Memories of Steve Jobs

Memories of Steve Jobs

Summary: A recollection about a meeting with Steve Jobs.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware

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.

Topics: Apple, Hardware


Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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  • To be correct, Jobs got rid of hardware business in 1993 and since then ...

    ... Next (Software) finally became profitable. It would survive (though not easily) even if Apple would not need OS.
    • RE: Memories of Steve Jobs

      @DeRSSS Yep, Dell used to use NeXT software to run their website in the early days.
  • In my opinion

    Jobs wasn't as great an innovator as he was a CEO. He seemed to be able get a viewpoint and get the rest of the company on board with it. He would make mistakes, but never let them slow him down, he would make corrections and keep going. I don't know how much he had to do with Apple's marketing, which seemed to be other-worldly in its effect (or should I say affect?).
  • NeXTStep First, OpenStep Later

    Remember his original plan was to sell an "academic workstation"--he even had a panel of university folk to advise him on the design. He was quite adamant that the product would only be targeted at the academic market.

    The original Cube had some remarkable specs for the time: Motorola's fastest 680x0 processors, an AT&T Digital Signal Processor chip, and expansion cards via "NuBus" (also adopted by Apple for its Mac II, but the NeXT allowed for cards up to 11 inches tall).

    But it failed to sell, even with the help of those academics advising him on the design. So he was forced to try to seek a wider market for his hardware. Still without success.

    So NeXtStep was ported to the more widespread x86 architecture, and became OpenStep. Still it didn't sell. NeXT was forced to stop selling hardware to cut costs.

    At which point it was acquired by Apple. And so two losing companies came together. But because of Steve Jobs, the rest is history.
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