“Small teams make the software that makes a difference in our world, not big ones” — Ken Anderson for AppStorey
Today, Ken Anderson is a successful mobile, and server systems engineer and entrepreneur, but in 1990 Ken was trying to get his start in the ultra-competitive commodities trading business, and ended up helping change the way trading software gets made forever.
This story takes place during a time when there was no world wide web to surf, and no AppStore to purchase software. This is the story about that very moment. The moment when all computer history was about to change.
Avie Teveniean, NeXT Chief of Software says “We make software simple, and complex software… possible.” Reports Ken Anderson for AppStorey
Personal Computers were already part of the financial services industry in 1990, spreadsheets and lightweight financial Apps made up maybe 30-40% of the dollars spent on software. The rest of the budget, most often the majority, was what those in the business called “Mission Critical Custom Applications“, or just MCCA. This computing work was done by desktop Workstation Computers, a class of computer no longer found in today’s marketplace. A computer category that sat squarely between the personal computer and the network server computer.
To succeed in commodity trading Ken needed an edge in the business, and he’d seen some interesting things around his neighborhood that caught his attention.
“I grew up with a guy named Josh Doenias (lived 3 blocks from me). He went to Reed and became one of the earliest developers at NeXT. He’s the one who really turned me on to the computer…the tools and technologies were so immediately, obviously revolutionary” — says Ken Anderson for AppStorey “once you set eyes on it, once I really saw what he was working on…I knew I had to get into this myself”
The NeXT computer was a technological wonder, and an inspiration to software engineers and creative developers everywhere.
Every NeXT bundled an advanced multimedia email application (the very first of its kind) that included rich-text, and inline audio attachments, called Lip-Service.
Listen to Steve Jobs speak to every NeXT user, via the first multimedia email message (as captured by AppStorey using original vintage NeXT Computers):
Hi this is Steve Jobs, I want to welcome you to the NeXT World. We think you’re going to love this computer, it’s got the most advanced applications of any computer shipping today, and it’s the first computer designed from scratch to be an inter-personal computer —to extend personal computing into the realm of improving group productivity and collaboration, which we think is going to be the most exciting thing happening in desktop computing in the first half of the 90s’ So welcome to the NeXT World, and let us know what you think of your new computer.
[Steve Jobs speaks via NeXTMail Lip-Service in 1988]
In 1988, Personal Computers did not come with any networking or email programs at all.
Having networked, multimedia email was just one of the many things that made the NeXT Computer the most technically advanced computer of its time. So much of what computers were to become, was first seen and first used on this historically advanced NeXT Computer.
“NeXT had a small group of software developers, which kept the code clear and tight. Look at the Java APIs… they’re terrible compared to NeXT.” — Ken Anderson says to AppStorey “Without NeXT, Steve would likely have not returned to Apple, and we would probably would not be having this conversation at all.”
Phibro is an international physical commodities trading firmBack in the early 1990’s when Ken started working at Phibro, they wanted to build what they called ICTS (Integrated Commodity Trading Systems). Ken needed to decide what to build his system on. The options were Windows 2 (yes, that’s Windows TWO) Sun Microsystem’s SunView, or what else? Ken selected the unknown option: NeXT.
NeXT first brought the promise of OO programming to industrial software design. Ken first brought NeXT technology to Phibro International Commodities Trading. InterfaceBuilder and the dynamic features of Objective-C made formerly impossibly complex custom Apps, possible. Phibro took notice of the improvements in App quality and developer productivity Ken’s choice had ushered in, and responded with a record sale of over $3 million in NeXT hardware.
For Phibro and others at that time, if they were choosing a workstation computer simply on engineering merits, NeXT won hands down. NeXT had the tools developers needed, and the proof was in the computer itself.
“I have more memories from that short period of time than I do many of the years before and after. It also seemed to bring the west coast and east coast communities together in a unique way” — says Ken Anderson for AppStorey “I travelled west more often than I ever have before or since”
The idea that NeXT made all of these very same developer tools available for professional computer scientists; these very same tools and technologies were used to create the NeXT Computer and all the Apps on it —that, in itself, was an incredibly bold statement about NeXT’s commitment to their development tools. There was no other vendor taking on such a broad responsibility, certainly not IBM, Apple or Microsoft.
This newfound programming power may have been a surprise to the very NeXT engineers responsible for the Object Oriented Application Layer simply referred to as “AppKit”. Today’s “UIKit” for iOS is the simile of that original architecture first created in 1988.
By design, The NeXT Computer was to be an education computer, but after Ken’s success at Phibro, NeXT was a Mission Critical Custom App-building Workstation Computer.
“The NeXT was history’s greatest computer because it set the foundation for everything we’ve done since.” — Ken Anderson for AppStorey
These very same developer tools are still used today to create iPhone and every one of the Apps on it. Quite literally —NeXT Project Builder and Interface Builder are now called Xcode. This term of multi-decade tenure for leading software design, tools and methodologies to persist and evolve is a testament to the fact they remain unsurpassed to this day.
What NeXT thought was to be a higher education workstation class computer, turned out to be the “bigger-telescope” computer scientists needed to see out into the future we live in today. The Web was created to freely transfer information, and the AppStore to protect digital rights online; these are the most fundamental building blocks of today’s mobile world. These are the legs upon which modern computing stands, and one computer is responsible.
You didn’t know.
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