It’s no secret OSNews has a bit of a thing for the BeOS. I can only speak for myself, obviously, but relatively speaking, BeOS was the best operating system ever made. The man who started all this was Jean-Louis Gassee, former executive at Apple, who founded Be, Inc. in 1991. In the second half of the ’90s, Apple was looking for a replacement for its heavily outdated Mac OS, after several failed attempts at developing its own – it came down to
Steve Jobs NeXT, or BeOS. Be didn’t make it, and Gassee is happier for it.
Apple offered a whopping $200 million for Be, Inc., which was way more than the company was actually worth. GassÃ©e, however, tried to hold out for an even more whopping $275 million. In the end, Steve Jobs swooped in, and convinced Apple to buy NeXT instead, effectively buying Jobs back into the company he was the co-founder of.
The interesting question has always been: what would’ve happened if Apple had bought Be instead? It’s hard to say. NeXTSTEP was more advanced than the BeOS, especially when it came to networking (a rudimentary mess on BeOS) and the programming environment and associated tools. BeOS was, however, much faster and more capable in multimedia like sound and video – not entirely unimportant for Macs. Also, in hindsight, a continually developed BeOS would’ve automatically benefited greatly from the multicore revolution.
Interestingly enough, during the Steve Jobs Legacy event, GassÃ©e mentioned that he was very relieved Apple didn’t buy Be, because he really didn’t get along with Apple’s management. “Thank god that [Apple buying Be] didn’t happen, because I hated Apple'[s management,” GassÃ©e said, “I couldn’t picture myself in there.”
GassÃ©e didn’t seem to have any resentment over Be not winning the deal, even though it did sting at the time, he said, “as it should”. But, he added, BeOS got its moment of glory after that, and “I even got to sue Microsoft so I could put fresh tires on my wheelchair.” Yes, and you squandered something great, but alas. I’m just glad I got to be part of BeOS’ Autumn days.
Anywho, GassÃ©e further noted that which we already know: Apple didn’t so much acquire NeXT – Jobs bought Apple. NeXTSTEP in and of itself was good technology, but it wasn’t good enough all by itself. In fact, NeXT had all but given up on NeXTSTEP, focussing on WebObjects instead – which, although I’m not sure, still powers the iTunes Store to this day.
“Apple acquired NeXT, but in fact Steve took over and we know what happened,” GassÃ©e remarked, “By re-acquiring Apple, NeXTSTEP finally produced the kind of fruit that justified the labor that went into it. This was very nice technology that had trouble finding its footing.”
I always get a little defensive when we’re talking BeOS. Up until this very day, it’s the only piece of software that had a soul, an identity that went above and beyond colour schemes, themes, and icons. Even after ten years, I still can’t explain or put into words the feeling BeOS gave me. Even today, when I see a screenshot or somebody mentions it, my heart makes a little jump.
But, especially with the magic super awesome power of hindsight, NeXT was by far the superior choice for Apple. I think the amount of work required to turn BeOS into a marketable Apple product did not differ that greatly from what NeXTSTEP required (just in different areas), but BeOS didn’t come with Jobs.
And let’s face it. It wasn’t a technology or a product that saved Apple. It was Jobs.