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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Is This Apple Or... NeXT?
August 1st, 2000

Sometimes, life is amazing. You see the world reinventing itself and it seems that the past, which we thought dead, comes alive stronger and better than ever to tell us that the ideas we had were probably the right ones. This is exactly what happens in many aspects of like music, where elements of the 1980's are coming back, only better than they were a decade ago.

This seems to be, in part to be sure, the same for computers. When Apple announced its new Power Mac G4 Cube during the keynote at MACWORLD Expo in New York, I had the feeling I had seen it all before, but this time it was better than it was a long time ago.

If you think about it for a second, you realize that when Apple bought NeXT, it did not just buy a company and get a former leader back in the fold, but it actually got its ideas. When companies buy each other in the computer industry, a recurrent phenomenon is to see a bought product live on for a short period of time only to die later. Sometimes, the product never sees the light of day again.

Are you familiar with the NeXT Cube? If not, take a quick look at this Web page. Look at the date. It seems that this cube made its way to the market in 1988. What company produced this item? NeXT Computer. Who was the CEO of that company? Steve Jobs. Now go forward to the year 2000. Who produces the Power Mac G4 Cube? Apple. Who is the CEO? Well... this is an easy guess. I tell you, the new cube is not that new. It is just redefined and better than ever.

An interesting fact about the old cube is that it was externally made of magnesium! I found it on this page, which you HAVE to bookmark to read later because of its content. According to its author:

As you know, years ago, when NeXT first contemplated making computers, Steve Jobs decided that machines should be in the shape of a cube, and that they should be built from cast magnesium.

Now on to the operating system. NeXT had its Unix-based operating system. When Apple bought the company, they turned it into Rhapsody, which was to become Apple's next (pun!) generation operating system. Then, Rhapsody was officially killed since it required developers to rewrite their code to take advantage of all its features. It remained in the plans, though, and become Mac OS X. It was improved to allow better compatibility of legacy Mac OS applications (in the Classic environment, which sounds a lot like the Blue Box in Rhapsody) with Carbon added as the new way to port an old application for it to become an all-new Mac OS X application.

Surprising, isn't it? If you didn't know about the old NeXT projects, you might have imagined that Steve Jobs came back to Apple, invented the G4 Cube and modernized the Mac OS to make it a brand new, modern operating system out of some Unix flavor (which is true in part).

What is funny to know is that what shapes the present and future of the Macintosh is based on ideas that Steve Jobs had and brought with him when Apple bought his revolutionary computer company. Not everything you see hailing from Cupertino was based on NeXT hardware and software, but it is amazing to realize that Steve Jobs and his projects have not changed that much with time.

Jobs and his ideas came back in more mature forms and will probably help Apple to reach heights that it never saw ever before. The Mac OS needed more than mere change, and the "old" NeXT operating system will apparently try to achieve that. The Apple hardware line needed something to go between the high-end Power Mac G4 and the low-end iMac, and it seems that the old cube concept from the 1980's will fit.

NeXT is alive through Apple. The more things change, the more they stay the same! Not that we can complain about it...

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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