After the demise of NEXTSTEP, the company renamed the OS — updated with the new APIs — and called it OpenStep (as opposed to all-capitals OPENSTEP framework). Three versions saw the light of day, 4.0 to 4.2.
In the end of 1996, the big boom in the computer industry was apparent: Apple Computers purchased Redwood City’s NeXT. Most of its engineering team followed the line and started working for Apple in Cupertino. Something that not many people know is that the few engineers that left, joined Be, Inc. in Menlo Park (a few miles away from Redwood City) and in a few months had changed a lot of the BeOS internals (now you know why BeOS also has “kit” names for its APIs, added POSIX support right after these guys came over and why BeOS had a Dock too (before it got Tracker in 1998, written by Pavel Cisler who later worked on Nautilus and now is at Apple’s Finder team – today, at least 3 of the most influential BeOS engineers are back at Apple)).
After the purchase, Steve Jobs got himself busy trying to revolutionize the Mac, and create an OS that would take the MacOS out of its miserable state of being a very old and legacy-laden OS. After 1-2 rewrites and scrappings (including versions that ran both on PPC and x86), in 1999 Apple showed the first screenshot to the world of Mac OS X. Its Cocoa APIs are direct descendants of OPENSTEP and older NeXT applications compile with only a bit of tinkering. Other parts of MacOSX are also very NEXTSTEP/OpenStep-influenced, like the Mach/4.4BSD/FreeBSD underpinnings and apps like NetInfo or… Chess. A lot of things have changed on Mac OS X, but the “feel” of NEXTSTEP is still there, no matter how much makeup and lipstick OSX wears.
I ran a large number of applications on the OpenStep 4.2 that came with the machine and some that I found on the web, and they all ran reasonably fast. Definitely much faster than the Compaq 486-SX @ 25 Mhz 8 MB that ran Windows 3.1 in my college in 1993. The only application that I found too slow to do anything with was, unfortunately, the much-needed OmniWeb 3.1-RC1 web browser, the last version for OpenStep. The only other web browsers available for NeXT, NetSurfer and SpiderWoman, aren’t as powerful as OmniWeb I am afraid, so if you go ahead and buy some “Black Hardware” you will have to live with the slowness of OmniWeb. 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…
Other than that, I found the NeXT machine very elegant. The BIOS is easy to use, the OS is very easy to use (despite being a true Unix underneath), installing .pkg or .tgz packaged applications is also easy and development is a breeze. Administration is also easy, there are GUIs for almost all needs (including user account creation and internet connectivity).
It is definitely worthwhile to get to know the NeXT platform better. It is a glorious and innovative part of computer history. Especially if you are a geek or get emotional — like I do– over legendary hardware/software, it shouldn’t require much deliberation to decide to get one for yourself. Most NEXTSTEP/OpenStep applications are now free of charge, available here or here for download. You can find a variety of applications, even X11, WordPerfect and Apache!