Steve Jobs and the History of Cocoa, Part One
Subject:   Apple and NeXT Computer's debt to Xerox's Smalltalk team
Date:   2002-05-17 08:21:44
From:   plount


It's amazing to me that people can write a history of Apple and NeXT computer companies without mentioning the impact of Steve Job's visit to Xerox and the influence upon him when he saw the Smalltalk-80 system. The Smalltalk team didn't want to show Jobs the system for fears that Apple would steal the ideas and thunder. Their fears were correct. Although, in all fairness Apple did pay Xerox one million in options for Steve's visit to their labs. A very wise investment by Mr. Jobs, maybe his best one yet other than Pixar. It was very unwise of Xerox to divest itself of those stocks so soon after receiving them, as they would have made their initial investment into Smalltalk back if they'd held onto them a bit longer.

In Smalltalk Apple saw all the ideas that they needed crystalized in a working system.

NeXT enters the picture as the Objective-C programming language, that is a joy to program in when compared with C__, is based upon C with object oriented extensions taken from Smalltalk. If you learn Objective-C your more than half the way to learning Smalltalk. The largest difference you'll find is in the library of objects.

Speaking of libraries of objects, tools and graphical user interface builders, this is certainly where NeXT shines. However, again almost everything done in NeXTstep/OpenStep was done before in Smalltalk. The NeXT Application Framework and library of objects is quite advanced. It's also one of the best designed application frameworks around. It's elligant design enables a lot to be done with it.

What was missing from the articles was a simple accknowledgement of Apple's inspiration.

The power and ability of Smalltalk systems is a little known secret in the computer industry. Java may be the new kid on the block, but Smalltalk was mature twenty two years ago. Early working versions existed over 30 years ago, and it's been getting better ever since. Many of the ideas in Java were directly borrowed from Smalltalk systems. Almost all the ideas in Java were done in Smalltalk decades before.

In any event, as a long time NeXTstep user and developer - I've got two on my desk right now that I still use, one being an original 33 mhz color NeXTstation turbo color and the other a 450mhz Intel Celeron - I appreciate the advantages of NeXT without having to buy the hype that NeXT and Apple spew about the power of their systems. The same goes for Sun's Java.

The development of the operating system and the personal computer is a genesis that includes many people and ideas with a long and diverse history. While Apple played a major role so did Xerox and Smalltalk.

For a test run of Smalltalk visit and download one of the many excellent versions, open source and commercial alike.

All the best,

Peter WIlliam Lount, Editor