This OS nearly made Apple an entirely different company

“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.”

Read more in the full article here.

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.


  1. As much as I like Gasse’s smarts and his Gallic wry sense of humor, at the time that BeOS was being touted as the Next Great Thing, his smugness was kind of offputting. He saw himself as Apple’s rescuer although the Amiga-derived OS was unproven in any commercial machine.

  2. I still love my 1992 NeXTStation. I don’t use it anymore (off course) but it’s about the only old computer which I kept and didn’t sell or give away.

  3. Science fiction author Neal Stephenson even called it the Batmobile of operating systems

    I would never contradict Neal Stephenson.

    But I will point out that BeOS wasn’t mature enough to take over from Mac OS at the time of the massive marketing mayhem at Apple. NeXTStep/OpenStep were far more mature and incorporated technology in the kernel alone that has allowed Apple to do whatever it wants on whatever hardware using the same basic OS. BeOS couldn’t do that.

    Nonetheless, BeOS had some nice new concepts. I wish it had been able to find a niche and continue. Imagine if it had continued development and taken the niche currently held by abysmal Android! THERE would have been some solid competition with Apple!

    1. BeOS almost found its way onto Hitachi computers as a viable alternative to Windows but that plan was killed by what was probably the most egregious example of Microsoft’s illegal anti-competitive bullying.

  4. BeOS was my choice for years. I loved the six second boot time on my 233Mz system rocking 16 megs of RAM. I still have the demo video they created to show it off. In the end though, I think that NeXT was the better decision. p.s. A BeBox computer was a beautiful thing in its day…

  5. No matter what anyone says, Gil Ameliorate deserves credit for buying NeXT rather than Be. He saw the value proposition and knew the more mature Jobs would be an asset to the company.

  6. Read, Becoming Steve Jobs. Gassee stabbed Jobs in the back when he was forced out of Apple. And BeOS couldn’t have been all that, because Apple ended up paying more for NeXT than what Gassee wanted for Be. Gassee may be gracious these days, but he was a dick.

    1. Looking back I was glad they were going to do something. At that moment in time, Windoze NT was starting to look pretty darn good next to OS 9. My employers were beating on me every day about switching to Windows. I finally acquiesced and moved the marketing department to Windows. (They were the noisy ones).

      Then a sign from god came down. Steve Jobs was returning to Apple and Apple was buying NeXT !!! I could hear angels singing.

      After that I had the energy to fight the Windows folks and keep the rest of the company Mac. Apple didn’t let me down. I still love OS X. It’s the foundation of my professional relationship with Apple. Not the phone, not the tablet, and definitely not the watch. OS X is why I’m an Apple guy.

      Everything else is just icing.

      1. “At that moment in time” Apple had System 7.5.5 (the buggiest version of System 7 ever)
        When Steve came back, he (and the engineers) came out with 7.6. A relatively stable version of System 7.
        Then came the major updates of OS 8, the OS 8.5, and THEN OS9.
        While all this was going on, Apple/NeXT was busy behind the scenes getting OS X and the Mac hardware ready for OS X.

      2. I recall experiencing and hearing countless similar stories during those days. Today, I’m sure we’re all so grateful how it’s turned out. Then I was just happy Jobs was back and that UNIX, a real OS, was going to underpin OS X. I never could have seen all of this today. Thankfully, beyond my wildest imagination.

  7. Actually, NeXT was acquired in December 1996. I sure am glad that Apple picked NeXT. It’s clear now that this was the right choice. the Mach kernel, which was later morphed into Darwin eventually evolved into a form that powers every Mac, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Apple Watch. I shudder to think about the possibility that Avie Tevanian, the creator of the Mach kernel, might have went to work for Microsoft had Steve Jobs not wooed him away.

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