Steve Jobs interview: One-on-one in 1995

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Tell me about what motivated you to establish NeXT and what were the goals you set out to accomplish when you set-up this new company? That's complicated. We basically wanted to keep doing what we were doing at Apple, to keep innovating. But we made a mistake, which was to try to follow the same formula we did at Apple, to make the whole widget. But the market was changing. The industry was changing. The scale was changing.

And in the end we knew we would be either the last company to make it or the first to not make it. We were right on the edge. We thought we would be the last one that made it, but we were wrong. We were the first one that didn't. We put an end to the companies that tried to do that.

We certainly made our fair share of mistakes, but in the end I think we should have taken a bit longer to realize the world was changing and just gone on to be a software company right off the bat.

Right off the bat? The machine got great reviews when it came out. The machine was the best machine in the world. Believe it or not, they're selling on the used market, in some cases, for more than we sold them for originally. They're hard to find even today. We haven't even made them for two, two and a half years.

What are the features that are on the NeXT machine that are still missing from machines today? Well first of all it, was a totally 'plug-and-play' machine. Except for Macintosh, that's hard to find. It's an extremely powerful machine, way beyond the Macintosh. So it sort of nicely combined the power of the workstations with the 'plug and playness' of the Mac. Second of all, the machine had a fit and finish that you don't find today.

It's beautiful. I don't just mean in packaging; I mean in terms of operation. Simple things to complex things. Simple things like soft power on and off. A trivial little thing but as you know one, of the biggest reasons people lose information on computers is they turn them off at the wrong time. And when you get into a multi-tasking network system, that could have much more severe consequences. So we were the first people to do that and some of the only people who do that, where you push a button and you request the computer to turn off. It figures out what it needs to do to shut down gracefully and then turns itself off.

Of course the NeXT Computer was also the first computer with built-in high quality sound, CD quality sound. Most people do that now. It took them a long time but most people do that. It was just ahead of its time.

NeXT Software: What makes it different? What trends does it respond to? That's the real gem. I'll tell you an interesting story. When I was at Apple, a few of my acquaintances said "You really need to go over to Xerox PARC (which was Palo Alto Research Center) and see what they've got going over there."

They didn't usually let too many people in but I was able to get in there and see what they were doing. I saw their early computer called the Alto, which was a phenomenal computer, and they actually showed me three things there that they had working in 1976. I saw them in 1979. Things that took really until a few years ago for us to fully re-create, for the industry to fully re-create in this case with NeXTStep. However, I didn't see all three of those things. I only saw the first one, which was so incredible to me that it saturated me. It blinded me to see the other two. It took me years to re-create them and rediscover them and incorporate them back into the model, but they were very far ahead in their thinking. They didn't have it totally right, but they had the germ of the idea of all three things. And the three things were graphical user interfaces, object oriented computing and networking.

Let me go through those. Graphical interface: The Alto had the world's first graphical user interface. It had windows. It had a crude menu system. It had crude panels and stuff. It didn't work right but it basically was all there.

Objects: They had Smalltalk running, which was really the first object-oriented language. Simula was really the first, but Smalltalk was the first official object-oriented language.

Third, networking: They invented Ethernet there, as you know. And they had about two hundred Altos with servers hooked up in a local area network there doing email and everything else over the network, all in 1979. I was so blown away with the potential of the germ of that graphical user interface that I saw that I didn't even assimilate or even stick around to investigate fully the other two.

NeXTStep turned some of that vision into reality. It incorporated the world's first truly commercial object-oriented system, and really was the most networked system in the world when it came out. I think the world has made a lot of progress in networking but hasn't yet crossed the hurdle into objects and what's happened with NeXTStep. It's starting to get adopted by some very large corporate customers. It is now the most popular object-oriented system in the world, as objects are on the threshold of starting to move into the mainstream.

The company last year recorded its first profit in its nine-year history, and sold $50 million worth of software. I think we're going to have some significant growth this year and it's fairly clear that NeXT can get up to being a few-hundred-million-dollar software company in the next three or four years and be the largest company offering objects -- until Microsoft comes into the market at some point, probably with a pretty half-baked product.

Some people say that in the future object-oriented software is going to be the only kind of software. Of course it's true. I remember being at Xerox at 1979. It was one of those sort of apocalyptic moments. I remember within ten minutes of seeing the graphical user interface stuff, just knowing that every computer would work this way some day; it was so obvious once you saw it. It didn't require tremendous intellect. It was so clear. The minute you understand objects, it's all exactly the same. All software will be written using object-oriented technology some day. You can argue about how long its going to take, who the winners and losers are going to be, but I don't think a rational person will debate its significance.

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