December 1-11: Byte Opens, Star Trek Demo, NeXT vs. Be
Published December 6th, 2004

This week is another interesting week in Apple history, as we have the opening of the retail store that single-handedly capitalized Apple's founding, the sale of Pixar to Steve Jobs, the first executive briefing on Star Trek, and a shootout between NeXT and Be at 12 Infinite Loop. That's a lot of action for one week.

First up we have the opening of the Byte shop this week in 1975, a California computer retail store, the first such in existence anywhere. The shop's target market was hobbyists who built their own computers because there weren't any personal computers on the market yet. As noted below, Byte's purchase of 50 (as yet unmade) Apple I computers for US$25,000 funded Apple's founding and initial development.

Skipping ahead nine years, it was this week in 1984 that Star Wars-creator George Lucas found himself in need of some cash due to a divorce. He decided to sell Pixar, his company's computer division, which Steve Jobs bought for a cool US$10 million. Today, the company is worth US$5.3 billion. That's not a bad ROI.

In 1992, we have another development in what is one of the most controversial issues in Apple's past. It was this week in that year that Apple's executives were shown the initial fruits of Star Trek, a highly-successful nine-month effort to port System 7 to Intel. There was no cohesive plan on what to do with the end-result -- sell Intel-powered clones, create a subsidiary that would compete with Apple's main hardware line, or just license out the Mac OS to 3rd party manufacturers like Microsoft did -- but Star Trek was demonstrated to be more than a pipe dream.

Of course, the project was eventually killed -- either despite or because of its success -- and the world was forever denied knowing whether or not moving the Mac to Intel would have boosted or destroyed Apple. This is another story that is documented in full in Apple Confidential 2.0, and if you are interested in hearing more about it, read the book.

Lastly, we bring you another piece of the interesting story on how Apple bought NeXT and Steve Jobs came back to Apple. It was this week in 1996 that there was a NeXT vs. Be shootout between OPENSTEP and BeOS. As you can imagine, NeXT's Avie Tevanian, now Apple's Chief Software Technology Officer, was quicker on the draw than former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassée.

You can find more information on many of the entries below in Owen Linzmayer's excellent Apple Confidential 2.0. The other entries can be found in TMO's archives, and we link to articles whenever we can.1981:

December 01-11

1975: Paul Jay Terrell opens the Byte Shop-arguably the first retail computer store chain in the country-at 1063 West El Camino Real in Mountain View, California. Within a year Terrell would receive a visit from a 21-year-old Steve Jobs, who convinced Terrell to order 50 Apple I computers. Terrell's US$25,000 purchase was single-handedly responsible for getting Apple Computer Company off the ground. The Byte Shop is long gone, but if you're ever in Silicon Valley and want to make a pilgrimage to this historic building, you'll be happy to know that the site has been occupied by the VCO Adult Video Store since the 1980s and is open to the public.

1984: The California court finalizes the divorce of motion picture director George Lucas from his wife Marcia Lou Lucas (née Griffin). How does the dissolution of a 15-year marriage figure into the history of Apple Computer? Well, George wanted to retain his various movie-making interests and Marcia was willing to settle for cash. To come up with the cash, George decided to sell the computer division of Lucasfilm. He approached Apple in 1985, and although its board of directors wasn't interested, Steve Jobs was. Following his resignation from Apple and founding of NeXT, Jobs offered US$10 million (half for nonexclusive rights to the technology, and half to capitalize the new firm) for a majority interest in Pixar, and Lucas accepted.

1992: Team leader Chris DeRossi and Roger Heinen, VP of software engineering, present the Star Trek prototype to Apple's executive staff, many of whom couldn't believe their eyes. In less than nine months, a skunkworks group of four engineers from Novell and 14 from Apple had managed to get System 7's Finder to run on a 486 PC clone, and had even implemented portions of QuickTime and QuickDraw GX. From all outward appearances, here was the fabled Mac OS running on an Intel computer; Star Trek had managed to penetrate deep behind enemy lines.

Fred Forsyth, head of Apple's manufacturing business and hardware engineering, saw his career flash before his eyes. If Apple was successful in getting the Mac OS to run on Intel, demand for Apple's hardware would likely slump. Furthermore, the company was committed to moving the Macintosh to the PowerPC, and the Star Trek project was perceived to be a threat to that effort as well. How would it look to partners IBM and Motorola if Apple was porting the Mac OS to Intel processors at the same time it was collaborating on the PowerPC? Over these objections, Heinen was given the go-ahead to have his team attack the detail work to make Star Trek fully functional.

1996: NeXT CEO Steve Jobs meets with Apple CEO Gil Amelio and CTO Ellen Hancock. It is the first time Jobs has set foot on Apple's Cupertino campus since leaving in 1985. Jobs pitches NeXT as Apple's only hope at getting its operating system development back on track. It is a radical departure from the Copland project, but Jobs argues that OPENSTEP is a proven technology, unlike BeOS, which Apple is also considering.

A week later, teams from NeXT and Be separately confer with eight of Apple's senior managers, including Amelio, in a technology shoot-out at the upstairs meeting room of the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto. Avadis "Avie" Tevanian Jr., Ph.D., NeXT's VP of engineering, gives the OPENSTEP demonstration, and Jobs boasts that their OS is still five to seven years ahead of its time and perfectly suited to Internet and multimedia creation, two of the Mac's few remaining strongholds. Be CEO Jean-Louis Gassée miscalculates, thinking that Be has the deal already wrapped up and that this meeting is a mere formality. He has nothing new to present to the Apple contingent, and they resent it.

1998: Apple releases Mac OS 8.5.1, a minor update with a few bug fixes and new Sherlock plug-ins.

2001: Apple releases Mac OS 9.2.2, the last update to the "old" operating system. This release improves compatibility of Classic running in Mac OS X.