More than three thousand people showed up at the event, lining up two hours before curtain time. They were not disappointed, at least by the show. Jobs was onstage for three hours, and he again proved to be, in the words of
Andrew Pollack of the New York Times, “the Andrew Lloyd Webber of product introductions, a master of stage flair and special effects.” Wes Smith of the Chicago Tribune said the launch was “to product demonstrations what Vatican II was to church meetings.”
Jobs had the audience cheering from his opening line: “It’s great to be back.” He began by recounting the history of personal computer architecture, and he promised that they would now witness an event “that occurs only once or
twice in a decade—a time when a new architecture is rolled out that is going to change the face of computing.” The NeXT software and hardware were
designed, he said, after three years of consulting with universities across the country. “What we realized was that higher ed wants a personal mainframe.”
As usual there were superlatives. The product was “incredible,” he said, “the best thing we could have imagined.” He praised the beauty of even the parts unseen. Balancing on his fingertips the foot-square circuit board that would
be nestled in the foot-cube box, he enthused, “I hope you get a chance to look at this a little later. It’s the most beautiful printed circuit board I’ve ever seen in my life.” He then showed how the computer could play speeches—he
featured King’s “I Have a Dream” and Kennedy’s “Ask Not”—and send email with audio attachments. He leaned into the microphone on the computer to record one of his own. “Hi, this is Steve, sending a message on a pretty historic day.” Then he asked those in the
The one phrase that was true was the one about Paul Jobs’s looking like someone in a Rockwell painting. And perhaps the last phrase, the one about Jobs changing the world. Certainly Perot believed that. Like Sculley, he saw
himself in Jobs. “Steve’s like me,” Perot told the Washington Post’s David Remnick. “We’re weird in the same way. We’re soul mates.”
Gates and NeXT
Bill Gates was not a soul mate. Jobs had convinced him to produce software applications for the Macintosh, which had turned out to be hugely profitable for Microsoft. But Gates was one person who was resistant to Jobs’s reality distortion field, and as a result he decided not to create software tailored for
the NeXT platform. Gates went to California to get periodic demonstrations, but each time he came away unimpressed. “The Macintosh was truly unique, but I personally don’t understand what is so unique about Steve’s new computer,” he told Fortune.
Part of the problem was that the rival titans were congenitally unable to be deferential to each other. When Gates made his first visit to NeXT’s Palo Alto headquarters, in the summer of 1987, Jobs kept him waiting for a half hour in
the lobby, even though Gates could see through the glass walls that Jobs was walking around having casual conversations. “I’d gone down to NeXT and I
had the Odwalla, the most expensive carrot juice, and I’d never seen tech offices so lavish,” Gates recalled, shaking his head with just a hint of a smile. “And Steve comes a half hour late to the meeting.”
Jobs’s sales pitch, according to Gates, was simple. “We did the Mac together,” Jobs said. “How did that work for you?
Perot brought to NeXT something that was almost as valuable as his $20 million lifeline: He was a quotable, spirited cheerleader for the company, who could lend it an air of credibility among grown-ups. “In terms of a startup
company, it’s one that carries the least risk of any I’ve seen in 25 years in the computer industry,” he told the New York Times. “We’ve had some
sophisticated people see the hardware—it blew them away. Steve and his whole NeXT team are the darnedest bunch of perfectionists I’ve ever seen.”
Perot also traveled in rarefied social and business circles that complemented Jobs’s own. He took Jobs to a black-tie dinner dance in San Francisco that Gordon and Ann Getty gave for King Juan Carlos I of Spain. When the king
asked Perot whom he should meet, Perot immediately produced Jobs. They were soon engaged in what Perot later described as “electric conversation,” with Jobs animatedly describing the next wave in computing. At the end the
king scribbled a note and handed it to Jobs. “What happened?” Perot asked. Jobs answered, “I sold him a computer.”
These and other stories were incorporated into the mythologized story of Jobs that Perot told wherever he went. At a briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, he spun Jobs’s life story into a Texas-size yarn about a young man
so poor he couldn’t afford to go to college, working in his garage at night, playing with computer chips, which was his hobby, and his dad—who looks like a character out of a Norman Rockwell painting—comes in one day and
said, “Steve, either make something you can sell or go get a job.” Sixty days later, in a wooden box that his dad made for him, the first Apple
At a forum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1989, Jobs and Gates appeared sequentially, laying out their competing worldviews. Jobs spoke about how new waves come along in the computer industry every few years. Macintosh
had launched a revolutionary new approach with the graphical interface; now NeXT was doing it with object-oriented programming tied to a powerful new machine based on an optical disk. Every major software vendor realized they
had to be part of this new wave, he said, “except Microsoft.” When Gates came up, he reiterated his belief that Jobs’s end-to-end control of the software and the hardware was destined for failure, just as Apple had failed in competing against the Microsoft Windows standard. “The hardware market and the
software market are separate,” he said. When asked about the great design that could come from Jobs’s approach, Gates gestured to the NeXT prototype that was still sitting onstage and sneered, “If you want black, I’ll get you a can of paint.”
Jobs came up with a brilliant jujitsu maneuver against Gates, one that could have changed the balance of power in the computer industry forever. It required Jobs to do two things that were against his nature: licensing out his
software to another hardware maker and getting into bed with IBM. He had a pragmatic streak, albeit a tiny one, so he was able to overcome his reluctance. But his heart was never fully in it, which is why the alliance would turn out to be short-lived.
It began at a party, a truly memorable one, for the seventieth birthday of the Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham in June 1987 in Washington. Six hundred guests attended, including President Ronald Reagan. Jobs flew in
from California and IBM’s chairman John Akers from New York. It was the first time they had met. Jobs took the opportunity to bad-mouth Microsoft and attempt to wean IBM from using its Windows operating system. “I couldn’t resist telling him I thought IBM was taking a giant gamble betting its entire software strategy on
But Gates was brutal to Jobs, just as Jobs could be to others. “This machine is crap,” he said. “The optical disk has too low latency, the fucking case is too expensive. This thing is ridiculous.” He decided then, and reaffirmed on each
subsequent visit, that it made no sense for Microsoft to divert resources from other projects to develop applications for NeXT. Worse yet, he repeatedly
said so publicly, which made others less likely to spend time developing for NeXT. “Develop for it? I’ll piss on it,” he told InfoWorld.
When they happened to meet in the hallway at a conference, Jobs started berating Gates for his refusal to do software for NeXT. “When you get a market, I will consider it,” Gates replied. Jobs got angry. “It was a screaming
battle, right in front of everybody,” recalled Adele Goldberg, the Xerox PARC engineer. Jobs insisted that NeXT was the next wave of computing. Gates, as he often did, got more expressionless as Jobs got more heated. He finally just shook his head and walked away.
Beneath their personal rivalry—and occasional grudging respect—was their basic philosophical difference. Jobs believed in an end-to-end integration of hardware and software, which led him to build a machine that was not
compatible with others. Gates believed in, and profited from, a world in which different companies made machines that were compatible with one another; their hardware ran a standard operating system (Microsoft’s Windows) and
could all use the same software apps (such as Microsoft’s Word and Excel). “His product comes with an interesting feature called incompatibility,” Gates told the Washington Post. “It doesn’t run any of the existing software. It’s a super-nice computer. I don’t think if I
To Jobs’s delight, Akers replied, “How would you like to help us?” Within a few weeks Jobs showed up at IBM’s Armonk, New York, headquarters with his software engineer Bud Tribble. They put on a demo of NeXT, which impressed
the IBM engineers. Of particular significance was NeXTSTEP, the machine’s object-oriented operating system. “NeXTSTEP took care of a lot of trivial
That was too much for Jobs, at least for the time being. He cut off the clone discussions. And he began to cool toward IBM. The chill became reciprocal. When
the person who made the deal at IBM moved on, Jobs went to Armonk to meet his replacement, Jim Cannavino. They cleared the room and talked
one-on-one. Jobs demanded more money to keep the relationship going and to license newer versions of NeXTSTEP to IBM. Cannavino made no commitments,
and he subsequently stopped returning Jobs’s phone calls. The deal lapsed. NeXT got a bit of money for a licensing fee, but it never got the chance to change the world.
programming chores that slow down the software development process,” said Andrew Heller, the general manager of
IBM’s workstation unit, who was so impressed by Jobs that he named his newborn son Steve.
The negotiations lasted into 1988, with Jobs becoming prickly over tiny details. He would stalk out of meetings over
disagreements about colors or design, only to be calmed down by Tribble or Lewin. He didn’t seem to know
which frightened him more, IBM or Microsoft. In April Perot decided to play host for a mediating session at his Dallas
headquarters, and a deal was struck: IBM would license the current version of the NeXTSTEP software, and if the
managers liked it, they would use it on some of their workstations. IBM sent to Palo Alto a 125-page contract. Jobs tossed it down without reading it. “You
don’t get it,” he said as he walked out of the room. He demanded a simpler contract of only a few pages, which he got within a week.
Jobs wanted to keep the arrangement secret from Bill Gates until the big unveiling of the NeXT computer, scheduled for October. But IBM insisted on
being forthcoming. Gates was furious. He realized this could wean IBM off its dependence on Microsoft operating systems. “NeXTSTEP isn’t compatible with anything,” he raged to IBM executives.
At first Jobs seemed to have pulled off Gates’s worst nightmare. Other computer makers that were beholden to Microsoft’s
operating systems, most notably Compaq and Dell, came to ask Jobs for the right to clone NeXT and license NeXTSTEP. There were even
No detail was too small. Jobs went over the invitation list and even the lunch menu (mineral water, croissants, cream cheese, bean sprouts). He picked out a video projection company and paid it $60,000 for help. And he hired the
postmodernist theater producer George Coates to stage the show. Coates and Jobs decided, not surprisingly, on an austere and radically simple stage look. The unveiling of the black perfect cube would occur on a starkly minimalist
stage setting with a black background, a table covered by a black cloth, a black veil draped over the computer, and a simple vase of flowers. Because
neither the hardware nor the operating system was actually ready, Jobs was urged to do a simulation. But he refused. Knowing it would be like walking a tightrope without a net, he decided to do the demonstration live.
them on television, he said, “I was finishing their sentences for them.” It was a line eerily similar to one Sculley had often used. Perot called Jobs the next day and offered, “If you ever need an investor, call me.”
Jobs did indeed need one, badly. But he was careful not to show it. He waited a week before calling back. Perot sent some of his analysts to size up NeXT, but Jobs took care to deal directly with Perot. One of his great regrets in life,
Perot later said, was that he had not bought Microsoft, or a large stake in it, when a very young Bill Gates had come to visit him in Dallas in 1979. By the time Perot called Jobs, Microsoft had just gone public with a $1 billion
valuation. Perot had missed out on the opportunity to make a lot of money and have a fun adventure. He was eager not to make that mistake again.
Jobs made an offer to Perot that was three times more costly than had quietly been offered to venture capitalists a few months earlier. For $20 million,
Perot would get 16% of the equity in the company, after Jobs put in another $5 million. That meant the company would be valued at about $126 million. But money was not a major consideration for Perot. After a meeting with
Jobs, he declared that he was in. “I pick the jockeys, and the jockeys pick the horses and ride them,
Jobs wanted to bundle useful content with the machine, so Michael Hawley, one of the engineers, developed a digital dictionary. He learned that a friend of his at Oxford University Press had been involved in the typesetting of a new edition of Shakespeare’s works. That meant that there was probably a
computer tape he could get his hands on and, if so, incorporate it into the NeXT’s memory. “So I called up Steve, and he said that would be awesome, and we flew over to Oxford together.” On a beautiful spring day in 1986, they met in the publishing house’s grand building in the heart of
Joe Nocera, then writing for Esquire, captured Jobs’s intensity at a NeXT staff meeting:
It’s not quite right to say that he is sitting through this staff meeting, because Jobs doesn’t sit through much of anything; one of the ways he dominates is through sheer movement. One moment he’s kneeling in his chair; the next
minute he’s slouching in it; the next he has leaped out of his chair entirely and is scribbling on the blackboard directly behind him. He is full of mannerisms. He bites his nails. He stares with unnerving earnestness at whoever is
speaking. His hands, which are slightly and inexplicably yellow, are in constant motion.
What particularly struck Nocera was Jobs’s “almost willful lack of tact.” It was more than just an inability to hide his opinions when others said something he thought dumb; it was a conscious readiness, even a perverse eagerness, to put
people down, humiliate them, show he was smarter. When Dan’l Lewin handed out an organization chart, for example, Jobs rolled his eyes. “These charts are bullshit,” he interjected. Yet his moods still swung wildly, as at Apple. A finance person came into the meeting and Jobs lavished praise on him for a
He also insisted on building his own fully automated and futuristic factory, just as he had for the Macintosh; he had not been chastened by that experience. This time too he made the same mistakes, only more excessively. Machines and robots were painted and repainted as he compulsively revised
his color scheme. The walls were museum white, as they had been at the Macintosh factory, and there were $20,000 black leather chairs and a custom-made staircase, just as in the corporate headquarters. He insisted
that the machinery on the 165-foot assembly line be configured to move the circuit boards from right to left as they got built, so that the process would look better to visitors who watched from the viewing gallery. Empty circuit
boards were fed in at one end and twenty minutes later, untouched by humans, came out the other end as completed boards. The process followed the Japanese principle known as kanban, in which each machine performs its task only when the next machine is ready to receive another part.
that the NeXT machine “not use an operating system compatible with the Macintosh,” though it could be argued that Apple would have been better served by insisting on just the opposite.
After the settlement Jobs continued to court Esslinger until the designer decided to wind down his contract with Apple. That allowed frogdesign to work with NeXT at the end of 1986. Esslinger insisted on having free rein, just
as Paul Rand had. “Sometimes you have to use a big stick with Steve,” he said. Like Rand, Esslinger was an artist, so Jobs was willing to grant him indulgences he denied other mortals.
Jobs decreed that the computer should be an absolutely perfect cube, with each side exactly a foot long and every angle precisely 90 degrees. He liked cubes. They had gravitas but also the slight whiff of a toy. But the NeXT cube was a Jobsian example of design desires trumping engineering
considerations. The circuit boards, which fitted nicely into the traditional pizza-box shape, had to be reconfigured and stacked in order to nestle into a cube.
Even worse, the perfection of the cube made it hard to manufacture. Most parts that are cast in molds have angles that are slightly greater than pure 90 degrees, so that it’s easier to get them out of the mold (just as it is easier to get a cake out of a pan that has angles slightly greater than 90 degrees). But
Esslinger dictated, and Jobs enthusiastically agreed, that there would be no such “draft angles” that would ruin the purity and perfection of the cube. So the sides had to be produced separately, using molds that cost $650,000, at a
specialty machine shop in Chicago. Jobs’s passion for perfection was out of control. When he noticed a tiny line in the chassis caused by the molds, something that any other computer maker would accept as unavoidable, he
flew to Chicago and convinced the die caster to start over and do it perfectly. “Not a lot of die casters expect a celebrity to fly in,” noted one of the engineers. Jobs also had the company buy a $150,000 sanding machine to remove all lines where the mold faces met and insisted that the
Perot to the RescueIn late 1986 Jobs sent out a proposal to venture capital firms offering a 10% stake in NeXT for $3 million. That put a valuation on the entire company of $30 million, a number that Jobs had pulled out of thin air.
Less than $7 million had gone into the company thus far, and there was little to show for it other than a neat logo and some snazzy offices. It had no revenue or products, nor any on the horizon. Not surprisingly, the venture capitalists all passed on the offer to invest.