Apple Computer ended months of speculation late Friday, when it announced plans to buy NeXT Software Inc. and adopt the Nextstep operating system as its future OS foundation. Apple CEO Gilbert Amelio said a new system that merges Nextstep with the Mac OS would ship "in the 1997 time frame," and be released to developers in six months.
"We picked plan A instead of plan B," Amelio quipped, in a reference to BeOS, from Be Inc., which reportedly was Apple's main OS alternative. "NeXT was superior technology by a significant amount," he said.
The deal with privately held NeXT will comprise $350 million in cash and $50 million in assumed debt, Apple said. The two companies have plans to merge products, employees and services into a single company owned and managed by Apple. As part of the agreement, NeXT chairman and CEO Steven P. Jobs will become a part-time advisor to Amelio while continuing his role as CEO of Pixar Animation Studios.
Jobs, a Silicon Valley legend, founded Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1977 and was chairman of the Cupertino, Calif.-based company until 1995, when he left Apple under pressure and formed NeXT. The Redwood City, Calif.-based NeXT created a new hardware design and OS but later shifted to client/server tools and the Internet.
Nextstep is an objected oriented operating system based on the Mach kernel, which uses Display PostScript as its imaging engine and Objective C as its primary development language. Currently at Version 4.0, Nextstep runs on Intel Pentium, Motorola 680x0, Sun Sparc, and Hewlett-Packard's PA-Risc processors. No Power PC port of Nextstep has been released, but on Friday the companies promised both Power Mac and Power PC platform versions.
Built on a Unix core, Nextstep provides key services missing from the current Mac OS, which Apple has identified as essential to its future. These services include protected memory, pre-emptive multitasking, multithreading, and symmetric multiprocessing. To this list, Apple said Nextstep adds scalability, Internet hooks and acceptance in enterprise markets.
Speaking before an audience of reporters and employees, Amelio called the combination of NeXT and Apple, "a very complementary arrangement." NeXT technology and Apple's market presence will "launch a new round of innovation in the industry," and, "offer developers a new and exciting proposition," he said. Executives stress that adopting Nextstep will allow Apple to deliver its next-generation OS sooner.
"I believe that we're in a far better position than we were with Copeland," said Apple chief technical officer (CTO) Ellen Hancock, in reference to Mac OS 8, code named Copeland, which Apple scraped earlier this year. Both Hancock and Amelio promised to disclose more details of the combined OS strategy on January 7 at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. In response to questions about maintaining compatibility with existing System 7 applications, Jobs said, "It's obviously a requirement that any future OS run Mac apps."
When asked by an Apple employee about development tools for the new OS, Jobs and Amelio called on Metrowerks Inc.'s president Greg Gallanos, who pledged a suite of tools for the hybrid system. Some 90 percent of commercial Mac developers who use Metrowerks' Code Warrior will receive tools for Nextstep as part of their prepaid update. Metrowerks made a commitment to release Mac-based Objective C compilers in time for the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in May, as well as create C++ compilers that support Objective C runtimes. Also, Gallanos said the Austin, Texas-based Metrowerks will adapt its compilers to Interface Builder, one of the fundamental development tools in Nextstep.
Jobs defended NeXT's use of Objective C over the more popular C++, which is used by much of Apple's development community. "Dynamic objects must have a dynamic messaging structure," he said. In addition, he claimed that programmers would need an hour to an afternoon to convert C or C++ code to Objective C.
Heidi Roizen, Apple vice-president of developer relations, said the company has not determined its transition plans for third party developers, but Apple will not wait for WWDC to roll out developer support services for the hybrid OS. Friday's pre-holiday announcement was "tough timing," Roizen said. According to Amelio, Apple's OS evaluation team made its final recommendation two weeks ago.
According to Hancock, NeXT has "done a nice job and removed a lot of the Unix-ness. There's some left, but we'll be working with them to remove it." Hancock declined to specify that Apple would replace Nextstep's Mach kernel with its Copeland microkernel, or swap Display PostScript with the Mac's Quickdraw. "We have a lot more work to do on that," she said. "We're hoping to have answers by Jan 7."
When asked about the impact of this technology merger on the Mac's multimedia and 3-D capabilities, Hancock said, "The [Copeland] plans we had in place did not yield the performance customers needed in that area. We will be able to drive into that market with NeXT technology."
In addition to the OS, Apple will acquire NeXT's WebObjects technology, which links corporate databases to the Internet. Compared to Apple's current portfolio of Internet products, WebObjects is "a much stronger story" for enterprises and intranets, said Larry Tesler, general manager of Apple's Internet division. He said that NeXT's engineering team would not be spread among Apple's various divisions. Avie Tevanian, NeXT vice-president of engineering, will head up the OS merger effort under CTO Hancock.
Both Jobs and Amelio repeatedly emphasized that the purchase of NeXT by Apple would combine complementary technologies and create new market opportunities for developers. The deal will be "fuel for the market -- not just Apple, but the copycats as well -- for the next ten years," Jobs said.