As I'm reading through the outpouring of comments about Steve Jobs, I'm reminded of a time that a team of IDC analysts visited Steve Jobs at NeXT computer. I must admit that it was a rather odd meeting.
The IDC analysts wanted to learn more about Steve's plans for the company, its hardware and its software. In each case, it was clear that Steve was planning to address the market in ways very different from other suppliers of UNIX workstations and servers. If you don't recall, NeXT Computer developed a rather clever UNIX high end workstation. If my memory serves me, the entry price of the NeXT Computer was nearly $7,000, much higher than competitive devices. The NeXT workstation was packaged as a black cube. It included an unusual optical read/write drive rather than a more traditional disk. The optical drive was both more expensive than traditional media and performed much more slowly. The IDC analysts peppered Steve with questions about this choice. Steve was convinced that the optical drive was a benefit rather than an inhibitor to sales.
The OPENSTEP UNIX-based operating system was based upon the Mach kernel and used elements of the BSD UNIX operating system. Later it was called NeXSTEP. It was offered with a pretty graphical user interface and an object-oriented development system. The IDC analysts questioned the closed, single-vendor development model and asked why Steve thought developers would flock to such a development environment. He was convinced that object-oriented development would become the standard. Today's Mac OS, by the way, is based upon similar technology.
What I remember most about the experience was that Steve sat cross-legged on the conference room table and looked down at the IDC analysts. Although I had the opportunity to speak with executives of IBM, DEC, Oracle, HP and many other suppliers, this was the first time an executive had positioned himself this way for a conversation.
I also remember that Steve appeared to ignore the approach other UNIX workstation suppliers were using and struck out on his own path. He also appeared to be totally uninterested in supply side or demand side research that indicated that his approach was not going to be popular or successful. The analysts went away with the conclusion that NeXT was not long for this earth. In a way the analysts were right. The company existed only from 1998 to 1990 and was purchased by Apple. In another way, the analysts were wrong. Even though NeXT didn't live for long, elements of NeXT's approach can still be seen in today's Macs, iPhones and iPads.