Today in Apple’s history: a phone call sows the seeds of OS X.

November 25, 1996 The mid-level manager at NeXT is contacting Apple about the possibility of Cupertino licensing NeXT’s OpenStep operating system.

Garrett L. Rice’s communication with Ellen Hancock, Apple’s chief technology officer, is the first formal step in a long process. This eventually leads to Apple buying NeXT, creating OS X, and Steve Jobs returning home to the company he co-founded.

Copeland’s failure

Apple’s decision to consider licensing NeXT began with the failure of Apple’s Copland project. That next-generation operating system never went beyond the beta version released for about 50 Mac developers.

By 1996, Apple was losing money. The company desperately needed something that would allow it to compete with Microsoft’s dominant Windows 95 operating system. It was obvious that licensing Mac OS to third-party vendors would not be the magic source of money Apple had hoped for.

Apple CEO Gil Amelio told Mac followers that the company would unveil its new operating system strategy at Macworld Expo in January 1997. However, within Apple, it was clearly a matter of buying time rather than completing the finer points of the existing strategy. showing the public.

To be or not to be

One of the options Apple had on the table was the purchase of the BeOS operating system developed by the charismatic former Mac CEO Jean-Louis Gassée. (Gassée now writes a wonderfully insightful note for Monday each week.)

BeOS debuted in October 1995 on the zippy (and now highly sought after) BeBox computer. The first modern computer operating system written in C ++, it boasted impressive multimedia capabilities. Features included symmetric multiprocessing, preventive multitasking, pervasive multithreading, and a custom 64-bit log file system known as BFS.

At the time, many people thought it would fit Apple well. If nothing else, BeOS shared the philosophy of clear and uncluttered design that characterized Mac OS.

Gassée reportedly tried to strike a tough deal with Apple, with Be’s investors retaining $ 200 million. Apple drew the line and paid more than $ 125 million. (“Thank God [Apple didn’t buy BeOS] because I hated Apple’s management, ”Gassée said later.)

Next steps

Another realistic option that Apple had was the NeXT. The company was Jobs ’main focus when he was outside of Apple (although his other company, Pixar, made him a billionaire). NeXT was ahead of its time in software and hardware. But the company has never fully fulfilled its potential.

After leaving the hardware business in 1993, NeXT focused entirely on software until 1996. OpenStep was an open source version of NeXT’s NeXTSTEP operating system. The object-oriented multi-task operating system was based on Unix, which later became the basis for OS X and, later, macOS.

By November 1996, Jobs was talking to Amelia again (though only recently). Jobs advised Apple CEO that Be is not the right choice for the company. A phone call from NeXT’s Rice on November 25 presented an option that Jobs must have wanted all along: for Apple to gain the rights to put a version of OpenStep on Macs.

In early December, Jobs visited Apple headquarters for the first time since his overthrow. The deal would include both NeXT and Jobs – the best decision Apple has made in years.

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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