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Close Call: Apple's OS X Almost Looked Exactly Like OS 8 (From the Book Inside Steve's Brain)

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There's a gem of a story—one of many—in Leander Kahney's new book, Inside Steve's Brain, about the biggest OS X mistake Apple never made: The original plan UI was to take the old crusty crap interface from Mac OS Classic and drop it on top of the core. Thankfully Steve Jobs called the entire UI team a "bunch of idiots" and they used the beautiful tech demo mockups as the basis for what you see on leopard's OS today. Close call, eh?

After buying NeXT, Apple had to figure out how to turn NeXT-step into a Macintosh operating system. At first, the job looked so big that Apple's programmers decided they should take the old interface in Mac OS 8 and try to graft it on top of the NeXT-step codebase..."We assigned one designer to OS X," he recalled. "His job was pretty boring: make the new stuff look like the old stuff."

But Razlaff thought it was a shame to put an ugly facade on such an elegant system, and soon, had designers creating mockups of new interface show off advanced technologies under NeXTstep's hood.

Jobs called Razlaff into a meeting before ever seeing the prototypes, immediately called them "a bunch of idiots" and complained about the old Mac interface.

One of the things he hated most were all the different mechanisms for opening windows and folders. There were at least eight different ways...


The meeting ended with Jobs and Razlaff, now a creative at Frog Design, figuring out how to fix the UI issues, and Jobs asked for the mockups to be made into prototypes. Three weeks later Jobs dropped a compliment on the man.

This is the first evidence of three-digit intelligence at Apple I've seen yet.

And this was just the start. And over the next few weeks, Jobs and Ratzlaff's team would meet once a week where the CEO would pore over mockups and code based executions, pixel by pixel, until the UI was done.


I got through a copy of Leander's book this weekend, and to my delight it was very fact, quote and anecdote dense, not only relying on many previous interviews but lots of original reporting, as well. (Like the story above.) There are people at Portfolio complaining that Jobs didn't participate in the book, but anyone who knows anything about Jobs knows that he does not typically comment on these projects. What you'll find is some crossover with previous historical treatments by other authors, but put together in a unique way. Leander's does not dote on the history or sequence because it is organized by, well, mannerisms of Steve's Brain, dissecting how the man thinks between many anecdotes like the one above.

The book is pretty good at highlighting the evidence of his genius, chalking up the control-freakiness that he has a rep for as a strategy. (As a comparison, his Pixar is relatively open with news.) But I would have liked a little more discussion here about one or two things. Like Apple TV's lack of support for DivX, while Jobs is lauded for being open to new business models even if they threaten old ones, for example. But this is a minor point — the book covers a lot of ground and does it over a nice stretch; to about the time where the iPhone launched plus the SDK and bricking debacles.

And even though it's meant for business nerds, who is to say that we all couldn't use a little bit more evil/genius? One could use this as a guide to pretending to be Jobs, at work, at home, and in bed I mean at work. I call everyone here on staff a friggin idiot every day, and it seems to be working ok. CHEN WHERE ARE MY TPS REPORTS!? And of course, there are dozens of new interesting stories in the book like the one above. [Inside Steve's Brain]

P.S. Leander adds "please buy my book." I told him I'd just photo copy the whole thing and mail it by US Postal to whoever wants a copy and send him the bill for the stamps. That might take awhile, so if you want, pick up a copy before then.


P.P.S. BoingBoing's Rob B. did this funny treatment of the book. You'll have to see it for yourself.