NeXTSTEP, It’s on your iPhone

In the years between Apple and Apple, Steve Jobs created a company that created iOS.

That’s a gross summary.

Steve Jobs died last year. Most obituaries mentioned his hiatus company. Yet you still didn’t know what it was in the title of this post.  NeXT, the company, was founded in 1988.  I bought one (#16469) of their initial computers in 1990. I finally got a job that was using it in 1992. I loved it.

The Unix-underneath, Objective-C-on-top operating system with forward technologies and rich development tool sets was a wonder to work on, and a joy in many business custom development environments I found myself in the following years: WilTel (The Woodlands), Pan Canadian Petroleum (Calgary), Fannie Mae (Washington).

NeXTSTEP morphed into OpenStep, and the huge issue of cross-platform porting was mastered by NeXT.  Soon Apple hired Jobs back, and with him the OS.  I was personally injured when they skinned it and put on a Macintosh body suit, but it was the right business decision.

They convinced all the Macintosh “operating system” users (i’m a Unix/real OS bigot) to convert over to the Unix-OS, OpenStep became OS X.  I missed my pegged dock. I was annoyed by the constant main menu.  I wanted to tear off menus. But I could feel the soul of the Old Lady underneath.

Then they basically ported the operating system they run on 15 pound towers, whirring with fans to run on a tiny touch screen you could use as a phone.  It’s still mostly there. Most of it’s been rewritten more than once. (That’s what NeXT/Apple does so well!)

When the iPhone SDK was released I started working with it.  The user interface toolkit was reimplemented from scratch. Many of the issues we’d fed back to NeXT developers in the early 90s were reflected in design and implementation changes. (There were, of course, new issues.  That’s what happens with software.)

I have to touch many parts of technology. Most of them are less elegant than iOS. But you’ve got to do it.

I credit the elegance of design and implementation of NeXTSTEP with the fact that it is basically running on your phone. Welcome to my favorite operating system of the 90s.