The long, NeXT and crazy-talk of Apple's management shakeup

The long, NeXT and crazy-talk of Apple's management shakeup

Summary: There are many theories over the recent management shakeup at Apple and the departure of Scott Forstall. However, the NeXT connections to Apple's software development management remain.


There's a special skill in watching the audience at Apple launch events; one that was found in the corps of intelligence analysts who would peer intently at grainy photos of May Day Parades in the Soviet Union during an earlier age. Who was sitting where, next to whom and who was out of the picture.

Such was my feeling watching the webcast of the iPad mini/iMac 2012 event last week. For example, the camera kept focusing on Bertrand Serlet, the former senior vice president of software engineering who left Apple last year. He's reportedly woking on a cloud computing startup with a number of Apple ex-pats.

A week after the launch, the word comes down that Scott Forstall, senior vice president for iOS Software will be leaving, along with other changes that Apple said will "increase collaboration" between groups and divisions (something that we all would have assumed had been going on all along). The word is that he was asked to go. Craig Federighi will become the new operating system czar, in charge of both OS X and iOS.

There are many opinions and rumors about Forstall's departure, some easy to believe and others not so much.

Jessica Lessin at the Wall Street Journal reported that Forstall refused to fall on his sword for the problems with Apple Maps, which continues to be a red mark on the new iOS 6. She said there was a continuing problem with Forstall's style.

Mr. Forstall's departure came after mounting tension with members of Apple's executive ranks. For years, senior executives had complained that he wasn't cooperative and showed off his close relationship with Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs.

This could have happened.

However, the reason hardest to swallow came from Scott Wingfield and Nick Bilton at the New York Times.

Mr. Forstall was a staunch believer in a type of user interface, skeuomorphic design, which tries to imitate artifacts and textures in real life. Most of Apple's built-in applications for iOS use skeuomorphic design, including imitating thread of a leather binder in the Game Center application and a wooden bookshelf feel in the newsstand application. Mr. Jobs was also a proponent of skeuomorphic design; he had a leather texture added to apps that mimicked the seats on his private jet. Yet most other executives, specifically Mr. Ive, have always believed that these artifacts looked outdated and that user interface design on the computer had reached a point where skeuomorph was no longer necessary.

No vice president of a computer company leaves over a disagreement of how objects in an interface are presented to users, even when that design philosphy's name is the perfect Scrabble word.

Yes, we can believe that there were personality issues between Jony Ive, who is now in charge of both hardware industrial design and human interface design. Perhaps it was that latter upward move by Ive that precipitated Forstall's leaving.

Instead, it is easier for me to believe that this week's management shakeup is the kind that comes when any new boss takes charge. Yes, CEO Tim Cook isn't so new. But with Steve Jobs gone for a while, it appears that the somewhat new boss puts in a team that he can trust and get along with. Forstall appears to be the odd man out.

What is interesting is that the NeXT connection at the highest circles of Apple's technology management still exists. Around 14 years ago, they were all over the Cupertino campus in charge of hardware and software: Avadis "Avie" Tevanian was in charge of software; Jon Rubinstein with hardware; Sina Tamaddon, applications; Bud Tribble, software technology; and Serlet, to name a just a few. Some remain, many have moved on.

Like Forstall, his replacement, Craig Federighi, is one of the programmers who came over to Apple in 1998 with the acquisition of NeXT Software. However, he left Apple to be the chief technology officer at Ariba, the "networked economy" company and returned a few years ago. No doubt, his experience and expertise in data sharing, collaboration, and cloud computing services were interesting to Apple's management team.

Topics: Apple, iOS, Operating Systems, Software, Software Development

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  • Interesting point about Bertrand

    When I started reading the first paragraph, Bertrand popped into my mind. I remember reading a thread on Macrumors and someone showed a pic of Bertrand in the audience. I am not surprised if Tim reached out to Bertrand to return and help Craig with the work load. Only difference this time, he will probably be working under Craig.
    • Another theory

      Seeing that Serlet is working at a cloud computing startup, IF he does come back maybe he'll be in charge of iCloud engineering.
      Shameer Mulji
  • NeXT hey?

    Let me recall. How successful was NeXT? Oh that's right, NeXT was what Steve Jobs did before coming back to Apple and using FreeBSD to do what neither he nor Apple could do: create a viable, modern operating system.

    Anyone got concerns about Apple's future?
    • Time for something more modern than Unix from Apple?

      There is only so far you can go with Unix.

      The proprietary mini-computer operating systems I used back in the 1980s were already a long way ahead of Unix (and Windows) in terms of their memory management - you wouldn't have needed Java or .NET on those machines.
      • I agree

        VMS, for instance, on which NT is modeled. Dave Cutler, the architect of Windows NT is also the architect of VMS. Till Windows 2000, that was a real performance OS. With the advent of XP, it tried to become a consumer OS by including portions from Win 98 for compatibility. I personally feel Windows 2000 was Microsoft's best OS ever, a real true lean mean OS.
        • Nope

          Same NT operating system is used in Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 now. Not just 5.0 version but 7.1.

          What is different, is that Windows isn't so monolithic and windows functions are not bundled and integrated to huge libraries and API's so it has gone trough huge weight loss in "project MinWin" where they slimmed NT operating system a lot to fit to fit few dozen megabyte of RAM and removed all decencies to upper level stack of Windows.
          • @ Fri13

            Isn't Windows 8 kernel still a hybrid kernel with the IPC and I/O still being performed in Kernel mode? It does not appear that the nature of the kernel (as in trying to be a micro-kernel while doing most stuff as a monolithic kernel) of Windows as seen starting with Win 2000 has changed.

            What has changed with each version since Win Vista, Win Server 2008, Win 7 and Win 8 is the fact the core components that are not tied to the GUI service layer and other services layers have reduced in the code design allowing Windows to offer in their own words - a command line only - OS as Linux does hopefully with Win Server 2012.

            I thought the real improvement to Win8/WinRT was the introduction of the Windows Runtime layer, the improved software service library - write your apps targeting the Intel CPU and PC ARM CPU and Phone ARM CPU in one go.

            But I am not a Win 8 developer yet. And these are the gist of my readings.
    • NeXT

      The foundation of MacOS X and Cocoa, etc. IS what NeXT developed and is what brought Apple back from the brink (by merging it with MacOS). NeXT also developed the "black box" computer than ran their OS, and that was not so successful (though it was quite striking visually). Despite its eventual failure in the marketplace, that black box NeXT computer happens to be the machine on which the WWW was created.
      • More on NeXTSTEP

        NeXTSTEP was a very good operating system. So good, in fact that this youtube video which shows the similarities between Mac OSX and NeXTSTEP is quite striking:

        Also, for those of us who write code using Apple's Xcode and Objective C, the Objects used for Mac development are all prefixed with the letters "NS" (which stands for NeXTSTEP).

        NSString *myNewString;

        NeXTSTEP became what we call Mac OS X today, folks.
    • Further Refreshment

      NeXT was also built on FreeBSD/MACH. NeXT didn't succeed as a company, but the technology succeeded when Apple paid Jobs to have his company take over failing Apple.

      I'm sure someone has concerns about Apple's future. I don't.
    • Nope

      Actually, Steve Jobs used Linux operating system as reference when making XNU operating system at Apple. The Apple project was MkLinux and its purpose was to make Linux from monolithic operating system as server-client operating system running by Mach microkernel.

      When Apple got enough reference of working Unix like operating system, they went and created XNU (acronym of "XNU is Not Unix") by using Mach microkernel, networking and filesystem functions from FreeBSD as servers (FreeBSD is monolithic OS like Linux) and made own I/O Kit for everything else.

      XNU is open source and free software operating system, accepted by OSI and FSF. Anyone can download whole operating system source code from Apple FTP servers if wanted.

      So even Apple fans needs to thank that Linux existed at that time.
      • Why do you keep writing this garbage?!?

        And why is it that I have to chase you people down all over ZDNET posting this crap? Seriously, if you don't know the material, why do you post masquerading as if you do?
        First, Linus released his first attempt at a Unix-like OS, later dubbed Linux, in 1991. NeXT released their first OS preview of NeXTSTEP in 1988. Unless you are implying that Jobs had a time machine hidden away in a DeLorean....
        And before you go on about this being about XNU, not NeXTSTEP, XNU IS NeXTSTEP.
        Nor is OSX freeBSD. OSX is the proprietary fork of Darwin, which is the full OS fork of XNU, which uses a Mach microkernal with freeBSD extensions. freBSD is NOT the microkernel. Period.
        Not that it matters, as, AGAIN, Apple contributed the VAST majority of the current freeBSD codebase, so for all intents and purposes, freeBSD is Apple's baby at this point.
        But case in point of your ignorance:
        "When Apple got enough reference of working Unix like operating system, they went and created XNU...."
        Um, no. Apple was still using MacOS System 6!!!! XNU was created by NeXT, again, in 1988, a full THREE years before Linux released his first kernel.
        • Nope

          OS X is result what came from Next. XNU is result what Apple did after Jobs wanted from MkLinux project to get new OS.

 (Hate to link to it but maybe you have enough reading skills with it).

          Mac System 6 is totally different beast than OS X. Totally different operating system in it than what XNU is in OS X. NextStep is totally different beast than OS X, but with same ideas and functions but both have/had different operating system in them.

          Linux was hugely important for Apple to make XNU possible.
          • Speaking of learning how to read

            Your link does NOT confirm your point. In fact, it disqualifies it:

            "Unlike the much later Mac OS X, MkLinux was specifically meant to take full advantage of the Mach microkernel. OS X [instead] takes the NeXTSTEP approach and runs a hybrid system where the BSD kernel is grafted on top of Mach running in a single kernel address space."

            MKLinux has NOTHING to do with OSX. Since you appear to know NOTHING about Unix, Linux us a AT&T Sys V fork of the original Unix concept. OSX is the COMPLETELY different Berkeley Standard Distribution (BSD) fork of Unix. They are COMPLETELY different beasts. Yes. Apple made a Linux distro back in the 90s. It has NOTHING to do with OSX, which came from NeXT.

            Seriously, you don't know what you're talking about.
    • So

      Are you sayin that a unix based OS is not modern?
      • Don't know

        I think he is mistaking User Interface (UI) to operating system (OS) and believes that UI needs to change so it would look different so OS is the blame what needs to change.

        How much have computers changed in few years suddenly? Don't they just calculate in binary complex things? Have we suddenly got a quantum computers in our houses? :D
      • In essence yes

        I've used Unix for many years (mainly BSD and HP/UX) and it seemed a big step backwards from the proprietary minicomputer operating systems that I had been using previously (Windows did too by the way).

        I think the main issue is that the minicomputer operating system I used was built to be multi-user from the ground up. This meant that, for example, a program image would only be loaded once, no matter how many users were using that program. Every user got their own program pointer and data area, but the program was only there once in memory. This way you could run 32 users on 512Kb (yes Kb) of memory.

        You can emulate this under Unix, but you have to do it yourself.

        This is why nowadays I prefer to use an RDBMS and ignore the operating system as far as possible. RDBMSs like SQL Server and Oracle work on the same basis as the "old" minicomputer operating systems and make every effort to share code between multiple users wherever possible. They do this invisibly without you having to bother about it.

        Regarding administration and user-friendliness the minicomputer system was way, way ahead of Unix, having a completely menu driven user interface and 100% compatibility between the scripting language and the user interface parameters for all commands (far better than Windows too in this respect).

        Once you're locked into the Unix (or Windows) mindset of course it is very, very difficult to escape.
        • As an afterword

          I didn't know what a memory leak was until I started using Unix and Windows.

          I'd already been programming for 4 years by then.
        • minicomputer system?!?

          How convenient that you neglect to name ANY actual OS, so that people might respond. FYI, Unix was also a minicomputer OS, as was VMS, which eventually served as a foundation for Win NT.
  • Forstall being kept on as an "advisor" to Cook...

    ... But I have a feeling there won't be much "advising" going on at all. It's a power play to keep him from jumping ship to the Googles and Samsungs of the world all too quickly.

    The skeuomorphic crap DOES need to go. It's the only aspect of iOS that instantly plunges me into 1994 era Windows 3x interface elements of various programs.

    Jobs and Forstall were very close, and Forstall apparently made it no secret that he was gunning for Jobs' role eventually even as Jobs himself was battling illness (perhaps this in itself is Jobs-like behavior). If you squint really hard, you can almost see a re-play of Apple renaissance part 1, with Forstall returning at some point in the future when the Jobs-era momentum Apple's been riding finally peters out. And yes, it CAN happen.