of my jeans. Yes, it is the iPhone of which I speak and unless you happen to be dead, you’ve heard of it. And it is astounding…and elegant.

I find the aforementioned to be an interesting sequence to contemplate. I hope you have, as well. I did eventually get my hands on actual NeXT hardware, by the by: a refurbished NeXTstation Turbo Color system acquired for $250 back in 2000. A few years ago I jumped at the chance to pick up an HP 9000 “Gecko,” which also runs NEXTSTEP, for $20 and had it up and running in no time. I’ve had some rather recent fun getting OPENSTEP running on my MacBook Pro and Mac Pro, as well. And I did finally get my own copy of Webster’s great book. I found it on eBay and won the auction a few years ago at $99.

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6 Responses to NEXTSTEP…In My Pocket

  1. Daniel says:

    Congrats on the iPhone… I am so jealous!

    My journey to Mac is similar to yours: I acquired a NeXT Computer prototype (that is, a Cube before it was called the Cube) back in the early 1990s from a NeXT employee – for $675. To this day I still own it. For years, it was my primary system. Mine was originally an 030, but I have upgraded it to an 040-25. And, it’s only black & white, not a Dimension.

    Anyway, I saw NeXT in college, bought the Cube, and used that until the late 1990s. I eventually got a Windows system to run Quicken, and my wife used that as her email system until we bought our first Mac – a Power Mac G4 Cube of course – back around the days of 10.1.

    I owe a lot of it to my employer, who sent me to some training in Chicago; the instructor had a PowerBook on which he dual-booted OS X and OS 9. Most of the instruction was in OS 9, but he booted OS X for me to see it. I instantly recognized the NeXT heritage (back then the busy cursor was the NeXT busy cursor, and the OS X interface looked a LOT more like NeXT’s did. That’s when I told my wife we had to buy a new computer.

    I later sold the G4 Cube to buy a G4 iMac, which died after 25 months of use (figure that!). We then bought a core duo mini, which is my primary server system, running my podcast server and hosting my digital media files.

    After coming to the Mac fold, I wanted to see where it had come from, and I now have a nice collection of old Macs: some Plusses, an SE, an SE/30, a Quadra 840AV, a couple of beige G3 towers, a few B&W G3 towers, the mini, a PowerBook, a MacBook Pro (OK, it’s my employers), and two PowerBook 540cs. I also have two NeXT stations and my pride & joy – the NeXT Computer prototype. (There may be others around here too.) I also have an Atari XEGS and a real Sinclair ZX81 (not a Timex Sinclair 1000).

    Anyway, I got into collecting the old compact Macs, and for a while I was running a web server on one of the Plusses, using a SCSI-ethernet adapter. I am amazed at the simplicity and power of the original Mac OS – System 6 was really slick. For its size (sub-800k), it was amazing.

    I really miss Improv, but you probably don’t know what that is since you didn’t come to NeXT on black hardware. Improv was an amazing spreadsheet program – and today it’s still better than Excel.

    Like you, I’m glad to finally have a mainstream version of NeXT, with real-world apps and a real Unix command line. Nowhere else can you have Quicken, MS Office, and Unix on the same box. I love it, and I’m here to stay until OS X is no longer Unix.

    And boy do I want an iPhone. 8)

  2. Daniel says:

    Oh, I should also have mentioned that, as a student of operating systems, I think it is clear that Apple is a decade ahead of Microsoft. Apple’s purchase of NeXT was brilliant, and Apple is reaping the rewards of that good decision. And, Apple is reaping the rewards of NeXT’s superior design – and of decisions that were made at NeXT more than 20 years ago.

    The architecture of OS X, and NeXT before it, is what allows Apple to so easily add things like Core Data, Core Animation, Core Audio, etc. The fact that Apple threw away “Classic” Mac OS – after giving developers years of transition time with Classic – was brilliant. Xcode allows developers to write universal binaries – brillaint.

    You might remember Microsoft’s attempts at multiple architectures. They are back down to 1 now – it flat didn’t work. Apple has made an architectural switch twice now, and while the first one (m68k to PPC) wasn’t the easiest in the world, the second (PPC to Intel) went very smoothly – better than I think even they imagined.

    That reminds me – you brought up that the iPhone runs OS X. Consider this: Apple uses one source code base for the iPhone, PPC Macs, and Intel Macs. Contrast that to Microsoft’s intel-only Windows, then Windows CE or whatever it’s called today: the only thing they have in common is the name “Windows.” No source code is shared – nothing. It’s a maintenance nightmare.

    Ever wonder how Apple is able to do so much with so relatively few developers? It’s because of the decisions that NeXT made in the 1980s…

    I love it.

  3. blakespot says:

    I’ll say thanks up front here, Daniel. I was feeling that this last post was a bit nebulous and maybe would not be met with a great deal of understanding from the few people that read this blog with regularity. Imagine my surprise when I find that it has generated what is really the longest single comment post of any story on this site – and hours after my initial post. This kind of thing is why I spend time on this blog.

    I’d love to see pix of your setup. Got any online?

    As you can see in a recent post here, I’m into the classic oldschool Macs as well. My overall list is here:

    My Mac Plus, by the way, is online thanks to an Asante EN/SC Ethernet-to-SCSI adapter, much the same as your old config. :-)

    NeXT was great w/ FAT binaries. NEXTSTEP binaries were generally able to run on FOUR platforms: 68K native, X86, PA-RISC, and Sun. I actually have NEXTSTEP running on a HP 9000 I picked up a couple years ago.

    We definitely share a similar respect for what’s really a 19 year old platform. Thanks so much for writing in, Dan.


  4. Pingback: Steve Jobs: Like Comments Regarding Both Life and NeXT | Byte Cellar

  5. Former Darfur says:

    Windows NT4 and 2000 actually ran quite nicely on all the architectures they ran on, and on the Alpha best of all. Alpha was killed off by its own success-Intel lost a suit and bought it out to kill it.
    DEC was its own worst enemy-they priced Alpha out of the market and tried to promote it only to a high end market that didn’t exist. But it was really the superior architecture of its day, far outperforming HP PA Risc and SPARC.

  6. Interesting read. Would be intrigued to see the photos of OPENSTEP running on the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro. Are they still out there anywhere? Noticed the links on this post were broken so I was just curious. Thank you for sharing this musing!

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