The product was a complete failure (but you are probably reading this post via its software right now).
In the spring of 1990 my company was hired to help with the launch of NeXTWORLD magazine. I was pretty psyched to have Steve Jobs’ new company as a client.
Steve had been fired/quit from Apple in 1985, and famously was so pissed-off that he sold all of his Apple stock except one single share that he kept as a souvenir.
He then took that cash and founded a new company, NeXT, to build the perfect next-generation computer (intent on showing Apple’s board just how wrong they had been). My office was in Palo Alto, just a few blocks from his house, and we’d run into each other occasionally at the new Whole Foods that opened at Emerson and Homer, where he’d go for his fresh vegan juice blends.
When it finally launched, the NeXT computer was a work of art. A solid black cube running a lightning-fast 25 MHz CPU, a magneto-optical drive, and built-in ethernet. But most impressive of all was the new operating system, NeXTSTEP. Object-oriented and multi-tasking, it was based on Unix and had power and flexibility that went far beyond any other desktop operating system on the market.
But the price of the machine was too high. A base price of $6,500 put the computer out of the range of most consumers, and even higher education — where Steve thought they could get solid adoption — never embraced it as widely as he hoped. By 1993 NeXT dropped out of the hardware business to just focus on the NeXTSTEP OS and other software products.
That, of course, is when the big plot twist happened. A plot twist so perfect that that not even Aaron Sorkin could have thought it up. In 1996, Apple, realizing that their aging OS 9 was on its last legs, paid $429 million to buy NeXT for its operating system, returning a triumphant Steve back to Cupertino. The rest, as they say, is history.
But you want a quick rundown of the impact of short life of NeXT Computer? Well, to start with, Tim Berners-Lee used a NeXT Computer in 1990 to create the first Web browser and first Web server, paving the way for the Internet as we know it today. John Carmack wrote Doom on a NeXT Computer, creating an entire computer game franchise that lives on today. And NeXT developed WebObjects, the first web application framework, and the first to produce dynamic web pages (until then HTML had been all static pages).
Want some more impact? Well, if you’re on a Mac right now then you are using the NeXTSTEP operating system, which Apple re-branded as Mac OS X (the X being roman numeral ten, since it replaced the Mac OS 9). Or maybe you’re reading this on an iPhone, in which case iOS is also built on the XNU kernel from NeXTSTEP. Same with Apple’s tvOS and watchOS. They are all built on NeXTSTEP.
So while much about NeXT has been lost to history (I wish I still had my black cube, but I tossed it out long ago), its legacy lives on inside of many of the leading-edge devices we use today.
My company’s contract to produce the magazine? Well, NeXTWORLD magazine was shut down after just four volumes. Maybe I’ve got some copies somewhere in the basement….
Meanwhile, the 20-minute video below is a pretty good look at Steve’s style with his team during that era, if you are interested.