Like so many others, we are marking the passing of Steve Jobs. But one thing that is often overlooked in the many tributes is his leadership at NeXT.
I first came across NeXT in 1989, as I was starting to explore the world of computer music. It was an ideal machine for its time for music and media work. It had a powerful operating system, it had a programmable DSP, it had SoundKit and MusicKit libraries specifically designed for music programming. And the original NeXT Cube was quite a striking physical object.
I had even written a couple of letters and formal research proposals to NeXT and directly to Steve Jobs to support my incipient research work in high school. Of course, nothing came of it, but it was an interesting exercise in learning how to write a proposal. And my opportunities to try out the system (via various institutions) game me a sense of what a more ideal computing environment could be like. As a music and computer-science student at Yale, I did in fact have the opportunity to do work on NeXT systems, but by that point the computing world, and the computer-music world, were moving on.
Apple acquired NeXT in late 1996. In the process, they reacquired Steve Jobs, whose return marked the Apple that we know today, and also the NeXTSTEP operating system, which lives on to this day as the foundation of Mac OSX. Every contemporary MacBook and MacPro is in many ways a late model NeXT computer. Indeed, it was only after the introduction of OSX that I purchased my first Mac (an iBook) in 2003 and gradually shifted into being one of those annoyingly obsessive Mac/iPhone/iPad users. All of my music and photography work is done on these devices, as are all posts to this blog and updates to our Twitter and Facebook streams. Even my day job is intimately connected to the technology from Apple. We associate these technologies and designs with Steve Jobs, but much of it can be traced back to what he and others pioneered at NeXT.