A Short History of Objective-C

Hansen Hsu
Apr 24, 2017 · 7 min read

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Objective-C’s early history and later evolution at NeXT are not well known, and there are very few available sources. At CHM, we recently acquired an essay on the “History of Objective-C,” co-written by Brad Cox and Steve Naroff, submitted to the third History of Programming Languages Conference in 2007, but never published. I have also conducted an oral history with Cox, the language’s initial creator, and with Blaine Garst, a NeXT engineer who later contributed to Objective-C. These sources, in addition to an earlier interview I conducted with Naroff, are the basis for the following history.

The 1981 issue of Byte magazine featured Xerox’s Smalltalk, a groundbreaking graphical environment and programming language that introduced object-oriented programming to a large audience.
First licensed by Step-stone to NeXT for the company’s NEXTSTEP operating system, Objective-C would later power Apple’s OS X and iOS operating systems.

Notes

¹ According to Tim Cook in his iPhone 7 launch event on September 7, 2016.

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Hansen Hsu

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Hansen Hsu is Curator of the Center for Software History at the Computer History Museum, a former Apple Cocoa software engineer, and Cornell STS Ph.D. graduate.

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Sharing stories, ideas, and insights from the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley.