“Steve Jobs returned to Apple after a 12-year absence when it acquired his company NeXt in 1997,” Klint Finley reports for Wired. “Under his leadership, Apple went on to reinvent itself as a leading consumer electronics company and the most valuable publicly traded company in the world.”

“But it almost didn’t happen. Apple came this close to acquiring another company instead, a startup also founded by an Apple alumnus that for a brief moment had what was considered the world’s hottest operating system: Be Inc.,” Finley reports. “BeOS attracted a cult following akin to that of the Amiga. Science fiction author Neal Stephenson even called it the Batmobile of operating systems in his book In the Beginning Was the Command Line. But in 1997 BeOS was still rough around the edges, and Gassée and his backers reportedly wanted far more for Be Inc. than Apple thought the company was worth. So Apple acquired NeXt, used its operating system NeXTstep as the basis for OS X, and left Be to fend for itself.”

“These days Gassée says he’s glad Apple bought NeXt instead of Be,” Finley reports. “But it’s hard not to wonder what the past couple decades of tech history would have looked like if Apple had gone the other way.”

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MacDailyNews Take: This OS nearly made Apple an entirely different company.

Yeah, the defunct kind.

And, in effect, NeXT acquired Apple. And, thank Jobs, who installed many NeXT executives in powerful positions throughout Apple. The decision to buy NeXT is what saved Apple. It is the very foundation upon which the world’s most valuable company stands today.