I wanted to do something to honor the one year anniversary of Steve Jobs death, but as I look around the web it seems a lot of people have already done very good tributes. Apple has a note from Tim Cook and a video, Wired has a great article on why Steve Jobs will be mentioned forever, Cult of Mac has a bunch of great articles and quotes and the San Francisco Chronicle has an excellent slideshow of his life.
I’ve instead decided to talk about what I feel is the most important contribution Steve Jobs gave the world…NeXT. If you’re not a super Apple history geek like myself you might think “what?”, but if you are at all familiar with Steve Jobs history you’ll say,”Of course!”.
I can go into a big history of NeXt, but we all know that’s what wikipedia is made for, so I’ll just cover the highlights. When Steve Jobs left Apple he sold all his stock or as he called it his “Fuck You” money and decided to start a computer company targeted at higher education called NeXT. He funded it privately with his own money at first and later got investments from Ross Perot, Canon and some money from IBM. Everything Apple is now is based on work done at NeXT.
Apple currently has 3 main income sources, Mac, iPhone and iPad. None of those produces would exist without the work done at NeXT. How so? Well as you know the iPad and iPhone run an operating system called iOS which came from Mac OS X (now OS X), but Mac OS X didn’t come from Apple, OS X came from NeXT. The OS was called NeXTSTEP and later called OpenSTEP. It was an operating system that married the power of UNIX and the GUI of the Mac and it came out in 1990. This operating system was the reason Steve Jobs even came back to Apple. Apple wasn’t thinking far enough ahead to compete with modern multitasking OS’s like Windows NT.
Now the OS acquisition is obvious, but there are a few other important things that contributed to Apple today really being NeXT 2.0. NeXT is where Steve Jobs was really free to embrace design. He didn’t have clueless CEO’s or clueless middle managers to deal with. Since it was his company he could do everything exactly as he saw fit. There is a great story in the book The Second Coming of Steve Jobs where someone has a meeting with Steve and they are excited because there is a sheet over a product in the room. This person is really excited because they think they’ll finally get to see the NeXT computer. Steve takes off the sheet to reveal – a monitor stand. Steve and Co. were so concerned with design at NeXT that a year or two after the company was founded all they had to show was a monitor stand. Now being a person who has a NeXT I can assure you that the monitor stand is indeed the best I’ve see for a CRT monitor, but it’s something he would have never been able to pull off while still at Apple.
The NeXT cube also had many design queues that can be seen in later Apple computers. Every device in the chain of a NeXT computer was connected by one cable. A single power cord went into the machine. A single cable came out of the machine into the monitor. A single cable went from the monitor to the keyboard. and a single cable when from the monitor to the mouse. This would be repeated 10 years later when Apple announced the PowerMac G4 Cube and used the same setup for all the G4 PowerMacs and every iMac until ultimately getting rid of cables altogether with bluetooth.
Even Apple retail was based on NeXT. The glass staircase was first built in the NeXT headquarters. The designer stools and wood floors also got their start at NeXT. Apple’s HQ is actually not very designer. It looks like a well built 90′s office building, but it doesn’t have the high style that the NeXT HQ and even Apple retail stores possess. I guess it was cost prohibitive to rebuilt Apple’s when he came back. Luckily it’s about to change.
There a ton of other examples that I can think of for NeXT influence on the world of technology, but I’ll do just one more example. Being at NeXT forced Steve Jobs to grow up as a business man. It forced him to make decisions to keep his company moving forward. When computer sales didn’t live up to his expectations Steve cut the hardware to focus on software. Steve loved hardware, but he understood that the real value of is company was in it’s software. This is the hard lesson that allowed Steve to engineer the biggest corporate comeback of all time.
Steve was a great man that did many great things. I feel that his most important work was done at a company that most people using the iPhone and iPad have never heard of.