Between Apples: Steve Jobs' NeXT Years

Between Apples: Steve Jobs' NeXT Years

Summary: Before he became the technology CEO who could do no wrong, I knew Steve Jobs during his "gap" years at NeXT Computer.


Most of you reading this knew the Steve Jobs who always had "One more thing" miracle up his sleeve to dazzle Apple's fans and leave Apple's rivals wondering what they could do to keep up with him. Others will recall the Apple of the two Steves and the pre-Mac Apple II series. Me? I knew the Steve Jobs who founded Next Computer in his exile from Apple

I've already written about NeXTStep, the first Unix desktop meant for a mass market, which lives on today in the form of its great-grandson Mac OS X, so I'm not going to rehash the company, its works of modern art that were also computers, and the operating system. Instead, I want to tell you about the Jobs I knew.

In recent years, Jobs was a very private man who ran a paranoid company that didn't have a minute for the press. In technology journalism circles it's become a joke how people chase the merest hint of news about a new Apple product. That wasn't the Jobs I knew.

The Jobs I knew was ever so slightly shaken when Apple, which he had turned into a two-billion dollar company before he'd turned 30, fired him in 1985. The Jobs I knew, from the late 80s to the mid-90s was happy to talk to me and the rest of the press. I like to think he rather liked me since I was one of the few people who took his new company, NeXT; his new PCs, the NeXT Cube and the NeXTStation, and his new operating system, NeXTStep seriously.

I do know that we talked fairly often, and while you could never accuse me of being an Apple fan boy, I too felt the effects of his "reality distortion field." Jobs could believe in something with so much passion, with so much conviction, that if you were near him, you too would believe in his vision.

Over the years I've met many charismatic people. No one, but no one had as much charisma as Jobs when he was on. Not George Clooney, not Bill Clinton, and certainly no one in the technology field even came close.

I've also had the privilege of meeting many brilliant people. Jobs may have been the brightest of them all. Certainly, I can't think of anyone else who combined so much native genius with such a driving work-ethic and that gift of persuasion that could get others to help him create his technology dreams.

I think sometimes people forget that Jobs wasn't just about those wonderful iDevices that we can't get enough of. At the same time he was staring NeXT, he was also founding Pixar, the company that redefined animation, and laying the foundation for the Mac's object-oriented software development environment Cocoa. Any of these things: the founding of Apple, NeXT, Pixar, or making object-oriented software development mainstream, would have been enough to make Jobs a name that would live history. Put it all together and you have a unique individual.

And, now, now Jobs is gone.

It is a very strange feeling to be writing this. I knew I would be writing this earlier this year. The only way Steve Jobs was ever going to step down from Apple's CEO chair was if he were dying. It is very hard for me to reconcile the vibrant, brilliant man I knew in the NeXT years with the sick man who was being kept alive almost by pure will alone for the last years.

Good-bye Steve. I am very glad to have known you. I wish, oh how I wish, that you would have decades more to delight us with your technological marvels.

Related Stories:

Steve Jobs: The NeXT Years

Apple's Steve Jobs has passed away

Steve Jobs' big lesson: 'Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish'

Apple's Steve Jobs: In his own words (video)

Steve Jobs at Apple: A Photo retrospective

Topics: Apps, Apple, CXO, Operating Systems, Software, Software Development, IT Employment

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Well said, including on 'almost on pure will' part

    There is a court transcript on backdating of stock options from years ago, which contains indication that he was actually in great deal of pain, when everyone thought that Jobs was healthy after surgery in 2004 (for some short time he was, but he started to gradually lose weight in 2006 in indication of return of the illness).<br> <br>I suppose Steven knew that this time there are no reak chances to survive -- during all of this "last year of illness", as his family said, yet his thoughts could still fly as high as ever, his plans were going to the future as far as years from now.<br><br>I forgot the exact term, but Foxconns founder in relation to Jobs appropriately used ancient Chinese word that described person with fearless heroic stoicism and devotion to the mission of his/her life.
    • The epitaph should maybe somehow use Jobs' own words

      ???I want to put a ding in the universe???.
  • Um, Pixar?

    George Lucas founded Pixar. Jobs just bought it from him and developed it into the property Disney wanted.
    • There was nothing to found, as there was not such entity before jobs

      @jplatt39: Even "Pixar" name did not exist.

      Lucas established CGI department, which he later wanted to sell off or dissolve.

      So Jobs is founded Pixar, along with Catmull.
  • RE: Between Apples: Steve Jobs' NeXT Years

    The Jobs I remember back in the 1980's was brash, energetic and outspoken. He was an inspiration for me in getting my first personal computer - an Apple ][+ with 48KB of RAM.

    If it wasn't for Job's tenacity, marketing prowess, and ambition the Apple // (and later Macintosh) series of PCs would never have existed. Steve Wozniak had the technical ability to produce two brilliant and elegantly designed personal computers (The Apple I and II) but lacked the networking skills, drive and chutzpah to make his engineering marvels into a profitable venture. That's where Job's came in and excelled.

    For me, Steve Jobs will always be the man that put personal computing on the map and made computers more accessible and affordable to everyone.

    Rest in Peace Steve - the world is indeed a better place thanks to you.
  • Steve Jobs And Open Source

    NeXT chose to use Objective C as their primary programming language. Instead of building the compiler from scratch, they did it as a front end on GCC (the GNU Compiler Collection). But GCC is licensed under the GPL, which means if you release any "derivative works", they must also be made available under the GPL.

    So NeXT had two choices: abandon GCC and rebuild their entire compiler from scratch, or release Objective C as Open Source. They chose the latter course. In fact, Objective C became part of the GCC project, and even today developers on Apple platforms find they are running GCC to compile their Objective C code.
  • RE: Between Apples: Steve Jobs' NeXT Years

    I never used it, but I know programmers that say the NeXT computers were the greatest programming tools ever created.
  • wore my NeXT lapel pin yesterday...

    I still have it... wear it on special occasions...

    I really liked the title: "between apples".

    In the promotional materials that the NeXT salesman gave us, were a couple of VHS tapes showing Steve Jobs explaining what his new desktop computer was capable of doing. The monitor had a microphone, and one could send "voice email".

    Btw, about that microphone... a UNIX sysadmin remotely logged into a closed-room meeting and activated the microphone of a NeXT computer inside that room, and recorded the 40-minute long conversation into a 8-bit sound file, then copied the file to a high-density floppy (2.8 MB) and listen to it later from his home NeXT computer.

    The monitor displayed graphics and text in Display PostScript, and the user did not have to invest in an expensive PostScript printer. All he needed was a dummy laser printer.

    Those machines were awesome.

    Oh, yeah, btw, the synthax of Objective-C might look like C, but the thought and ideas that Brax Cox came up with when designing the language, they came from the Smalltalk programming language. So, it was an easy transition for developers between the two.

    thanks for the memories...
    Er Sorcio
  • NeXTSTEP wasn't the first desktop UNIX.

    The first desktop UNIX was XENIX in 1980. It fell in the cracks due to lack of developer support, but eventually came to be a major influence on the GNU project. I've often wondered how things would have worked out if Microsoft had the balls to promote XENIX and provided the tools to get desktop developers engaged, rather than simply following the path of least resistance with DOS.
    Lester Young