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OS X Businesses Operating Systems Apple

Copland/Gershwin vs. NeXT 147

Etcetera writes "David K. Every (of MacKiDo fame) has written an interesting article at iGeek about Copland vs. NeXT and the decisions that Apple made back in '95-96. Although most agree that bringing Steve Jobs back was a Good Thing, a lot of cool Apple-invented technologies got left by the wayside without a fair shot at proving themselves once NeXT came in. Was it always the right call? Functions as a cautionary tale about management vs. engineering as well."
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Copland/Gershwin vs. NeXT

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  • OpenDoc (Score:5, Interesting)

    by georgewad ( 154339 ) on Wednesday September 11, 2002 @11:52AM (#4237865) Homepage
    I worked with a Software Engineer who worked on OpenDoc, which was about the only good thing aside from QuickTime that Apple had put out in that era. Some of you might remember the demo of an ActiveX control running inside an OpenDoc container. When NeXT took over, they hacked OpenDoc to run within NeXT's ojbect model. The Steve (himself) just said no, NeXT's object model is better. That's when my friend left Apple. Can't say that I blame him. OpenDoc had a lot going for it.
  • Re:OpenDoc (Score:2, Interesting)

    by KH ( 28388 ) on Wednesday September 11, 2002 @12:09PM (#4238025)
    OpenDoc was the first thing that came to my mind, too, when I saw the headline. However, I don't think we can only blame Apple/NeXT for killing OpenDoc. I was under the impression that MS did their usual embrace and extend to the concept. I remember a BYTE magazine article about the pros and cons of OpenDoc and OLE.

    Perhaps this article [] by David K. Every himself may shed some light on the issue.
  • miracles (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zephc ( 225327 ) on Wednesday September 11, 2002 @12:12PM (#4238045)
    "(A common engineering practice is to take your best guess at how much time it will take, and then multiply that by 3)."

    that way, you look like a miracle-worker =] (or so Scotty told LaForge)

    Still, it would be an interesting universe had Be been chosen over NeXT. the Be APIs were super nice, but from what I heard they had a very hard time in larger projects. I think Gobe Productive was the largest app ever for BeOS. I used BeOS exclusively (when i had a peecee) for about a year, and I loved it. All the applications felt oddly 'light', I think from the quick responsiveness of it all.

    The Best OS is Dead! Long Live the Best OS!
  • by talisia ( 607830 ) on Wednesday September 11, 2002 @01:05PM (#4238534)
    As I remember the events of the summer of 1997, Apple would have fallen apart if Steve Jobs had not come on board. At the time, people were leaving Apple left and right. Scott McNealy suggested that Apple should abandon MacOS and start selling java based network computers. The pundits were suggesting that Apple should abandon all things Mac and sell PC clones. I like OS X. I use it every day, but I have to wonder if Apple hadn't abandoned Copeland, if today I would be using an operating system more in the spirit of the original Macintosh. OS X feels like Unix with a bunch of pancake makeup on top. Instead of being simple like pre-X MacOS or BeOS, it hides its complexity from most of its users. For all the strength that OS X brings to the Mac platform, it brings along a fair amount of baggage too. It just doesn't feel quite right. There is something disharmonious about it. I'm having a bit of trouble explaining it, but I wonder if an OS built from the ground up for the Mac wouldn't have been better,
  • by georgewad ( 154339 ) on Wednesday September 11, 2002 @01:09PM (#4238561) Homepage
    Another thing my friend said was that (pre-NeXT) there was talk of putting OD inside QuickTime. That would've scored on the cross-platform target. QuickTime seemed to be more of a platform for interactive multimedia then, now it's mostly positioned as a movie player.
  • nostalgia (Score:2, Interesting)

    by g4dget ( 579145 ) on Wednesday September 11, 2002 @01:46PM (#4238792)
    Let's go back a little further. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, people implemented a vast array of techniques for component programming, object oriented programming, and user interfaces in languages and environments like Smalltalk and Lisp.

    What Apple, NeXT, Sun, and Microsoft have done ever since has been to copy little aspects of those systems imperfectly. Systems like OpenDoc Objective-C were an attempt to bring some of the things that happen naturally and easily with Smalltalk and Lisp into a world dominated by C, C++, and multiple address spaces.

    What you should really be crying about is that none of the Apple or Microsoft technologies ever actually took advantage of the object oriented programming technologies or development environments developed before the rise of the PC and instead condemned us to nearly two decades of awful IDEs, batch compilations, object marshalling, and pointer errors, as well as plenty of unnecessary work. We could have had something with the convenience of VisualBasic 2000 or HyperCard and the power and appearance of NeXTStep in the early 1980's if people had only listened back then. Now, these ideas are slowly being rediscovered and being hailed as great technical breakthroughs.

    Apple did do a good job at making the Macintosh UI visually attractive and easy to use for casual users, both in pre-OSX and OSX. That's what they are good at, but it almost doesn't matter much what technology they are using--a set of kludgy toolboxes or a half-hearted Smalltalk clone based on C. So, don't cry over Copland/Gershwin, cry over the stuff that really could have happened but didn't.

  • by opiate ( 16005 ) <> on Wednesday September 11, 2002 @03:13PM (#4239515) Homepage
    I agree with your overall philosophy but not with some of your specific points.

    You make the argument that Smalltalk and Lisp systems from the 70s were addressing the kinds of things that Microsoft and Apple have been dolling out in small doses over the years (inconsistently etc.) and I agree...

    However, the deeper fact of the matter is Smalltalk wasn't and isn't a complete solution (and still aren't) and can't compete with, say, OS X, because it certainly doesn't provide:

    * Component document models like OpenDoc was supposed to provide. Smalltalk-80 didn't have this, nor does Squeak.

    * Further, they don't even really have tools like word processors, image editors, and other areas that normally fall in the "application" domain. I've seen simple web browsers and simple editors, but nothing on the order of functionality provided by most word processors. There is the argument that if you were to do these things properly object oriented they wouldn't look like Word anyways, but Smalltalk didn't/doesn't even do that.

    * The same kinds of areas of work that are being heavily investigated in other languages are areas of heavy investigation and work in the platforms you mention, too: object distribution, published components and packages (Squeak is only now breaking out the single-image-single-system and allowing for modular ), persistence, etc.

    * Performance of Smalltalk in the 80s was hardly acceptible on personal computers of the time. Apple and NeXT used the "compromised" (i.e. compiled, not interpreted, etc.) tech they did because they were running on 68K platforms with consumer hardware.

    C++, Objective-C, Java, etc. are different answers to different questions. I don't necessarily agree with the questions asked, but they are solutions.

    C++ is a great system-level programming language. It does a lot of things really well, though object-orientation isn't really one of them. Objective-C is a reasonable compromise for moving people from a C/Unix world to an OO world. Java is, well... an overarchitected and overmarkted approach to the same thing Smalltalk was attempting...

    The problem is that the best system based on the principles established by PARC, etc. hasn't been built yet. Perhaps it could have if certain companies had displayed more guts and leadership -- but there were very distinct market forces acting against the progress of properly engineered, heavily researched, elegant technologies.
  • by norwoodites ( 226775 ) <> on Wednesday September 11, 2002 @03:16PM (#4239550) Journal
    One of the reason why NeXT failed is that because of Motorola and then because of Sun and HP.

    The Motorola was because they could not get a new 68K chip fast enough.

    The Sun was because they went from an OpenStep based system to a java based one. HP decide to brake their deal with NeXT right after that.

    OpenStep was running on both SPAC and HPPA before Apple bought NeXT.

    Also before Sun went the java route, they bought a company that was making an office suite for OpenStep (see they owned an office before StarOffice).
  • by Steve Cowan ( 525271 ) on Wednesday September 11, 2002 @04:35PM (#4240103) Journal
    A lot of the linked essay is pure opinion on the part of the writer. It is decently written, and raises some good points however.

    Most frustrating part:

    In truth, at the time of the buyout, Apple was closer to delivering something usable than NeXT was, but Apple management was too stupid to realize it.
    Apparently the author is too stupid to realize Apple was sinking. Fast. It took a major acquisition to prove to the board and shareholders that positive steps were being taken towards updating what was then a very unstable, inefficient Mac OS.

    As a Mac user since the early 1990's, I can honestly say that the 2nd-generation Power Macs (the PCI ones like the 7200/7500/8500), in the System 7.5.2 - to 8.0 era, were horrendously crashy and pricey. (I still used them because the Windows UI pissed me off, but I was beginning to envy my Wintel friends every time my 7200/75 locked up)

    OS 9, the iMac, the legacy-free towers were all great products which had little to do with the NeXT team. While it's likely true that Apple's own engineers bailed themselves out of the mess they had gotten into under Sculley's leadership, it was too little too late in the eyes of shareholders and consumers.

    In short: if they couldn't demonstrate that they were going to leapfrog Windows in terms of stability, Apple was dead in the water. Apple's own engineers likely had lots of credibility with Apple management, but that was not enough. Even if Copland was only 6 months from completion, Apple was in grave danger, and was wise to purchase a proven technology. It may be unfortunate that business success is a necessary evil in the development of software, but I wouldn't go calling Apple's management stupid. They bit down and did what had to be done.

  • by KurtP ( 64223 ) on Wednesday September 11, 2002 @05:19PM (#4240438)
    Well, I did a lot of the OpenDoc design work, and yes we did file some patents. They were mostly about UI issues, particularly how the composition & layout model and event handling was done.

    The spec mentioned above was the official stuff. Looking back from a vantage of ten years or so, there are a lot of things I would change, but the basic design is still sound.

    Actually, my current favorite in the space of such things is KParts, which does a lot of the same sorts of things OpenDoc was meant to do.
  • by automandc ( 196618 ) on Wednesday September 11, 2002 @06:39PM (#4241034)
    I worked for Apple in the mid-nineties, when the PPC was new. I watched the entire (almost) death-spiral with particular interest.

    I think the article is good, but it is only half the story. Apple is, and always has been, a hardware company. The thing that really screwed Apple during the Gil Amelio years was a total lack of hardware engineering. Apple tried to become a "beige box" company, and tried to have a solution for every problem. It just wouldn't work.

    When Steve Jobs came back to the company, there was something like 85 SKUs for hardware systems. For those who aren't familar with marketing/retail, that's a lot. It wasn't like "You can have a 7200 with X Y or Z memory", it was "You can have a 7200 with 16MB, or you can have a 7200 with 32MB or you can have a 7200 with 64MB" and the vendor would have to stock all three. Impossible.

    Plus, none of the hardware was exciting. People just plain didn't want to own it. It was like, sure, I can get a beige box that runs 7.5.2, crashes all the time, and has only Word 6 (god, what an abomination), or I can spend half as much, build my own Wintel, and get the newest Office.

    The main thing the reintroduction of Steve Jobs did for Apple was put a single vision back in charge of both hardware and software. Even if Copland was further along than NeXT, it was hopelessly mired in a hardware development cycle that was just flawed. One of the main problems Copland faced was not only the need for backward compatibility of software, but the need to support 85 different configurations of non-industry-standard hardware. Impossible. Anyone remember the "Enablers"? God, what a mess.

    One of Job's most controversial moves, and perhaps his smartest, was to draw a hard line in the sand at the G3, a processor that was barely even shipping when he announced the spec. Thus, he promised hardware compatibility only back to the currently brand-spanking new machines, guaranteeing that, at the end of a 3-5 year development cycle, the OS would only have to support hardware 3-5 years old. Man, did people scream and moan ("But I just bought an 8600/120!"), but now Apple is back where it needs to be. One of the biggest complaints over Win2K was its trouble with older hardware. MS was able to make Win2K fly by (1) not pitching it to home users, who were more likely to have funky sound cards, and (2) providing a lot of expensive support to hardware manufacturers to write compatible drivers in time for XP.

    One pre-Jobs hardware move that Apple took that is now reaping benefits was to eschew its own good but expensive standards for adequate but cheap industry standard. Internal SCSI 4X CD Roms gave way to ATAPI; NuBUS gave way to PCI; etc. This made it even easier for the OS developers to support hardware.

    Anyway, in order to understand the whole Apple picture, you have to consider the wretched state the hardware side was in in 1996, and realize that, even if no one bought the cube, they have come a really long way - and that is what made OSX possible.
  • by Etcetera ( 14711 ) on Wednesday September 11, 2002 @06:52PM (#4241165) Homepage

    Here's the archive of Apple's official Hotsauce (aka Project X) homepage [], which is what you're thinking of. Yeah, even Yahoo was up on the Meta-Content Framework deal.

    V-Twin [] was the basis for the summarize feature, I think there's still an SDK up for it.

    Personally, I liked PowerTalk []. A system-wide, integrated mail and collaboration framework with a standardized mailing interface.

    Even if the implementation is done with LDAP, PGP, and Sendmail now, I really wish they'd bring back those APIs for application code. The "digital signing" concept integrated into the API was better integrated than Apple File Security in Mac OS 9, and better than anything in OS X right now. Remember being able to verify a document's signiature from the Get Info window? The Keychain is the only concept that survived.

    QuickDraw GX ( [] here [] or here []) was WAY ahead of its time. Although a lot of its features found their way into ATSUI [] with Unicode, QDGX still had soul. I still don't know of any program that can do all the really really fancy and obscure ligatures properly.

    Probably my FAVORITE technology was/is Apple Guide []. There's nothing quite like a help system that draws coach marks on the screen when telling you how to perform a step. That plus hilighting proper menu options in red, and the fact that it wasn't glacially slow once it became PowerPC native, made it a really amazing conversion tool.

    Balloon Help was quirky and fun. I don't really understand why they replaced something so cool with something as lame as Tooltips. =(

    QuickDraw 3D [] and Apple Data Detectors had some cool concepts too. Maybe we should get them to re-write Data Detectors using Perl regexps :)

    Arrgh.. the OS that Could Have Been... Try the old Apple Advanced Technology Research Group [] website for more stuff.
  • by aelvin ( 265451 ) on Thursday September 12, 2002 @05:03AM (#4243395)

    Bear in mind that Java was also hitting the scene around the same time OpenDoc was around. JavaBeans made the same sort of promises in terms of cross platform object models. There was even a project going on to bridge the two (host a bean in an OpenDoc component, or vice-versa). So there was a lot of noise about similar things from a lot of sides and OpenDoc never took off for whatever reason.

    I'm always sad to see great original ideas like OpenDoc, Newton, AppleTalk, and HyperCard fail to achieve the kind of market they deserve, but at the same time one of the things I respect most about Jobs is that he's willing to pull the plug when there is a chance to innovate and play with a standard instead of against it. That's what's going to get Applet back in the game. As much as we're missing by having to do without all those great technologies, I think it's better to live and fight another day -- and deliver an elegant package with ZeroConf, BSD, OpenGL, TCP/IP, Java, and on and on and on....

    As for Copland, Gershwin, et al., you couldn't get much closer to epiphany without being asked to come down to the front of the hall at the end of the sermon than you could hearing Wayne Meretsky talk about what was going to be in the system. But as good as Copland was going to be, Rhapsody shipped. Which also turns out to be a really important feature.

  • by dke ( 608042 ) on Thursday September 12, 2002 @09:00AM (#4243926) Homepage
    This article is one big rant.
    Sorta. It is one big what if. There is some ranting at the ranters that claim there's only one true path to success. I've never bought that. Many paths can succeed. OS X was one. But I think Copland could have as well.
    I wish he had more information to back up his claims. The article just seemed to be overly bitter calling NeXT "liars" and claiming that the engineers were hit with unrealistic expectations.
    What would you like to prove my claims (what claims are in question)? As for NeXT and liars. I called them marketers, and said I can't tell the difference. I have no doubt Apple people, Be people, or others would have done the same. Marketing is coloring the truth, and selective truths... in engineering that's lying.
    I think it takes everyone on a project to make it fail.
    I don't. I think one bad decision maker can drive a project into the ground.
    I really doubt that if Apple had went with Copland so many alpha geeks would be flocking to Mac
    Nice to you think so highly of yourself, and so low of everyone else. Hard to say, but you're probably right (in implication) that you get the attention of UNIX types by conformity. But sometimes change and challenge is good too. Would the world be a better place if we didn't have Be's and Apple's to try to challenge assumptions? I think we get to find out...
  • by dke ( 608042 ) on Thursday September 12, 2002 @09:08AM (#4243961) Homepage
    This is just absolutely false. The NeXT kernel (Mach/BSD) and Cocoa were ported very quickly
    But they had no value until they adapted to their market, which took all the time. And actually they really weren't. The software compiled and ran, that doesn't mean they were ready to ship. What about drivers? What about Apps? Apple had to rewrite all the utilities and environments that ran on them to make them useful. WIth Carbon/Copland this would have been much easier. NeXT-Apple threw away things like QD3D, QDGX and so on and started over. The other apps would have run. I'm not saying that was the wrong choice: but it is what cost the time. So it wasn't really running (well) until Jaguar.
    NeXT delivered on its promises, it's just that Apple's requirements changed.
    Ummm, Apple was NeXT and was the one that changed the requirements. But I tend to agree that NeXT could have delivered much sooner, if they wanted to kill themselves (since they were then Apple). But the plan was brain-dead from the start; and they either knew it, or should have known it, from day one. As for why the full move wouldn't have been complete until Gershwin, that was because Apple management wouldn't let Copland team to Carbon and required 100% compatibility. (The point of the article).
  • by dke ( 608042 ) on Thursday September 12, 2002 @09:26AM (#4244058) Homepage
    Who was fired (or otherwise bitterly parted ways)
    Ah, ye who know so much about me, explain more. I left PowerSchool (not Apple), as we sold it to Apple for $62M. Pretty good mismanagement taking an company from 7 to 200+ employees, and from $1M to $62M in 2 years. I chose not to work for a large organization (even if it is Apple), because I don't like the politics. This had already trended that way, and after a couple years of 70+ hour weeks it was time to go... But I like how you can see this as Apple bashing (saying they could have succeeded either way), or me as Apple basher (because I have some problems with the quality on one project; WebObjects). Such is life: people see what they want to.
  • by rtm1 ( 560452 ) on Thursday September 12, 2002 @12:51PM (#4245493)
    I seriously doubt that if they had built a brand new OS just for the Mac that we would be where we are today. Because OS X is Unix I can compile and use all kinds of Unix software with a minimum of fuss, sysadmins are comfortable using it because it's familiar, geeks love it because its open, and it is getting praise and attention in all sorts of places it otherwise wouldn't have.

    If the new Mac OS had been rebuilt from the ground up I don't think we would have as much of this, or possibly any of it at all. A ground up Mac OS would probably be proprietary, closed, and Apple would be left to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to software development.

    I think that Apple has made a good tradeoff here. Sure, OS X does feel a little disharmonious in the interface, but the community, sysadmin, and software support are well worth it, IMHO.

If you suspect a man, don't employ him.