Linked by Eugenia Loli on Tue 15th Jul 2003 18:26 UTC
OpenStep, GNUstep Every so often I have this urge (maybe more of an itch) to spend hours and hours on the web trying to find information about old, obsolete computers of the past. I am intrigued by the XEROX Alto and Star ('70s-'82), the Apple Lisa ('83) and, of course, CRAYs ('75-ish). These were revolutionary machines indeed, they wrote golden pages in the history of computing. In the end of the 1980s, a new innovative product was ready to ship, created by a bunch of people coming from Apple: The NeXT platform.
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by Anonymous on Tue 15th Jul 2003 18:44 UTC

Very nicely written.

Great Stuff.
by Jason Walsh on Tue 15th Jul 2003 18:46 UTC

Great Stuff, glad yo see this article. Here's a few links I'd likt to throw into the mix...

Introduction to NextSTEP


The NeXT Step for Mac OS X.
Part 1

Part 2

Getting to the Source of Mac OS X

There's plenty more, better ones even, but that's just ftom my Bookmarks bar. Apologies for posting my own (old) writing.


by Richard Fillion on Tue 15th Jul 2003 18:47 UTC

I'm jealous. If only i had 330$USD to blow. Why didyou choose the slab as opposed to the cube though? The cubes are so cool. What kind of expansion slots do they have again? Something proprietary right?

I've heard a lot of people call Display Postscript very slow, you just mention OmniWeb being slow, but could you notice any other slow downs graphically?

by Jason Walsh on Tue 15th Jul 2003 18:48 UTC


Ignore the NeXT STEP FOR MAC OS X Articles.

They weren't the ones which I meant to post and have nothing to do with NeXTSTEP. I'll try and dig out the correct articles later.

Again, sorry.

Caveat emptor.

RE: OK...
by Eugenia on Tue 15th Jul 2003 18:50 UTC

> you just mention OmniWeb being slow, but could you notice any other slow downs graphically?

Moving big windows to the screen is also slow, it looks like it is running unaccelerated (this is not the case of course). There is no wireframe moving that I could find to turn it on. But overall, the machine is very usable. Only OmniWeb is slow, and it is not slow because of the graphics, it is slow because its engine is just not optimized to render web pages.

I love nextstep
by mini-me on Tue 15th Jul 2003 18:54 UTC

I have a copy of it runnign on my x86 box ;)

The name of the game...
by Sebastian N. on Tue 15th Jul 2003 18:57 UTC

Actually the API specification was named OpenStep. NeXT's implementation was called OPENSTEP {for Mach OS| ENTERPRISE for NT}.

4.2 is still running on one of my machines.

OpenStep for MacOS
by Sebastian N. on Tue 15th Jul 2003 19:00 UTC

Oh, and by the way: There never was an OpenStep implementation for the classic MacOS. What you probably mean is Rhapsody, which became MacOS X Server 1.0 and had the classic MacOS UI, but under the hood was nothing but OPENSTEP for Mach OS running on PPC.

I still have OPENSTEP 4.2
by zephc on Tue 15th Jul 2003 19:01 UTC

I had fun with it, but I don't even had a PC anymore. If anyone is interested, I'd be willing to part with it for 100-200 (though I admit you got to be a pretty hardcore hobbyist to buy it for that ;) ). It runs on PCs (better be careful, you need some older P1 or P2-era HW)

It has the install CD, developer CD, and the database development stuff, plus manuals for installing, programming, etc, and it all comes in a good-sized box and weighs a heft amount with all the literature inside.

Best offer wins ;)

RE: OpenStep for MacOS
by zephc on Tue 15th Jul 2003 19:04 UTC

Oh dang I wish sometimes Apple stayed with the Rhapsody UI, which was sort of like OS9, but somewhat darker, and felt heftier. And it was a trip to run an OS with the Mac interface on my PC (so no BlueBox for me) ;)

I also had the YellowBox dev tools, which was interesting to play around on in Windoze.

No big deal
by Anonymous on Tue 15th Jul 2003 19:05 UTC

Looks like Amiga. Same motorola based chipset faster/cheaper than peers using same hardware plus emulated them all. GUI before Microshaft. Came with 16bit digital sound and video out. And I could afford. Commodore had a lot of first but not first with corporate corruption. Still boot my 33mhz Amiga 2000 with a whopping 16meg ram faster than this XP 733mhz. I like NeXT, Atari, Amiga..etc but monopoly in computers work the same as in telecomm. ATT, Verizon whomever supposed to divest only to get back as monopoly and give less service. New guys are internet service providers. Direcway (Hughes) blatantly show ads about internet speed and my modems faster ...aaaah but gotta give it to them the fine print garantees nothing except penalty if you cancel service. So computer OSes happened the same way the biggest is not the best by far. Saw Microsoft team up with IBM only to get a GUI and use unfair practices to put small guys out of business. Now look what we have. NeXT had this 10 years ago. Without all the crashes. The newbies to Information Technology(the latest rehash name for same thing = computer stuff) won't know what they could have had in productivity and creativity. Not to mention spending less time fixing and more time using the tool to develop better treatments, games, architecture etc. Im glad some old school left. I can still run circles around any XP multigigahertz PC. They just don't get it. And don't let me buy a "new" one. But Im grateful because I make my livelyhood for over 10 years fixing the problems MS creates. Imagine wold of NeXT, Mac, Amiga, Atari computer...we would have to do more inspiring jobs.

Re: zephic
by Sebastian N. on Tue 15th Jul 2003 19:05 UTC

Not true. I have it running on a PIII and it works flawlessly on an Athlon XP. When you have the latest patches from Apple installed it works with any AGP graphics card that supports VESA. I can use my DVD-ROM drive, my CDRW drive (even burning works). The only drawbacks are that the largest partition size is 8GB and you have to put in an ancient sound card to get sound.

NeXTSTEP on NeXT Hardware.
by Rob Blessin on Tue 15th Jul 2003 19:09 UTC

Very well written article Eugenia and thanks for mentioning us as the source for you your NeXT! We thought we would let everyone know that if you would like to own a really cool rare NeXT computer, you have found the place as we have several hundred in stock. We have complete NeXT workstation slabs starting at just $99.95 , Complete Cubes start at $299, upgrades available. We also have lots of common through rare NeXT stuff for sale and also are implementing a NeXT museum, we love NeXT! Also longtime NeXT users we have plenty of spare parts for your good old NeXT and Intel hardware ; loads of 3rd party software, books, manuals and peripherals at very reasonable prices in all grades! Check out our site, linked in the article If you have questions or our looking for something specific about NeXT feel free to drop us an email at, Best regards Rob Blessin President BHI

Favorite NeXT online resource
by Hank on Tue 15th Jul 2003 19:11 UTC

Here is a site I've been visiting daily, especially their forums. Incidently, they were the ones that published that NeXT e-zine last week.

RE: Sebastian N
by zephc on Tue 15th Jul 2003 19:16 UTC

Really? that's pretty cool, I didn't know if it would have problems with modern HW or not... there's your answer I guess ;) I'm really surprised about the level of HW that's supported! Go NeXT! ... err, Go Apple!

I Remember ...
by Anonymous on Tue 15th Jul 2003 19:21 UTC

Back in the early 90's I attended the University of Connecticut. The book store had a whole bunch on NeXT machines. I was great to tinker with them. Later, I got a job at the newly created Help Desk in the Computer Center. While being shown around on my first day there I inquired if they had any NeXT machines. My boss pointed to a dark corner in the mainframe room. There was a lonely NeXT Cube sitting disconnected in a pile. I never saw it again after that. Talk about a vision of the future...

by JSplice on Tue 15th Jul 2003 19:23 UTC

Me and a friend at school messed around with a NeXT Station Turbo Color this past semester, which we found thrown in the corner of the UNIX lab. It used to belong to a professor there (well, still did belong to him..good thing we checked before we attempted to format the drive). NeXTStep is such an awesome OS. I particularly like the File Viwer. I've used Windowmaker for linux a bunch, but it just can't compare. We tried installing it on an x86 but had trouble using the beta IDE drivers. ANyhow, I wish I had money to buy a Mac...maybe once I graduate I'll finance a new G5.

v nextstep
by rowel on Tue 15th Jul 2003 19:51 UTC
Great Article
by anonymous - bert on Tue 15th Jul 2003 20:03 UTC

Keep up the good work!

So, basically
by Anonymous on Tue 15th Jul 2003 20:13 UTC

if NeXT had a word processor that supported Microsoft word documents - I wouldn't need this noisy dual xeon workstation to do my C development.

My experiences with Next
by Anton Klotz on Tue 15th Jul 2003 20:19 UTC

About 4 years ago a friend of mine told me that he is able to get a Next Station. At that time I was already waiting for MacOSX and i thought it would be cool to see what Apple engineers are working on. So I got a Nextstation B&W one. Unfortunatelly the HD was damaged, so I searched for a source for Next hardware and was lucky enough to find a company located in my city, which had really sold me a HD with NextStep on it. But when I build that HD inside the Next and switched on, this sounded like a jet is flying next to my house. But the HD worked. I could play around with the software, surf the net, get in touch with the cool apps. But not longer than 15 minutes, because of the noise, after that period I got headaches :-). My favourite app was Mail. I could record voice mails, a feature that I still cannot find in widely used mail programs!!

After some time I could no longer stand the noise, so I sold the computer to someone who collects old computers just because of the great design and great history. He does not switch it on, so he has no noise.

That's my story. Now I own a Mac and I still wait for the moment when I have time to get in touch with Cocoa.


by ChrisL on Tue 15th Jul 2003 20:19 UTC

That was a very nice history of NeXT. I really enjoyed reading it and I hope to see more articles of this caliber posted here.

by jtd on Tue 15th Jul 2003 20:22 UTC

I always wanted to know what NeXT people think about GnuStep?

cOol, very cool
by spaceboy29 on Tue 15th Jul 2003 20:22 UTC

Eugenia, you mentioned that Steve founded next after leaving his own company Apple. Do you think he had Next OS planned to be produced by Apple before he left? Interesting, I was just wondering.

by hugh jeego on Tue 15th Jul 2003 20:25 UTC

Based on the icon, I have to assume that MacOS X has gone back in time and rebranded NeXT and OpenStep as versions of MacOS X.


by Tony B on Tue 15th Jul 2003 20:27 UTC

I was introduced to NeXT in 1996 when I went to work for an ISP called digitalNATION. Everyone had a NeXT workstation in addition to any other computer, such as a Mac of Windows PC(some only used NeXT). The entire operation ran on NeXTSTEP 3.3. Mail was NeXT Mail, which in 1993 was able to drag and drop and do all of the features that Microsoft "innovated" with Outlook many years later. When Windows was 3.1, NeXTSTEP was a swift graphical object-oriented environment that still beats Linux desktops. It's amazing what they were able to do with only 16 MB RAM (most of the slabs could only be busted out to 32 or 64 MB total worth of very expensive 30 pin SIMMS). Window movement was fast, especially considering it was a 68040 processor (and someones only a 68030) running at 25 or 33 MHz (the turbo models).

They never crashed and were virtually trouble free. It's amazing that NeXTMAIL on that hardware was as fast as Outlook is on modern hardware, while providing most of the same features. Unfortunately, OmniWeb was unusably slow, the only slow thing about that platform, I think because of the DisplayPostscript conversions.

The keyboard was one of my favorite parts. They certainly don't make them like they used it. It has such a nice tactile feel, they lasted forever and were a dream to use.

by Nicolas Roard on Tue 15th Jul 2003 20:34 UTC

Excuse me, but why do you mention that GNUstep only implements 75% of the API ? that's totally untrue. Most (if not all) OpenStep widgets and classes are implemented. The only widgets missing are some like NSDrawers, which aren't OpenStep but MacOS X, and even for them, somebody started to add them (but frankly, NSDrawers don't fit well with NeXT UI and anyway it's really easy with the OO framework to just put what was in the drawer in a panel). Check this page

It's true that there is "always something to do" on GNUstep, but it's enoughly complete to be able to port MacOS X or OpenStep applications (,, NeXTGo, etc.)

For more informations and a presentation about NeXT,OpenStep, GNUstep and Objective-C programming, you could read this article : ... More docs are available on .

By the way, NeXT didn't created Objective-C, Brad Cox did it before NeXT. It was "just" the OO language choosen by NeXT (because it was the most really OO "C" language).

Jobs the visionary...
by Boshon on Tue 15th Jul 2003 21:01 UTC

An easy to use Unix...NeXT.
Unix on the desktop...NeXT.
Unix as the future...NeXT.

What everyone Linux person wants is what Jobs already delivered...and he knew it was the future over a decade ago.

Sadly, the past 10 years seems to have been taken up with making Job's vision an affordable reality. Where are the new revolutionaries? What has been missing is bringing _radical_ new ideas to the desktop space.

All we see now are tweaks, distributions of the same operating system with a different look, copying of what Microsoft does, etc. Yuck! How about something the brings the future to us, even if it is very slow on today's computers!!! Jobs is unique and quite possibly alone in his ability to hit on one great idea after another.

Perhaps there are no revolutionaries left and we now only have evolutionaries who work in large communities fixing bugs and moving things along like Christian monks of old who slowly but surely re-wrote old texts, re-wrote them in different ways with beautiful fonts, and elaborate art and in different languages but never wrote anything new!!!

I would love to see Jobs leave Apple again and start up a new company. He seems to always start a new revolution when he does that (Apple the startup - with Woz then NeXT then Pixar). He's best when he's working from the ground up.

Oh well, tomorrow we'll probably read about another Linux distribution or someone doing their own BeOS because they can't escape the past 10 years and are incapable of thinking out of the box.

RE:cOol, very cool
by a.ameri on Tue 15th Jul 2003 21:40 UTC

I Once read an autobiagraphy by John Sculley, former CEO of Apple and Pepsi and the man which made Steve Jobs leave Apple in 1985. I remember in it Sculley mentioned that at the time of Steve's departure, Apple was already thinking about using Unix as it's foundation for it's next generation OS. Actualy if I am not mistaking, they did make a OS based on Unix and it was called A/UX. I don't know why they didn't continue developong it though, and switched back to legacy Macintosh.
PS: I was born on the day that Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985 :-)

The NeXT computer was in fact a time travel machine
by Paul on Tue 15th Jul 2003 21:49 UTC

I brought my NeXTStation in 1991. It was totaly, absolutly AMAZING. It was like a time travel machine that let you go in the future. All in it was so revolutionary/ahead of time it is impossible to correctly describe the feeling. And there was tons of great apps like Photoshop, Improve, Mathematica etc. Well, we are now twelves years latter, and SUN, HP and al. are still stuck with completely unfriendly, ugly and dumb User Interface/Desktop applications/Desktop Development Platform, for their Unixes. Incredible when you know NeXT was much better in this regard twelves years ago than they are now. The guys at SUN who decided to phase-out their just born OpenStep desktop environment were severely lacking vision.

I had to go from NeXT to PC from 1997 to 2000 and it was a real joy to go back to NeXT when Apple shipped Mac OS X. Same wonderful taste, great development framework, improved Objective-C, super sexy hardware. I can't wait buying a G5, playing with panther etc.

The somewhat sad part of the story is that all this fun will diseapear the day Jobs decide to quit. So far, he seems to be the only one able to put this level of quality, vision and fun in computing.

RE: NeXT's partners
by Gil Bates on Tue 15th Jul 2003 22:06 UTC

Interesting that someone mentioned that Objective-C was appropriated by Jobs and not actually a NeXT invention.

Another big partner that is very much a part of the NeXT story was a company called "Object Design", IIRC. They were a pioneer in the OO database field and Jobs/NeXT was very closely associated with them and their software for quite a while. I think they ended up being bought out by BEA or somebody, but they were intended to be a part of NeXT "revolution" in a big way and were a fairly high-profile company at the time.

Holy moley! Object Design lives!
by Gil Bates on Tue 15th Jul 2003 22:11 UTC

Here is their website for their latest incarnation...

apple in the mid 80's
by J on Tue 15th Jul 2003 22:21 UTC

from what i've read apple was indeed trying to decide what to do with the mac os in the mid 80's but i don't think unix was really a credible option for them. all types of good things have come from ex-apple people that are pissed apple fired them or cancelled their project (palm pilots, nexstep, beos, tivo, etc.). apple's big plan in the late 80's was called 'pink' or 'taligent' and it was supposed to be a completely object-oriented OS co-developed with IBM. IBM instead put their work into OS/2 with the help of microsoft then got spanked when MS took their ball and went home, making WinNT. taligent/pink never got off the ground, and i think the only engineering that made it to the public from that was OpenDoc (which was too ahead of it's time to catch on). apple then decided to do system 7 and live off that for a while (i think that was early '91) while they went to work on a new kernel and an OS called copeland. copeland would be system 8 but it no matter how much money they threw at it it never materialized. some of it's GUI goodies did make it into System 8 & 9 but they were all the same codebase as 7, which had legacy code back to 6 and beyond. yes, if you launch classic right now there is code in there from the mid-80's. that's both frightening and impressive.

anyways, history lesson is over. great article.

Some points
by dysprosia on Tue 15th Jul 2003 22:45 UTC

Capitalization: the API is OpenStep. The implementations, ie the software is OPENSTEP.

(they since then got back to the much uglier CDE for some weird reason ;)
Some say Sun only took on OpenStep to get one up on MS's Cairo OO. Once Sun had started Java, they had no real use for OpenStep any more.

One weird quirk of the system, though, is the fact that while the mouse has 2 buttons, I only found a single application that actually uses the second button and does something with it...
You can actually assign the 2nd mouse button to pop up the program menu. Have a look in, under the mouse section.

Nice article however, though!

Second Mouse Button in NEXTSTEP
by JK on Tue 15th Jul 2003 22:53 UTC

Nice article, but I've got a couple of nitpicks.

Porting NEXTSTEP to x86 a couple of years before Windows 3.1 wouldn't have done NeXT much good, there were hardly any PCs that could have run it. People complained about having to upgrade their PCs to run Windows 3.1, yet NEXTSTEP had requirements higher than Windows 95. Even if you had a fast 486 with at least 16Mb RAM, very few PCs had the graphics capabilities needed for DPS and a GUI designed for a high resolution display. NeXT would have had to cut NEXTSTEP down and strip out most of it's features to get it running on the average early 90s PC.

Also, the reason the second mouse button is hardly ever used by NEXTSTEP apps is that you can use it to pop up the main menubar. This let's you hide the main menubar to save screen space, very useful if you're trying to use NeXTSTEP on a laptop.

wonder whats going o with...
by Evan on Tue 15th Jul 2003 22:56 UTC

simply gnustep at this point.

Damnit, stop making me interested in old systems eug.

NeXT people at Apple
by Paul on Tue 15th Jul 2003 22:59 UTC

Since its return at Apple, it seems that the NeXT team has been re-built by Jobs. Most of the old guard is here, including people that never left (like Serlet, Tevanian, Heinen, Ozer, Kane etc.) and many that are back like Rubinstein (who was responsible of the hardware at NeXT and is now in the same role at Apple), J.M. Hullot the father of Interface Builder and a big part of NEXTSTEP (he was CTO of NeXT) which is also back at Apple, Bud Tribble one of member of the initial NeXT team, who the became VP at SUN and founded Eazel before going back to Apple.

SUN droped OpenStep because they sought Java would do it
by Paul on Tue 15th Jul 2003 23:14 UTC

At Object Expo Paris in 1995 SUN was showing a pre-version of their NEO Environment, based on OpenStep integrated in Solaris. But they were already switching strategies. Eric Mahe from SUN told me that with Java and the newly released Java Beans initiative they would soon have all OpenStep had, including the Interface Builder capacities. Alas they were wrong and have completely lost the battle for a good UNIX desktop (and OS X won). One of the consequence is that people still program Solaris using quite nightmarish technologies compared to the OpenStep toolkit.

by Chris Perkins on Tue 15th Jul 2003 23:57 UTC

I was hoping Blackhole Inc. would remain semi-secret until
XMas so I could get my wife to by me a Next cube..

Great Article
by Negvibe on Wed 16th Jul 2003 00:13 UTC

I love reading about these old systems and this was nice to read. Plenty of great screenshots too.

Great view of old systems:

A look at old GUI's in history (screen shots)

Good Article....
by Ralf. on Wed 16th Jul 2003 00:17 UTC

Yeah, good article and a nice NeXT machine you got, Eugenia. Even in the screenshots of that old OS you can see that it is the father of OS X.
Many goot ui ideas were in there. After all I am really glad that NeXT took over Apple...errr - or was it the other way? ;-)


i'm totally ignorant of next
by Anonymous on Wed 16th Jul 2003 00:25 UTC

nice article.

nice screen caps.

A few small corrections and additions
by publiclook on Wed 16th Jul 2003 00:31 UTC

A few small corrections and additions to a greatly appreciated article:

Interface Builder was included in NeXTstep 0.8 in 1988

Objective-C was created by Brad Cox of Stepstone. NeXT used it because it is/was the "most dynamic" of object oriented extensions to C. It is also simple, clean, open, and powerful. C++ was very primative in 1988 and it was already overly complex.

NeXT computers were much less expensive than comparable Apple hardware at the time, and NeXTstep was much more capable. The NeXT cube also includes a digital signal processor that was described as a "super computer on a chip."

The original NeXT cube was bundled with the WriteNow word processor, Mathmatica, Common Lisp, Digital signal processing software, professional grade SoundKit and MusicKit, Webster's dictionary and thesaurus, Oxford book of quotations, complete works of Shakespeare, and much more.

The DisplayPostscript window system of NeXTstep is STILL much faster than MacOS X's Quartz, but quartz produces higher quality output on screen.

Versions of NeXTstep included many features that are STILL not in Mac OS X but may be in future Mac releases. These include integrated FAX from any print panel, IndexingKit, SoundKit, MusicKit, 3DKit, DBKit and later Enterprise Objects Framework, NeXTtime (oo multi-media), ubiquitous Display Postscript which provided WYSIWYG, EPS as the native vector graphics format, transparent compositing, and so much more...

GNUstep is much more complete than the article suggests. As a long time contributor to the project and as the current maintainer of Gorm (the InterfaceBuilder application for GNUstep) I can say that the OpenStep API as defined is fully implemented except for a few classes which are almost never used.

GNUstep also has many of the extensions that Mac OS X has added to OpenStep over the years. For more information please see and

Thanks, GJC

What is GNUstep missing?
by Gil Bates on Wed 16th Jul 2003 01:21 UTC

Is it just the Display PostScript implementation (or substitute) that isn't available yet, or more than that?

NeXT = Gold... and GNUstep
by RevAaron on Wed 16th Jul 2003 01:22 UTC

I've been lucky enough to use NeXT stuff for a bunch of years. It was past the prime of NeXT, but before the OS X we know now- right around when Apple bought NeXT and released the first DR of Rhapsody.

I was a junior in high school, and I bought a NeXT cube for $250. In hindsight, I really wish I could've bought a Turbo color station- I could've got one for the same price. But, like some others have talked about in here, the "cool factor" of the cube was hard to dismiss.

Damn, that machine was loud. Really loud. The guy I bought the cube from was cool enough to give me a reeeeally long NeXT monitor cable (30 ft- they used to go on eBay for like $100!), so I could keep the cube in a closet. Since everything went through the monitor cable- like Apple's current ADC- nothing else had to be longer to accomodate this setup. For a while, I ended up using my NeXT cube- 25 MHz, 28 MB of RAM, running NeXTSTEP 3.3- a lot more than I did my brand-new K6-2 running Linux.

It was awesome when 1999 rolled around- and Apple had an offer for those running NS and OS to bring we NeXTies up to speed for Y2K compatability. For absolutely no cost, I got a copy of OpenStep 4.2 for black hardware, OS 4.2 for x86, OS 4.2 for Windows, the Developer tools (which cost $5000 in the days of NeXT!), Enterprise Objects Framework and some other goodies. With that, the NeXT box was mothballed, and I started running OpenStep 4.2 on my PC. That owned. With a new video card (Number 9 Revolution 3D), I had a really fast OpenStep PC... OpenStep kicked all the asses of Windows, Mac OS, BeOS (although it was close) and especially Linux and *BSD.

...and then, I got a copy of Rhapsody DR2. It was always fun to take that PC to a LAN party, and show everyone my PC running Mac OS. ;) Rhapsody was an awesome OS- call me nuts, but I'd rather be running Rhapsody/OS X Server than the OS X we have today.' That was especially true a few years ago, but things are getting better all the time.

It's kind of funny, yet sad... My 25 MHz black hardware running NS 3.3 felt about as fast as my 500 MHz iBook running OS X 10.2.6. Not everything, of course. Running a Mandelbrot viewer will always be slower on the 25 MHz '040, given the same parameters. But so much felt similar.

What do NeXT people thing about GNUstep? It rules! It'd be nice if more people signed on as developers, because it really is a valid project. I am a big unsure about the future of GNUstep. With GTK+ and Qt competing on both sides, who is going to use GNUstep? If I didn't have OS X as an option, I would be probably be using a GNUstep machine. But then again, if OS X never happened, there may be a lot more interest in GNUstep. With OS X, the majority of those who would have been interested in GNUstep can simply get the finished product, along with a nice development environment, and a pretty big userbase for the software these developers would write using the OpenStep/Cocoa/GNUstep.

Fond memories
by Adam Perry on Wed 16th Jul 2003 01:38 UTC

We had a NeXT cube in the basement of the Computer Science labs at the University of Virginia when I attended. I think it must of been donated and serve no particular purpose because I seemed to get access to it at will. It had a great software bundle including Write Now, the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and Digital Webster. Improv from Lotus was a really cool but largely forgotten spreadsheet for NeXTStep.

All in all, I think the GUI is still one of the cleanest and most elegant I've ever seen. The hardware was absolutely beautiful too - solid black magnesium cases (and apparently a bear to work with). I'm glad the OS lives on through MacOS X.

Re: What is GNUstep missing?
by Nicolas Roard on Wed 16th Jul 2003 02:15 UTC

Is it just the Display PostScript implementation (or substitute) that isn't available yet, or more than that?

No... I believe the lack of a good DPS implementation was one of the reason the GNUstep project progressed slowly at one point...

But now, it's nicely redesigned in 3 parts : 1) base (FoundationKit) 2) gui (AppKit) and 3) back (the graphic backend). Currently, there are 2 quite well supported backends : the (still) default xlib backend and the newer (and imho vastly superior) art backend. The art backend uses libart for all the drawing and freefont for handling the fonts (yet it works on X11 of course). It's very nice because it handles graphic compositing nicely and everything is antialiased. There are also, "in works", a backend using ghostview, and a Windows backend. What's good now is that GNUstep isn't tied at all to a backend. A directfb backend for example wouldn't be too hard to code I believe.

So what's needed for GNUstep ? well, mostly, coders :-) to 1) fix the remaining bugs 2) develop applications using the framework

I have NextStep 3.3 for HP-PA
by Anonymous on Wed 16th Jul 2003 02:32 UTC

This PA-RISC system blows away any old 680x0 cube system, and I bought it for $125! Plus, I can use any old monitor, keyboard, and mouse! I want to get a good laser printer and use it as my print shop with Illustrator...

XP vs. NeXT
by mythought on Wed 16th Jul 2003 02:35 UTC

And it took MS 15 odd years to catch up with NeXT. Or have they?

RE: apple in the mid 80's
by anonymous205 on Wed 16th Jul 2003 03:04 UTC

[from what i've read apple was indeed trying to decide what to do with the mac os in the mid 80's but i don't think unix was really a credible option for them.]

Apple did have a pretty good unix in the 80's called a/ux. I think if they had stuck with it, we would have had something like the current OSX ten years ago, before the change to PowerPC cpus. Then with the PPC hardware change, Apple would have owned 20% to 30% of the marketshare today.

[apple's big plan in the late 80's was called 'pink' or 'taligent' and it was supposed to be a completely object-oriented OS co-developed with IBM.]

I think all of this collaboration with IBM was after the AIM alliance in 1991. a/ux was available 3 years before then. In another unix-related connection, I saw a prototype of something called Macintosh Application Services (MAS) running on IBM workstations, under AIX, in 1993, but it was never marketed by IBM or by Apple. This was basically the functionality of Classic under the current OS X.

'040s Love 'em
by hylas on Wed 16th Jul 2003 06:23 UTC

Great article, links. Nice machines huh?
I have that same weakness for the older genius level OSs also.
Some of those OS programmers just blow me away.

Xr + GNUstep?
by a farm boy on Wed 16th Jul 2003 07:57 UTC

A GPU improvement to the xlib backend (like
would turn GNUstep which base on a postscript nature
display system into an incredible monster. Wonder if this
will make GNU/Linux a superior system than OS X in a day.
I can't wait to dream that happen.

by tigr on Wed 16th Jul 2003 08:36 UTC

Doom, the first serious FPS that rocked the world of gaming back then also developed on Next AFAIK. Or their map editor was writtn for it or something. But a part of the dev was Next based.

Re: A few small corrections and additions
by whaaa on Wed 16th Jul 2003 08:38 UTC

A few minor corrections too ;) :

"The NeXT cube also includes a digital signal processor that was described as a "super computer on a chip." "

That wasn't the moto 56K DSP on NeXT's mobos, but rather the i860 on the NeXTDimension board. Intel marketroids had that slogan for the 80860 "a cray on a chip" or "a supercomputer on a chip" (hint about who was buffling, cray still sells supers... intel stopped shipping 860s long ago)

"The original NeXT cube was bundled with the WriteNow word processor, Mathmatica, Common Lisp,...."

I believe those were the academic "bookstore" NeXTstations. I do not think NeXT sold those bundles to the normal public.

"Versions of NeXTstep included many features that are STILL not in Mac OS X but may be in future Mac releases. These include integrated FAX from any print panel, IndexingKit, SoundKit, MusicKit, 3DKit, DBKit and later Enterprise Objects Framework, NeXTtime (oo multi-media),..."

Also I may add something that OS X does not come with, and that NeXTStep did (and why I still use it): Renderman!!!! ;) That is right, NeXTStep comes with full renderman -or as full as it was in the mid 90s-

RE: apple in the mid 80's
by whaaa on Wed 16th Jul 2003 08:43 UTC

"In another unix-related connection, I saw a prototype of something called Macintosh Application Services (MAS) running on IBM workstations, under AIX, in 1993, but it was never marketed by IBM or by Apple. "

I think that was MAE : Macintosh Application Environment. Which run under HPsUX and Solaris (maybe AIX), which allowed to run a classic environment on risc workstations. It was indeed marketed by apple during the mid 90s.

A lot of the pink/Taligent stuff many people seem to be placing in the late 80s did indeed happend during the 90s. And it was as a reaction from IBM/Apple to M$, after IBM got burned with OS2 (not before).

Macintosh Application Environment
by Hanul on Wed 16th Jul 2003 09:02 UTC

I always wondered what happened to the MAE. The last version I know of is 3.0 (late 1996) and it emulated MacOS 7.5.3 under HP-UX and Solaris. You got a Finder window on your CDE desktop and could virtually run a lot of the 68k based Mac apps. You could even network with AppleTalk and MacTCP. In general it was the same idea like SoftPC, VMware or VirtualPC, only for the Mac environment. A always wanted to buy a copy, but I never see one on ebay. Maybe parts of the software found its way into MacOS X's classic environment. You can find a white paper about the MAE here: Screenshots (japanese website):

what about the DSP ?
by djame on Wed 16th Jul 2003 11:39 UTC

your article is great but you didn't mention the fact that the next cube has the first DSP processor available (I think it was the DSP56001 from Motorola, the same in the Atari falcon and which can make the falcon able to play some divx and mp3, great for a 11 years machine.
The next was heavily used for Signal processing (it's still found in the IRCAM ( and I believe still used). It was the first machine able to send and receive voice mal. It's still used in some linguistic departement in Jussieu (french university, Paris 7) (, search for L.A.D.L) for its voice analisys capabilities.
It was one of the first bi proc (68030 and later 68040) with DSP available.

The first time I saw one running and analisys my voice (thourgh phonological cutting) I was really, really impressed..


by Christopher Culver on Wed 16th Jul 2003 12:55 UTC

I stumbled onto GNUstep a few months ago. The NeXT interface had always fascinated me, and I was getting a little tired of GNOME. I was thrilled to see that GNUstep application ran with a very small memory footprint (compare GS's GWorkspace to Nautilus, or TalkSoup to XChat), and use mostly GNUstep applications nowadays. GNUMail is a solid, powerful MUA, and is hands down the best X terminal I've ever used.

From the programmer's viewpoint, the OpenStep API is incredible. It is easy to learn, simple, and includes all of the advantages of object-oriented programming without the headaches that languages like C++ bring. I started work on a character map application and had it finished within a couple of weeks of part-time screwing around. Charmap 0.1 will be released next week. I think I might get started on an MP3 and Ogg player.

And for those who say GNUstep isn't mature as far as its implementation of OpenStep goes, you're wrong. When I'm programming with GNUstep, I use Sun's massive OpenStep guide. I've yet to find anything in there that isn't usable in GNUstep.

Christopher Culver

by Joe User on Wed 16th Jul 2003 13:03 UTC

We heavily used DigiScript on OpenStep and still use it sometimes if Acrobat Distiller has difficulties to make PDF from PS. With DigiScript you have complete control of PS files which where normally not meant to be modified after making. DigiScript is not that cheap though. I think it was about $10000. But the computer with OpenStep came with it. There was a version for Windows NT too. It was sometimes the only way to make a book of someones PS file...

NextStep vs Gnome/KDE
by walterbyrd on Wed 16th Jul 2003 13:13 UTC

Why is it that 15 years ago, NextStep could run *fast* on a 33mhz motorola, but today Gnome and KDE are unacceptably slow on 400mhz pentium?

GNUStep on Windows
by Hank on Wed 16th Jul 2003 13:34 UTC

I need to try GNUStep on Linux, because GNUStep on Windows is really not ready for development. The project is very up front with that, which I appreciate. Any statistics on the ability to develop and deploy commercial applications with GNUStep on Linux or *nix?

by Anonymous on Wed 16th Jul 2003 13:42 UTC

How would an NEXT system compare to an SGI system back in the day (in both terms of hardware and OS)?

by Nicolas Roard on Wed 16th Jul 2003 14:14 UTC

For the hardware, I think a SGI system could be better (I am still extremely impressed by the reactivity of my Indigo2)... what was the SGI workstation at the time of the NeXT slab color ?

For the software, it's really simple : NeXT wins, hands off. It was an OS 20 years ahead of his time... and a pure joy to programm with :-)

GNUstep commercial applications
by Nicolas Roard on Wed 16th Jul 2003 14:23 UTC

Well, to my knowledge, nobody sells GNUstep *gui* applications. But there are a few companies which uses the GNUstep's Foundation, GNUstepWeb (a WebObject implementation) and GDL2 (an EOF implementation) in commercial products. Pantomime (the mail framework of GNUMail) is used in commercial product too. The recently announced uses for example some parts of GNUstep, and plans to fully uses it in the future.

In fact, with GNUstep supporters, there are two trends : some people just want a NeXT-like desktop/os based on GNUstep, while others believes more in the adoption of GNUstep's technologies in servers backends, using GNUstepWeb, base, and GDL2. Both of them seems interessting :-)
in the near term, people pushing for a better adoption as a "server" technology will perhaps grows quicker. But I'm hoping for a growing adoption as a desktop solution...

achilles heel...
by stunji on Wed 16th Jul 2003 14:25 UTC

NeXT was cool, extremely cool. And so is OSX. But Mac has the same fatal flaw that NeXT did-- they're just too expensive! Steve Jobs likes to wax poetic about bring "whizz-bang" technology to the "masses," but his idea of masses all drive SUVs and earn at least $100,000 a year. At least Apple aren't building their cases out of pure magnesium (::ahem::)

by Justin Cutietta on Wed 16th Jul 2003 14:36 UTC

It's a new, OPENSTEP like OS, based off of the Linux kernel, but not your usual Linux distro. It is very much like NeXTSTEP, but with X11 instead of DPS. There is going to be a new live-cd release in the next month or so, and work is progressing to make 1.0 soon. There is a lot to be done, and many apps have not yet been started.

by Hank on Wed 16th Jul 2003 14:57 UTC

NeXT's price stratosphere was significantly higher than present day Mac's, even without inflation. In 1988 when the original NeXT computer was released, it cost $10,000 a piece, or $6000 for college students. Yes it included a lot of things, including a laser printer, however that price is simply too high. It's extremely high pricing is more comparable to the Lisa than to modern day Macs. With the slabs their prices started getting more reasonable, but were still not in the desktop range, however their target market were workstations not desktops at the time.

Objective-C by Brad J. Cox
by Luc on Wed 16th Jul 2003 15:03 UTC

Actually, it wasn't "NeXT Engineers [who] also created a brand new language to leverage the fantastic-looking GUI: Objective C", but it was Brad J. Cox who designed the language in the early 80's. He and Tom Love then started the StepStone Corporation which developed the first Objective-C compiler in 1986. In 1988 it was adopted as the development language for NeXTstep and was made a part of the GNU gcc compiler in 1992.

by nicholas Blachford on Wed 16th Jul 2003 15:40 UTC

"The NeXT cube also includes a digital signal processor that was described as a "super computer on a chip." "

That wasn't the moto 56K DSP on NeXT's mobos, but rather the i860 on the NeXTDimension board. Intel marketroids had that slogan for the 80860 "a cray on a chip" or "a supercomputer on a chip" (hint about who was buffling, cray still sells supers... intel stopped shipping 860s long ago)

The reason behind that slogan is IIRC the Cray 1 could do 66 MegaFlops and the i860 was the first (or one of the first) CPU to achieve this performance level, It also had a vector unit for 3D graphics. Pretty impressive given Intel's other project at the time was the 80486.

Ironically despite being quite a potent processor for it's day NeXT used it as a graphics co-processor!

Sun didn't convert to OpenStep
by Riot Nrrrd™ on Wed 16th Jul 2003 15:55 UTC

"This [OpenStep] specification gave the power to Sun to switch their SunOS from CDE to OpenStep for a while (they since then got back to the much uglier CDE for some weird reason ;) ."

Hogwash. Sun never switched from CDE to OpenStep - OpenStep was offered as a sidecar product. CDE always was (and still is - ugh) the default Window System after it took over from the OpenWindows desktop environment.

(Other than that minor quibble, nice article. NeXTs were nice toys.)

by Siebharinn on Wed 16th Jul 2003 16:05 UTC

DOOM was originally written on Nextstep. The game, level editor, and associated tools were all Nextstep first. The game itself was cross platform and periodically recompiled on DOS.
With Quake, id paid for a port of DJGPP so that they could cross-compile DOS binaries on their NS boxes. Again, the level editors and tools were NS apps. You can still download the Quake level editor from id (although their download page appears to be under redesign at the moment).
After Quake, Carmack wanted to start looking at OpenGL, which isn't available in Nextstep, so he moved everything over to NT.
Reading an article about DOOM development in the first issue of Game Developer magazine is what convinced me to buy Nextstep for Intel.

InterfaceBuilder was there from the beginning
by Zoom on Wed 16th Jul 2003 16:27 UTC

The article mentions that InterfaceBuilder appeared with NeXTSTEP 2.x.
Not so. It was there already in NeXTSTEP 0.9, which was the earliest version that I had my hands on. It was very much a key part of the basic design of the whole system.

I started using the first generation NeXT cube in 1989 and attended the NeXT developer camp.

NeXTcube was my first personal computer that I bought with my own $3000 at a "BusinessLand fire sale." I still have it, along with a few NeXTstation Turbo Colors.

It's been a long time since then. MacOS X is turning out to be a very nice system. One of the greatest things about MacOS X, keeping the tradition of the original NeXT ideals, is that a superb development tools are bundled or free for the asking.

MusicKit and SndKit
by Leigh Smith on Wed 16th Jul 2003 17:14 UTC

Since MusicKit and SoundKit were mentioned in a comment, I should point out the MusicKit and SoundKit (now SndKit) were open sourced (well before this became a common tactic) around 1993 and have been running on all OpenStep variants (Rhapsody, Yellow Box, MacOSX Server 1.2, MacOS X DP1-4) and now runs on MacOS X, Linux and Windows. You can find more info at:

Like GnuStep, we still have a way to go to complete the port, although what wasn't mentioned about GnuStep in the article is that is complete enough for most applications to port with very minimal effort, likewise for the MK/SK.

RE: Achilles
by Paul on Wed 16th Jul 2003 17:19 UTC

Hank, your price comparison is unfair. The first NeXT in 88 was not really meant to be mainstream, but for education and developers. The real coming of NeXT into the market was at the end of 1990 when they released their second generation hardware ( they were the first 68040 based computers). Now, do a price comparison at that time with Mac systems or other UNIX workstations. NeXT were much much cheaper than all comparable systems.

Not unfair
by Hank on Wed 16th Jul 2003 18:44 UTC

NeXT were much much cheaper than all comparable systems.

You definately got what you were paying for with your NeXT machine. The problem was that there wasn't anything near the entry level in terms of desktop pricing. For their target market, workstations, it was more than low enough however. The problem is that Macs were never targetting workstations directly, but instead overlapping workstation markets where possible on the high end.

Re: i860
by whaaa on Wed 16th Jul 2003 19:24 UTC

"Ironically despite being quite a potent processor for it's day NeXT used it as a graphics co-processor!"

Well so did SGI, RealityEngine uses 8 i860s and the RealityEngine2 used 12 i860s for graphics processing. A lot of graphics boards from DEC also used the 860. I believe very few companies tried to use the i860 for general purpose (Oki, and maybe Stardent, and intel on their supers) since the chips was a total bitch to program. The graphics unit was that savaged that chip, since it had a lot of support for graphics primitives in silicon... hence their widespread as graphics coprocessors.

Another piece of interesting trivia. The internal codename for the 80860 inside intel during its development was NT. And originally NT at microsoft was targeted for this processor, however it became clear that it was not going to be a good general purpose cpu, they switched to MIPS as their primary development platform. MS developed a reference platform using MIPS processors (I think it was called the magnum) for the ACE consortium in the early 90s.

by anonymous205 on Wed 16th Jul 2003 19:51 UTC

["In another unix-related connection, I saw a prototype of something called Macintosh Application Services (MAS) running on IBM workstations, under AIX, in 1993, but it was never marketed by IBM or by Apple. "

I think that was MAE : Macintosh Application Environment. Which run under HPsUX and Solaris (maybe AIX), which allowed to run a classic environment on risc workstations. It was indeed marketed by apple during the mid 90s. ]

MAS and MAE were two different products. MAE ran on PA-RISC and SPARC hardware (and maybe MIPS, I forget), and it emulated the PPC instruction set. In contrast, MAS ran on PPC hardware (and RS6000 hardware in general) and it only provided the application environment necessary to run MacOS software under IBM AIX. Instruction emulation was not necessary. It was similar to the Classic environment currently under MacOS X. As far as I know, MAS was never marketed by either Apple or IBM. It was truly a lost opportunity for both companies.

Intel i860
by anonymous205 on Wed 16th Jul 2003 20:17 UTC

[I believe very few companies tried to use the i860 for general purpose (Oki, and maybe Stardent, and intel on their supers) since the chips was a total bitch to program. ]

Alliant was one of the companies that used i860 chips in their computers. Their FX2800 line of shared-memory parallel computers was based on this chip.

Also I think the distributed-memory Intel Touchstone machine at CalTech was based on i860 chips, and this was the predecessor for the commercial Intel Paragon machine.

There was also a workstation vendor that sold i860 based machines. I forget the name, maybe it was Oki as you say above? However, it became clear that Intel did not want to support and further develop the chip, so the mindshare eventually moved on to pentium-based machines at Intel. This is probably what killed Alliant as a company, they had invested everything in building hardware based on that chip after moving away from their propreitary hardware (the earlier FX8 products).

All RISC machines are hard to program. I'm not sure the i860 was any harder than any of the others at the time (about 1990 to 1993). If I remember correctly, the chip had a 40 MFLOPS theoretical peak performance (64-bit floating point), and you could achieve a respectable 36 MFLOPS actual performance on matrix-matrix products. For the time, this was about as good as it got for microprocessors -- it would take another 4 or 5 years for the pentium performance to catch up.

Re: Intel i860
by whaaa on Wed 16th Jul 2003 22:56 UTC

"All RISC machines are hard to program. I'm not sure the i860 was any harder than any of the others at the time (about 1990 to 1993). If I remember correctly, the chip had a 40 MFLOPS theoretical peak performance (64-bit floating point), and you could achieve a respectable 36 MFLOPS actual performance on matrix-matrix products. For the time, this was about as good as it got for microprocessors -- it would take another 4 or 5 years for the pentium performance to catch up."

Not exactly the instruction dependencies to keep the machine fed and happy were horrible for the i860, you could have far more elegant systems like MIPS offering the same o better performance during the same time frame. The "actual performance" was achieved on handcoded programs, compilers themselves were rather hard to optimize, hence the lack of interest in the marketplace. Plus the lack of x86 compatibility made vendors look elsewhere for RISC machines.
But for specific well tuned code the 860 was a good chip, hence its relative acceptance as a coprocessor.

Missing LOTS of info
by MrChuck on Thu 17th Jul 2003 06:21 UTC

As the steward of 2 cubes and a slab...

Yes, it sold for $10k (or didn't sell much).
They were selling it mainly through schools (to people who had no money).
Then they made a deal to sell it through BUSINESS LAND. Computer illiterate
folks (who hand carried RAM across static-y carpets).
Businessland sales people sold lots of PCs - easier to sell and explain - and some NeXTs.

Part of the costs came from the fact that the cube was a perfect cube, not an easy
to mold almost cube. And it was black. Beige covers lots of flaws.
And it was titanium. So it ended up so the cases were only MAKABLE in a midwest union shop that (cube) had a large number of failures per successful case.

In the end, they went through MILLIONS of dollars and delivered 50,000 NeXTs.
Number that the .com boom might echo 10 years later. Visionary indeed.

Oh, and I know Sun offered a "trade in" of a next + cash to get a Sparc 10.
It was claimed they crushed the NeXTs. Nice Sun. Keep unix away from schools
where the students might learn Unix rather than Windows. Visionary.

Mouse Second Button
by Brad Henry on Thu 17th Jul 2003 06:25 UTC

To add a third comment about the second mouse button...

Using it as a way to pop up the menu of an application was brilliant. You never had to move your mouse to get to the menu, just press the second button and you were there. Very nice with one monitor, but quite superb with two or more monitors.

The other cool thing about the menus was you could "tear off" any of the sub menus. So if there was some submenu that you used all the time, you could tear it off and stick it somewhere convenient. Anytime that app was key your submenu would be floating there right where you left it.

RE: Missing LOTS of info
by zephc on Thu 17th Jul 2003 08:46 UTC

just to be anal: the Cube case was actually die-cast magnesium

I used NeXT computers from '94 to '97 when I was in the Air Force. I loved it then because I liked the fact that it was *nix under the hood and plus I could have dual monitors while my Windows-using peers couldn't (though moving an app window over to the 2nd display was sometimes painfully slow)! Not sure what was available for Windows machines at the time - all I know is that my NeXT box could do it and their Windows machines couldn't or didn't have the hardware to do it. I also liked the object-oriented-ness of it and things like drag-n-drop, which most people take for granted nowadays.
By the time I left the Air Force, the IT shop was migrating from BlackBoxes to intel boxes (and eventually to WinNT (errr!), but I was leaving so I didn't care. After that I was pretty much a Windows user, as I didn't much care for the Apple look/feel (guess that makes me not a true mac-addict by some peoples standards).
When I saw OS X, especially things like the Mail app and the fact that I could open a terminal to get to the *nix shell, I knew right away what I was looking at and I got a big grin on my face. If only I had the cash, I would have bought a mac right then and there.
A few months later, when I was putting Win2K SP3 on my home PC and I rebooted into the great blue-screen-of-death, I got the PC back up enough to be able to access my critical files and then went out and bought my first Apple box. An iMac 17' flat panel unit.
I have not looked back yearning for my Windows box. It has not been easy - my brain and fingers/hands have been brainwashed by years of Windows, plus I still have to use it at work.
I bought VirtualPC, thinking there would be some reason why I would need to use it. I set up my virtual PC and that was pretty much the last time I used it.
I am grateful for NeXT, Apple, Unix, especially Linux, and this good article. I love the history of computing, especially the Internet (guess its my military background remembering DDN) and unix.
I just hope that it is not too late for Apple. It has been proven time and again that the best does not always finish first!

NEXT didn't invent Objective C
by Bryan on Fri 18th Jul 2003 22:52 UTC
NeXT Dimension Cube
by Alex Currier on Sun 20th Jul 2003 10:33 UTC

Back in the day I worked at the UT MicroCenter at the University of Texas in Austin... we had a NeXTDimension system on display on the floor which went largely unused because nobody understood a damn thing about it.

I used it quite a bit, however, and became so enamored with it that, on the day NeXT announced they would stop building hardware, I asked my boss if I could buy the ND system from the store.

They sold it to me... NeXTDimension with a 21" color display, internal Optical disk and external CD-ROM... for abou $1000. That's a 94% discount off the list price. I had to get that discount approval signed by about a dozen people before the stockroom guys would actually give it to me but boy was it worth it.

Of course, that cube is long gone now but whenever I get to feeling a bit misty eyed about NeXT I set my MacOSX alert sound to "Basso" and close my eyes and think of how I once owned the coolest desktop computer in the world.