NeXT, give Steve a little credit for the Web

The news reports and tributes following Steve Jobs’ passing this week have been dramatic, both in quantity and in degree of regard and respect. Today in the Wall Street Journal’s Steve Jobs: The Secular Prophet there is an extreme example, with allusion to Socrates, the Buddha and Emerson, and comparison with Martin Luther King Jr.

My memory of Steve is tainted by my feeble attempts in telephone negotiations with him in 1992. NeXT was developing NeXTSTEP 486 for the Dell 450 DE/2 DGX, and both companies wanted a more formal relationship. Steve wanted large sales volume commitments, $2.5M worth if memory serves, and I knew that we at Dell didn’t want to make any volume commitment. In trying to keep the conversation going, I was making excuses, and Steve accurately but unkindly challenged my excuses. There are other positive personal memories, of Steve demoing NeXTSTEP 486 on stage on a DGX, and of face to face meetings regarding some large sales opportunities, but memories of him mocking my words still linger. [Update February 16, 2015 – See]

Since his death, I’ve seen hardly any positive discussion of NeXT, yet what Steve did with that company was so important, with regard to Apple products, but also with the beginnings of the World Wide Web. (The only significant post-mortem NeXT-oriented report I’ve seen is Jonathan Schwartz’ Realigning the Stars.)

It is perhaps exaggeration, but not wild exaggeration to say that Mac OS X is NeXTSTEP adapted to have the Mac OS 9 look and feel. iOS internals, in turn, are derived from OS X. At least from a software perspective, all of the prominent Apple products, current Macs, the iPhone and the iPad, trace back to Steve and his team at NeXT.

It is no secret that the first Web server was built by Tim Berners-Lee on a NeXT machine at CERN. And that the first Web browser was also built on that machine. [See 20 Years Ago Today: The First Website Is PublishedWelcome to, and World Wide Web.] NeXTcube used for first Web server and browser


What if there had been no NeXT, no NeXTcube and no NeXTSTEP? Would there have been a World Wide Web? It is easy to say that Berners-Lee might have used a SPARCstation and SunOS instead, and the Web would still have thrived. But in 1991, there were Gopher, USENET, and other alternatives to the Web. [Update August 2, 2017 – see Long Live Gopher: The Techies Keeping the Text-Driven Internet Alive.] Who knows what would have happened? Without Steve Jobs, the Web as we know it might have never come to be. So give him some credit for the Web while you’re thinking of him, an exceptional person who gave us so much.

Update October 5, 2013: Walt Mossberg tweeted link to this obituary:

Update October 12, 2015: It is interesting to read all the details in Without Dennis Ritchie, there would be no Steve Jobs, but I suspect Dennis would have cringed at the title. I only met Dennis once, walked up to him after he’d given a talk at a conference, but he seemed so self-effacing then and at other times. The title is both biologically inaccurate (obviously) but also technically — Jobs’ early products at Apple didn’t use C or have obvious UNIX influences, e.g., Mac OS initially was very Pascal oriented — see A Technical History of Apple’s Operating Systems. Dennis Ritchie: The Shoulders Steve Jobs Stood On seems more apropos, but not so detailed.

Update May 17, 2019: Looking around some more, I also found this: January 22, 1992, Steve Jobs demos NeXTSTEP 3.0 on Dell 450DGX (“JAWS”)

Glenn Henry and I were there to represent Dell. Steve declared that JAWS would become an industry standard, but PCI became the broader standard. Steve didn’t identify the demo machine as Dell 450DGX, but the SmartVU at 1:44:54 gives it away:
Dell 450DGX

Update July 1, 2019:
koko: exploring NEXTSTEP 486
koko: reviving timbl’s WorldWideWeb browser
                                on NEXTSTEP 486 on JAWS

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