The best $400 million Apple, or any other company, ever spent

In the late 1990s, Apple was in big trouble. The company’s effort to come up with a new operating system had failed. Thankfully, Apple’s CEO Gil Amelio made the best business decision he’s ever made.

Mac OS X Public Beta (Photo: MacDailyNews)
Mac OS X Public Beta (Photo: MacDailyNews)
Mac OS X Public Beta (Photo: MacDailyNews)
Mac OS X Public Beta (Photo: MacDailyNews)

Jason Snell for Macworld:

In a spectacularly humbling moment for Apple, the company began searching for a company from which it could buy or license an operating system or, at the least, use as the foundation of a new version of Mac OS. The company’s management, led by CEO Gil Amelio and CTO Ellen Hancock, clearly had come to the conclusion that Apple itself was incapable of building the next-generation Mac OS…

The two most obvious targets were small companies with operating systems that had the modern features Apple wanted most. Both were, perhaps unsurprisingly, being run by former Apple executives.

In one corner was Be, Inc., run by Jean-Louis Gasseé. Be was developing a new, modern graphical interface from scratch, and it ran on the same PowerPC chips Apple used at the time. You could even reboot from Mac OS into BeOS on certain Power Mac models. BeOS was gorgeous, fast, and offered advanced search capabilities that were far ahead of its time. Its biggest liability was that it was unfinished, so if Apple were to buy it, there would be a huge amount of development ahead of it.

In the other corner was NeXT, founded by Steve Jobs. Although perhaps a bit less cutting-edge than BeOS, NextStep was a more complete package, and it also had the Steve Jobs factor. Amelio and Hancock were apparently convinced, and brokered a $400 million deal to buy NeXT and bring Jobs back to Apple in an advisory role… NextStep, that operating system that came over in the deal, was essentially the core of Mac OS X. The software decisions made at NeXT in the 1990s reverberate to this day, in code that runs not just on the Mac, but on all of Apple’s devices — iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV.

MacDailyNews Take: Despite his short tenure (February 2, 1996 – July 9, 1997), that one decision places Gil Amelio among the best CEOs that Apple’s ever had.

There’s much more in the recommended full article here.

The best $400 million Apple, or any other company, ever spent. Image: Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs


    1. Jobs with Ashton Kutcher is a good movie, it does a good job of catching the vibe of that period. “Critics” hated it but it was better than the one with the deadpan Michael Fassbender. In general movies like this aren’t all that exciting, who cares about the development of consumer porn watching technology? I’d much rather see a movie about Fred Terman and the beginnings of Silicon Valley, the founding of HP, SRI, involvement in WWII and Cold War weapons tech, etc.

  1. Yes, there are already some great Apple/Steve stories already in the wild. Another one is fine by me.

    I never really thought about the credit due to Amelio and never heard of Ellen Hancock‘s place in the decision.

    Just imagine being willing to eat that much crow. Kudos to the players involved to be able to swallow the boatload of pride. With the rumored 3 wks of payroll remaining in the bank, I guess there was little choice.

    1. Both Apple Business decisions are equal – adjusted for inflation, of course. (Grin).

      I view the two decisions this way. Buying NeXT Step paved the way for a hardware/software Renaissance synergy at Apple that is still going strong to this day 20 years later.

      Buying Beats cemented the decision to expand its Corporate Portfolio from mainly hardware/software products to Services. And in the long run, perhaps Apple’s services will form that unique synergy with its hardware/software products that will insure Apple survives for the next 20 years healthy and strong when other companies, perhaps, develop more revolutionary hardware/software products than Apple. Services will provide Apple with the “breathing space” and financial resources to weather the inevitable technological innovation drought ALL tech companies go thru. (Apple just barely survived their last one. Microsoft came very close to failure had it not turned to income derived from its Azure Cloud service business.) Intel may only survive as a second rate Foundary Companyd – since the x86 CISC chip paradigm maybe approaching the end of its usefulness or life cycle. Too bad Intel lacks any service derived income to fall back upon.

  2. Choosing Tim Cook as his successor was the worst decision Steve Jobs ever made. Cook converted Apple from an insanely great company known for making the very best products in the world, to a loudmouth, whining company that censors its own customers and attacks free speech and the Constitution.

    1. Exactly where in the Constitution does it say that a private party has the obligation to promote third-party speech that they regard as untruthful or harmful to their own interest and/or that of their customers?

      1. The leftist hypocrite is back preaching harmful speech wrapped in the Constitution, AGAIN, but notice without SPECIFICS just inference generalizations. Because we all know why if he specified all would be directed toward the Right and defending President Trump’s censorship from several social media apps. The glaring double-standard TxHypocrite will never admit to “harmful” LEFTISTS HATE SPEECH all over the internet in dozens of Apps available on Apple’s App Store. His fellow hero hypocrite Cook BOTH are of the same dishonest ilk…

        1. Of course, that was ONLY because radio (and television) stations were using PUBLIC airways to broadcast their signals. For that reason, the Fairness Doctrine NEVER applied to cable television outlets (hello, Fox News).

  3. The real crime (admittedly one of several) is what Scully and his management team did to Pink. Rudimentary versions of Pink were running as far back as 89/90. It was a great leap forward. It’s design goals would have outclassed BeOs and very likely NeXT’s offerings.

    Then management decided it had to be both cutting edge AND 100% backward compatible with System 7. They decreed that Pink (which eventually took on a plethora of names over the following 7+ years) must be natively 100% compatible with all System 7 savvy software. Note that this does not mean they were intending a bolt on package like Rosetta or anything like they. They wanted all those capabilities as part of the main OS itself.

    The dual requirements of both cutting edge capabilities AND 100% backward compatibility eventually made it unworkable.

    Scully and his team going down that path was bad enough, but it being carried on by Spindler and even Amelio for a while was a real crime.

  4. With talk of Windows on Apple Silicon I’ve also been reminiscing over the PPCP/CHRP era. We could see “one platform to rule them all” again… maybe?

  5. My slant on Gil Amelio was that he was going to do everything wrong (remember the Performa) except for one thing. That’s when I bought a nice lot of Apple stock and haven’t looked back ever since, leaving the laughter of those who thought I was crazy and replacing it with my own every step to the bank

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