Some of the most revealing video of Steve Jobs can be seen when he was pitching NeXT Computer--a cutting-edge workstation that flopped but contained the seeds for successful Mac designs to come.
I was formally introduced to NeXT when Jobs visited the offices of InfoWorld in San Mateo, Calif.--where I worked as a reporter in the early 1990s. Surprisingly, not many people attended his session. (Or maybe it's not that surprising since Jobs and NeXT were perceived at that time to be on the skids.)
The small audience (and it was a relatively small conference room, to boot) didn't seem to faze Jobs, though. He screamed for 30 minutes or so--that's how I remember it--about how great the NeXTSTEP operating system was, implying that only idiots wouldn't be able to see this.
The pricey NeXT computer--which had debuted at more than $6,000--had fallen on hard times by then. And the cutting-edge factory in Fremont, Calif.--a reflection of the machine it was making--was on its last legs.
Big players like IBM and Sun Microsystems had initially bought into the software but the hardware was eschewed (or ignored) largely by the public. Microsoft's CEO Bill Gates didn't help matters when he said the computer was "crap," according to Walter Isaacson's biography "Steve Jobs." And when asked by Jobs to write software for it, Gates said, "Develop for it? I'll piss on it," according to InfoWorld, which Isaacson quotes in his book.
I remember first seeing NeXT Computers in Tokyo (Nishi-Shinjuku). They were sold in Canon stores right next to Macs and Canon printers. I thoroughly disagree with Gates' assessment. To me, the NeXT computer was not only a fresh take on the workstation but the desktop computer--albeit very high end.
Needless to say, Jobs explains this better than anyone. Listen to Jobs proselytize NeXT in a video beginning at the 3:50 minute mark. He prefaces these comments by aptly describing workstations from companies like Sun and IBM as being "not for mere mortals."
In short, he wanted to do for workstations what he did for Macs: make computers--in this case very powerful ones--more palatable/accessible to users and thereby create a new market. He called it the "professional" workstation market.
But back to my original point. The NeXT computer design was the precursor to today's Macs. A clean, well-honed industrial design that is immediately recognizable as being different. And, lest we forget, Mac OS X is built on NeXT's OpenStep.
Apple purchased NeXT in 1996 for $429 million and Jobs went back to Apple. The rest is history.
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