Steve Jobs and the History of Cocoa, Part Twoby Simson Garfinkel and Michael Mahoney, authors of Building Cocoa Applications: A Step-by-Step Guide.
Editor's note: In Part One, Simson Garfinkel and Michael Mahoney explain why Cocoa and Mac OS X aren't nearly as revolutionary as they are evolutionary, beginning with Apple's genesis in the 1970s. Now they pick up the story with the Star Trek project and bring you to the current iteration of Mac OS X.
Star Trek, Be, and a New Hope
NeXT wasn’t the only burgeoning operating system company to have its hopes dashed. Another such company was Apple itself.
In the summer of 1992, a group of 18 engineers -- 14 from Apple, 4 from Novell -- moved into an office in Santa Clara, Calif., on a secret mission: port the Macintosh operating system to Intel-based hardware. The project, dubbed “Star Trek,” was designed to beat back the threat of Microsoft by giving PC makers an easy-to-use operating system they could install on their own hardware.
Better than Windows 3.1 and with the whole suite of Macintosh applications, Star Trek could have beaten Windows 95 to the market by more than a year and turned Apple into the dominant market player.
The Star Trek group pulled off its mission, delivering a working operating system by Oct. 31. But shortly thereafter, the Star Trek group ran into problems. One reason was politics: a key supporter of the project, Apple Vice President Roger Heinen, was hired away by Microsoft. Then Dell Computer told Apple that Dell would not be able to pay any money for Apple’s product, since Dell was already purchasing a copy of Windows for every computer that Dell shipped -- whether or not Windows was actually installed on those systems.
Reportedly, yet another reason Apple got cold feet was that Apple was right in the middle of transitioning from the Motorola 68040 microprocessor to the PowerPC-based systems -- and Star Trek running on an Intel 486-based system ran faster than Macintosh System 7 running on a PowerPC.
Apple killed Star Trek in 1993, just as another operating system project was moving into high gear. Called Copland, this project was to build a next-generation Macintosh operating system that overcame the Mac’s legendary problems with stability and extension conflicts. Apple’s goal was to bring advanced features like memory protection and pre-emptive multitasking to the Macintosh operating system while maintaining a high degree of application compatibility.
Copland sucked tremendous money, resources, and time out of Apple and ultimately delivered … nothing. After years of promises and untold millions (billions?) spent on the project, Apple shelved its attempts at building its own next-generation operating system and started looking outside the company.
Alas, there weren’t a lot of choices for a consumer-grade operating system. After abortive talks with Sun, Apple settled on an innovative, fast, exciting operating system called BeOS from a company called Be, Inc.
Apple reportedly announced it was in serious discussions with Be, which at the time was manufacturing a sleek, blue computer tower equipped with two PowerPC microprocessors. By December 1996 rumors were flying that an Apple buyout of Be was imminent but Apple wasn’t offering Be enough money. Then suddenly, Apple stopped talking to Be and started talking with its founder, Steve Jobs.
Within a few weeks, the terms of the deal were clear. Apple purchased NeXT for $400 million. Apple would use the NeXTSTEP operating system as the basis of Apple’s next-generation Macintosh OS. Jobs, meanwhile, would be hired as a consultant -- a role that quickly evolved to interim CEO.
At the January 1997 Macworld trade show, Jobs addressed the Macintosh faithful for the first time since his ouster 12 years previous. He said his engineers would merge the Macintosh and NeXT operating systems into a unified operating system called “Rhapsody” that would be based on the OpenStep software. Every computer Apple was selling at the time would run this new operating system. And he promised it would be available for purchase in two years.
Getting NeXTSTEP to run on Apple hardware proved to be quite simple -- NeXT’s engineers had a lot of experience in porting their operating system to new hardware platforms -- but getting it to run on Apple’s complete product line proved to be an insurmountable task.
According to insiders, one of the problems was a lack of discipline among Apple’s hardware designers. Because Apple hardware never had to run any operating system other than Apple System 7, many of the interfaces were not particularly clean or even documented. Largely as a result of the move to Mac OS X, Apple now sells far fewer kinds of computers today than it did three years ago.
Nevertheless, schedules slipped. The engineers at Apple tried very hard to make the Rhapsody deadline Jobs had set forth, but things kept cropping up. One of them was Java, which started getting very popular in 1997. NeXTSTEP was written in Objective-C, but in 1997 Java looked like a new language that could eliminate the disparity between the Macintosh operating system and Windows.
So Apple adopted Java whole-hog, and spent countless man years making it so that Rhapsody programs could be written in either Objective-C or Java, just to be safe. Another cause of delay was the underlying difficulty of integrating Macintosh System 7 with NeXTSTEP. Apple’s customers made it clear they would not accept an operating system in which all the old Mac programs ran in a single window of a “virtual Macintosh” -- they wanted the old Mac programs to be first-class players on the Mac desktop. This proved to be a considerably harder task than it first appeared.
A year later, when the original deadline came around, it was clear that the Rhapsody computer system was not ready for prime time. Rather than release a product nobody would like, Apple pulled back and started working on its next “next-generation” operating system.
Aspects of the NeXTSTEP operating system proved unsuitable to the world of Macintosh. The NeXTSTEP Application Kit was given a facelift to become more “Mac-like.” Unable or unwilling to cut a deal with Adobe for Display PostScript, Apple decided to remove it from the operating system and replace it with a next-generation drawing subsystem called Quartz. (The Quartz system uses Adobe’s Portable Document Format as an interchange file format. Nevertheless, Quartz implements PDF without a line of Adobe code -- and thus without a cent of royalties due to Adobe.)
Finally, Apple announced it would bring out one more iteration of the original Macintosh operating system -- OS 9 -- and then begin the transition to the new OS X operating system in the summer of 2001.
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