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A Salesman, not an Innovator

Since Steve Jobs died, I've heard a lot of people say that he was a marketing genius, but nothing more. Looking back at what he achieved at NeXT, I think that's easy to refute. Even if Steve Jobs had no technical input on any of these projects — which, given his background as an engineer and the small size of NeXT at the time, seems unlikely — the vision required to back even one of these projects is considerable.

In November 1995 Bill Gates published his book The Road Ahead, with barely a mention of the Internet at all. By this point, NeXT had already been shipping an email application in the standard operating system install, had sold the platform on which the first web browser was developed, and was four months away from shipping a web application framework.

If you can find a copy of OPENSTEP 4 for i486, you can still run it in a modern virtual machine with a tiny bit of tweaking. You may find yourself surprised by how similar it is to a modern desktop operating system, from the kernel on through the development environment and to the user experience.

NeXT tried to create the closest approximation of Steve Jobs' vision that was possible with the technology of the day. Today, we're a lot closer to that vision, but we still have a long way to go. I meet people fairly often who first became interested in programming as a result of their exposure to NeXT workstations at university and caught a glimpse of what computing should be like. Even without Steve Jobs around to push us in the right direction, I'm confident that enough people have glimpsed the future he imagined to help shape the next thirty years of computing history into something that he would be proud to see.

Editor's Note: If you're interested in reading more about NeXT, you'll probably like one of David's other articles, The Technology NeXT Gave the World.

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