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Steve Jobs’ story has many fascinating chapters, including the story of NeXTSTEP, the operating system that proved to be the first step toward OS X and iOS.

After Jobs parted ways with Apple in 1985, he founded NeXT Inc. and set out to outdo the Macintosh. He hired a talented group of developers, including Avie Tevanian, who had worked on the Mach microkernel at Carnegie Mellon University, and Bud Tribble, part of the original Macintosh design team. Using the UNIX platform, the team built the NeXT Computer, also known as the “Cube,” and on Sept. 18, 1989, shipped Version 1.0 of the innovative Unix-based operating system NeXTSTEP.

NeXTSTEP lays the foundation for what was to come

The New York Times called the NeXTSTEP/Cube combination the “Macintosh on steroids,” foreshadowing the boost the operating system ultimately gave to Apple. The NeXTSTEP operating system offered several features with benefits you’ll recognize from your MacBook or iPhone:

  • Protected memory, which meant the crashing of one app did not crash an entire machine.
  • Preemptive multitasking, allowing multiple tasks to keep running even when one application used most resources.
  • Daemon-based services, making it possible for apps to run in the background while you focused on other tasks.

From a user-interface perspective, NeXTSTEP offered features such a dock, which kept the icons for often-used apps close at hand, and a column-based file browser. NeXTSTEP was also an early foray into object-oriented programming, making it easier for developers to code.

NeXTSTEP was not a huge commercial success, but innovative thinkers took note — including Tim Berners-Lee, who used NeXT to develop the World Wide Web at CERN in Switzerland.

On December 20, 1996, Apple famously announced its acquisition of NeXT as part of an effort to inject some innovation into its lagging product line. As part of the deal, Jobs came back to Apple.

Photo: Hanul via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons 2.0.

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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