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    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 6: When the first call came it was to say Andy and a large contingent from Intel were meeting Steve in the big downstairs conference room. Andy’s assistant didn’t know who was involved on our side besides Steve. I never heard.

      Sometime later Steve wandered in my office and asked if I thought porting NeXTstep to Intel was a good idea. Awkward. Did he know? I asked if Intel was going to help. Steve said they offered two great engineers to work alongside ours. They thought it could be done in 6 months. We’d have to keep it super secret from the outside world. Could I act as relationship manager?

      This wasn’t as strange as it sounded because I was managing the IBM relationship. Steve had licensed NeXTstep for them to use on their workstations years ago and they had a team living at NeXT working on it. We didn’t have much faith in that relationship.  

      “Hmmm, that sounds like a good idea, Steve. The 66 megahertz 80486 chip?”

      “Yeah. Intel’s graphics primitives are shit so it probably won’t be any faster than the 33 megahertz 68040 we’re using now.”

      Six months later I carried a beige Intel-based computer from a windowless room to my office, wrapped in a black cover. It was exactly twice the speed of our sexy black machines. 

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 7: Steve and William had made plans to package NeXTstep as software for retail sales at Comp USA and other stores. I didn’t see that coming. I was angling for building sleek black machines with Intel inside, but we were sticking to the plan of making a dual-88110 workstation. 

      The belief was the future of computing was Reduced Instruction Set architectures, not a PC-based chip. All the workstation companies like Sun, HP, Silicon Graphics and IBM had gone that way. I don’t think the workstation world believed that Andy could keep increasing the speed of his processors like he claimed he could. 

      I understood. Andy came across as a bit of a slickster to me whereas George Fischer was the real deal, the man The New York Times referred to as a gold-plated executive in a 12-carat company.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 8: I got a call a few months later from General Magic. Their vision was so compelling I accepted their offer to work there.

      Selling NeXTstep as software wasn’t going well and NeXT discontinued making hardware before they could ship the 88110-based workstation. Far as I knew, only Data General was making a machine with 88110s. Apple had abandoned it and teamed up with IBM & Motorola to produce the PowerPC processor.

      NeXT became less relevant, but word was Steve and Andy were getting along. Andy conducted offsites with Steve and his team to teach his management methods that would become so famous.

      George Fisher made a fateful decision to become CEO of Kodak. The reputations of Motorola, Kodak, or George would never be the same again.

      And then news broke that would change the world: Apple bought NeXT and Steve became CEO.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 9: The man who made the decision to buy NeXT was Gil Amelio, CEO of Apple at the time and former CEO of National Semiconductor. He wrote a book about how he saved Apple. He agreed to speak at a bookstore in San Jose that I owned. 

      He only took one question at the end. He called on John Markoff, the famous New York Times tech journalist. “Gil,” John asked, “why did you end up buying NeXT instead of Be?” 

      Be OS, like NeXTstep, was very respected and the man who ran Be was Jean-Louis Gassée, former high-profile Apple exec. Steve told Walter Isaacson that Gassée was "one of the few people who I'd say is truly horrible. He knifed me in the back."  

      Here’s how I’ve remembered Gil’s answer over the years: “Great question, we had big internal debates about that. A lot of people at Apple were afraid of Steve and Jean-Louis had many supporters. Be OS was very respected. In the end it came down to NeXT already supporting Intel and that was important to us.”

      I remember thinking, oh my God. Steve, you owe me.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 10: Turns out I wasn’t the only one to make secret calls and Andy wasn’t the only one to return them. John Landwehr was a product manager at NeXT who got the idea to call Ellen Hancock, Apple’s CTO.

      From an article by John Markoff:

      After reading newspaper accounts saying that Apple was in private discussions about acquiring a new operating system, Mr. Landwehr, without a word to Steven P. Jobs, his company's chairman, persuaded his colleague Garrett Rice to pick up the phone and call Ms. Hancock.

      It turned out Andy was underselling when he said his processors might go to 400 megahertz, 10x what Motorola ever achieved with the 68040. The clock speeds of current Intel processors are more than 4200 megahertz.

      More than 10 years after the computing world believed Intel’s processors were in the autumn of their lives, Apple based their computers on them.

      Gil Amelio:

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Part 11 (last part): The Harvard Business Review published an article, The Curse of the Superstar CEO, which tried to explain the fall of George Fisher and Kodak.

      I always wonder. Was it really about the CEOs? Or were there technical superstars we don’t know about who figured out how to make processors faster without overheating? That’s something I loved about Steve Jobs: he would ask who on planet earth is the best person to pull off something impossible and he would do anything to hire them.

      I know one of those. Steve spent all day in early Apple recruiting Bill Atkinson, a Phd student in neuroscience. Steve told me he didn’t know if they could have pulled off the Mac without him. I have seen Bill solve hard technical problems I don’t think anyone else could solve.

      I wonder if Andy had one of those and George didn’t.

      Steve Jobs and Bill Atkinson:

    • vegasphotog

      Chris, all kidding aside.....I hope you have plans to write a book. It would be VERY interesting and it seems your "fly-on-the-wall" perspectives are historically important.

    • yaypie
      Ryan Grove

      I've often wondered what the computing world would look like today if Apple had bought Be.

      BeOS was a fantastic operating system, more advanced in many ways than other OSes of the era. I actually very briefly used it as my primary OS in the late 90s. But Be wasn't able to succeed as an independent company, and with the release of Mac OS X (which was heavily based on concepts and code from NeXT), Apple suddenly had a much better OS, and BeOS was relegated to the history books.

      But somewhere out there is a parallel universe where BeOS, rather than OpenStep, became the basis for Apple's new OS. Would it have been able to compete with Windows? Without macOS's BSD underpinnings, would it have been as popular with developers as Mac OS X was? I wonder.

    • Biofall

      This was an incredible read. You've lived quite the life. I'll have to check out more about Bill Atkinson. I wonder what sort of neuroscience he worked on?

    • mk

      Great series of posts, Chris! At Microsoft, we used to say that “the #1 feature is shipping”. It wasn’t always good for customers, but it sure did let msft exploit their user base to quickly learn and develop a decent product.

    • DanSolarMan

      it always amazes me what it takes for things to happen good and bad.

      If this didn’t happen this wouldn’t have happened. Almost at times like there is some sort of design going on in the universe.

    • va

      Fascinating. Tangentially, Intel saved the X86 architecture (boosting it 10x, 100x, etc.) after DIGITAL had asked them to "analyze" its breakthrough MicroPrism (aka DEC Alpha) chip for "second sourcing" at Intel's state-of-the-art FABs. The dishonesty of lifting that IP to "rescue" the X86 led to a legal settlement wherein Intel consented to purchase DEC's Hudson plant, that included not just the Alpha's chips, but also the StrongARM chips. (Old money on both boards and that's the way they handle scandals.) Chris' testimonial makes me believe that more people besides Andy Grove at Intel knew that the X86 was being "rescued" in this way...

      I totally agree with Steve about Gassée, convinced there was an Amiga 1000 in the basement of One Infinite Loop fueling all of that period's innovations (GfxBase->QuickDrawGX, ARexx->AppleScript, Speech->PlainTalk, etc..) sustaining an unbelievable amount of politics much to Bill Gates' delight.

    • robblessin

      I still believe it or not resell NeXT Computers , 25 years plus , my first day of work at Alembic Systems reselling 3rd party products and NeXT hardware ; NeXT shut down their hardware production line February 9, 1993 , everyone took it as an omen and after all these years later I'm still here ! Best Regards Rob Blessin

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