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NeXTSTEP desktop.png
Developer NeXT
Written in C, Objective-C
OS family Unix-like
Working state Historic, as original code base for OS X
Source model Closed source with some Open source components
Initial release September 18, 1989
Latest release 3.3 / 1995
Platforms Motorola 68000, Intel x86, SPARC, PA-RISC
Kernel type Hybrid
Default user interface Graphical
License Proprietary EULA
Succeeded by OS X, iOS

NeXTSTEP (also written NeXTstep, NeXTStep, and NEXTSTEP[1]) is an object-oriented, multitasking operating system which was developed by NeXT Computer to run on its range of proprietary workstation computers, such as the NeXTcube. It was later ported to several other computer architectures.

A preview release of NeXTSTEP (version 0.8) was shown at the launch of the NeXT Computer on October 12, 1988. The first full release, NeXTSTEP 1.0, shipped on September 18, 1989.[2] The last version, 3.3, was released in early 1995, by which time it ran on not only the Motorola 68000 family processors used in NeXT computers, but also Intel x86, Sun SPARC, and HP PA-RISC-based systems.

NeXTSTEP was later modified to separate the underlying operating system from the higher-level object libraries. The result was the OpenStep API, which ran on multiple underlying operating systems, including NeXT's own OPENSTEP.

Apple purchased NeXT in 1996, to use its more advanced operating system to replace Classic Mac OS, which Apple had been unable to modernize internally. Apple's OS X and iOS are direct descendants of NeXTSTEP, through the OPENSTEP lineage, and several OS X apps such as TextEdit, Mail and Chess are descended from NeXTSTEP applications.


NeXTSTEP was a combination of several parts:

NeXTSTEP is notable for having been a preeminent implementation of the last three items. The toolkits offered considerable power, and were used to build all of the software on the machine. Many developers found that the distinctive features of the Objective-C language made the writing of applications with NeXTSTEP far easier than on many competing systems, which made NeXTStep a paragon of computer development.

NeXTSTEP's user interface is considered to be refined and consistent. It introduced the idea of the Dock (carried through OpenStep and into OS X) and the Shelf. NeXTSTEP also created or was among the very first to include a large number of other GUI concepts now common in other operating systems: 3D "chiseled" widgets, large full-color icons, system-wide drag and drop of a wide range of objects beyond file icons, system-wide piped services, real-time scrolling and window dragging, properties dialog boxes called "inspectors", window modification notices (such as the saved status of a file), and more. The system was among the first general-purpose user interfaces to handle publishing color standards, transparency, sophisticated sound and music processing (through a Motorola 56000 DSP), advanced graphics primitives, internationalization, and modern typography, in a consistent manner across all applications.

Additional kits were added to the product line to make the system more attractive. These included Portable Distributed Objects (PDO), which allowed easy remote invocation, and Enterprise Objects Framework, a powerful object-relational database system. The kits made the system particularly interesting to custom application programmers, and NeXTSTEP had a long history in the financial programming community.


The first web browser, WorldWideWeb, was developed on the NeXTSTEP platform.

1990 CERN: A Joint proposal for a hypertext system is presented to the management. Mike Sendall buys a NeXT cube for evaluation, and gives it to Tim Berners-Lee. Tim's prototype implementation on NeXTStep is made in the space of a few months, thanks to the qualities of the NeXTStep software development system. This prototype offers WYSIWYG browsing/authoring! Current Web browsers used in "surfing the Internet" are mere passive windows, depriving the user of the possibility to contribute. During some sessions in the CERN cafeteria, Tim and I try to find a catching name for the system. I was determined that the name should not yet again be taken from Greek mythology. Tim proposes "World-Wide Web". I like this very much, except that it is difficult to pronounce in French...

Robert Cailliau, 2 November 1995[3]

Some features and keyboard shortcuts now commonly found in web browsers can be traced to NeXTSTEP conventions. The basic layout options of HTML 1.0 and 2.0 are attributable to those features available in NeXT's Text class.[4]

In the 1990s the pioneering PC games Wolfenstein 3D, Doom (with its level or WAD editor), Doom II and Quake (with its respective level editor) were developed by id Software on NeXT machines. Other games based on the Doom engine such as Heretic and its sequel Hexen by Raven Software as well as Strife by Rogue Entertainment were also developed on NeXT hardware using id's tools.[5]

Altsys made a NeXTSTEP application called Virtuoso, version 2 of which was ported to Mac OS and Windows to become Macromedia FreeHand version 4. The modern "Notebook" interface for Mathematica, and the advanced spreadsheet Lotus Improv, were developed using NeXTSTEP. The software that controlled MCI's Friends and Family program was developed using NeXTSTEP.[6][7]

About the time of the 3.2 release, NeXT teamed up with Sun Microsystems to develop OpenStep, a cross-platform object-oriented API standard derived from NeXTSTEP. Implementations of that standard were released for Sun's Solaris, Windows NT, and NeXT's version of the Mach kernel. NeXT's implementation was called "OPENSTEP for Mach" and its first release (4.0) superseded NeXTSTEP 3.3 on NeXT, Sun and Intel IA-32 systems.

Following an announcement on December 20, 1996,[8] on February 4, 1997, Apple Computer acquired NeXT for $429 million. Based upon the "OPENSTEP for Mach" operating system, and developing the NeXT API to become Cocoa, Apple created the basis for OS X,[9] and eventually, in turn, for iOS.

A free software implementation of the OpenStep standard, GNUstep, also exists.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

The anime series Serial Experiments Lain was influenced by NeXTSTEP and Mac OS. References may be found throughout the show and its affiliated media, most notably the slogan for the Lain PSX Game, "Close the world, Open the NeXT".

The interface of NeXTSTEP 3.3 made a brief appearance in the animated film Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance, as Ritsuko Akagi's workstation desktop.

Release history[edit]

Version Date Distribution Medium Notes
0.8 October 12, 1988 MO disc First available version; for NeXT hardware only.
0.8a 1988 MO disc
0.9 1988 MO disc
1.0 1989 MO disc
1.0a 1989 MO disc
2.0 September 18, 1990 MO disc
2.1 March 25, 1991 MO disc
2.1a MO disc
3.0 September 8, 1992[11] CD-ROM
3.1 May 25, 1993 CD-ROM First release for the i486 architecture.
3.2 October 1993 CD-ROM
3.3 February 1995 CD-ROM Support for the PA-RISC and SPARC architectures added, introducing Quad-FAT Binaries. Last and most popular version released under the name NeXTSTEP
4.0 July 1996 CD-ROM Support for the PA-RISC architecture dropped. Support for m68k, i486 and SPARC architectures. Initial Release of Openstep for Windows
4.1 January 1997 CD-ROM Support for m68k, i486 and SPARC architectures, and Openstep for Windows, under Openstep Enterprise.
4.2 Pre-release 2 September 1997 CD-ROM Pre-release 2 circulated to limited number of developers before OpenStep and Apple acquisition

Versions up to 4.1 were general releases. Openstep 4.2 was a bug-fix release published by Apple and supported 5 years after its release in September 1997.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ford, Kevin (2008). "What's with all the NeXT names?". Retrieved 2009-09-07. 
  2. ^ Singh, Amit (December 2003). "What is Mac OS X?". Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  3. ^ Roads and Crossroads of Internet History Chapter 4: Birth of the Web
  4. ^ Tim Berners-Lee: WorldWideWeb, the first Web client
  5. ^ John Romero of id Software talks about development of Doom and other Doom engine games on NeXT
  6. ^ "MCI used NeXT software to power its revolutionary Friends and Family networking referral campaign, which other rivals couldn't match for years."
  7. ^ Water Utility Consultants | Water Utility Consulting by StepWise. (2012-09-12). Retrieved on 2013-07-17.
  8. ^ "Apple Computer, Inc. Agrees to Acquire NeXT Software Inc." (Press release). Apple Computer, Inc. December 20, 1996. Archived from the original on March 1, 1997. Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  9. ^ Linzmayer, Owen W. (1999). Apple Confidential: The Real Story of Apple Computer, Inc. 
  10. ^ "GNUStep: Introduction". Retrieved May 2, 2013. 
  11. ^ NeXT Ships NeXTSTEP Release 3.0, Third Generation of the Complete Object-Oriented Environment


This article is based on material taken from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing prior to 1 November 2008 and incorporated under the "relicensing" terms of the GFDL, version 1.3 or later.

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