Apple at 30: Part 2 -- The Newton, Clone Wars and Jobs returns

Editor’s note: Apple Computer Inc. celebrated its 30th birthday on April 1. This is Part 2 of a virtual trip down memory lane that looks back at some Apple’s famous -- and infamous -- moments during the past three decades, including the advent of the Newton, the Clone Wars of the mid-1990s, Copeland and, finally, the return of Steve Jobs. Part 1 is available online already, and the final installment will be posted next week.

What Was a Palm Before There Was a Palm? A Newton

Today, many people take their Palm devices and Pocket PCs for granted. Even full-scale tablet PCs are becoming more mainstream. But in the early 1990s, the idea was radical that you could carry a handheld computer around that could manage a great deal of information and run its own applications -- let alone that the computer could recognize a variation of your own handwriting. Yet Apple pioneered this technological feat before anyone else with the Newton. The Newton was bigger than today’s handheld computers (though not terribly), had its own operating system and could be used to record and sync information with a Mac or PC. Unfortunately, the handwriting-recognition routines built into the Newton focused more on learning a person’s handwriting and less on a person learning a modified script (like Palm’s Graffiti, which was licensed by Apple for later Newton models). The Newton developed a fairly loyal user base, never quite took off -- although the concept certainly did. Apple produced these great devices until 1998, even creating a model that included a keyboard and more traditional laptop design called the eMate that was sold as a low-cost laptop for education.

Mac OS vs. Windows

Most Mac users know the sordid tale of the fight between the Mac OS and Windows. Apple needed productivity software for the Mac and turned to Microsoft to develop the fist version of Office for Mac. Microsoft agreed, but the contract enabled it to develop and use the Mac’s GUI elements -- arguably to produce software for the Mac. This later gave Microsoft the ability to develop its own GUI interface, which became Windows 3.1 and later Windows 95, 98, Me and Windows NT, 2000 and XP. Apple and Microsoft remained locked in a lawsuit over Windows’ similarity to the Mac for years but Apple eventually lost. In the meantime, because Windows could be licensed by and run on any number of low-cost PCs, it became the de facto computer operating system in the business world.

Mac OS on Intel - Part I

Apple may be now completing its transition to Intel processors -- witness this week’s unveiling of the 17-in. MacBook Pro -- but this isn’t the first time that such a move was considered. In the early 1990s, Apple and Novell entered an engineering partnership to create a version of the Mac OS that could run on PC hardware. The project was code-named "Star Trek," and the team was successful at getting a PC to boot into a modified version of the Mac OS. This was no small achievement at the time, because this was long before Mac OS X and the mach microkernel that could run on multiple processor families. However, changes in the management of both companies put an end to the project long before it could produce a commercial product.

Ironically, had Apple and Novell been successful, Star Trek could have produced a workable solution before the launch of Windows 95 -- and the past 11 years of computing might have been very different.

QuickTime - Early Proof Apple Was More Than a PC Maker

Anyone today will tell you that Apple is more than just a computer maker, something that has been true for more than a decade. In the early Mac OS days, Apple needed a technology to display audio and video content on its hardware. The solution became known as QuickTime, a combination of graphics, audio and video formats and codecs that can be used to create, edit, view and convert any number of multimedia file types. Apple eventually made QuickTime an open standard that can be used on Mac and Windows computers. In recent years, Apple has gone even further, using QuickTime to help develop video standards such as MPEG 4. The adoption of QuickTime technology as part of a major media standard put Apple in a different sphere of the technology industry altogether (along with giving it revenues that had nothing to do with the Mac or the Apple II). Apple continued this pioneering approach with other technologies, including FireWire, which went on to become a major video technology and earned Apple an Emmy Award for technical achievement.

The Clone Wars

In 1995, Apple execs saw that a large portion of the success by Microsoft and other PC companies was that they licensed their operating systems and technology to outside companies. Facing an ever-shrinking market share after the launch of Windows 95, Apple decided to license the Mac OS to a handful of other companies. These companies built Mac hardware “clones,” with the theory being that doing so would expand the reach of the Mac OS into markets other than those where Apple traditionally focused. Unlike Microsoft, however, Apple decided to maintain some control over its licensees and the quality of their products by requiring that all clone motherboard designs be approved by Apple. The clone approach didn’t work out as planned, and Apple found itself competing against many of the clone vendors without any significant growth in its market share.

In 1997, shortly after the return of Steve Jobs to the fold, Apple used a clause in the clone contract (that all such deals would be renegotiated upon the release of Mac OS 8) to end future Mac clone models. As a result, the version of Mac OS 8 that shipped in 1997 was essentially Mac OS 7.7 and was much different from the intended release Apple had hoped to issue.

Copland, Be and the Quest for a Next-Generation OS

In the mid-1990s, as the Mac OS passed its 10th birthday, it was becoming clear that the operating system was going to need some serious under-the-hood improvements in order to survive for another decade. Although Apple continued to produce a solid interface and a fairly reliable operating system, the Mac OS of the day was missing several core technologies that were beginning to appear in other operating systems. Advances such as protected memory, true virtual memory, modern memory management, true multiprocessor support and other features that enabled increased performance and reliability were becoming the norm in other operating systems -- including Microsoft’s Windows NT (which later became Windows 2000 and XP), NeXT Nextstep/Openstep, IBM’s slowly fading OS/2 and Linux and other Unix variants.

Apple had planned for all these functions -- and more -- to be included in a next-generation version of the Mac OS code-named Copland Initially, Copland was supposed to ship in 1996. But when beta versions were made available to a small number of developers, many realized that this wasn’t likely to happen. The project timeline slipped, and Apple eventually decided to release incremental Mac OS upgrades that would slowly offer new user interface elements, a multithreaded Finder, and all the other promised features over the course of several updates. Unfortunately, very few of those updates were ever released. As it became clear that turning the existing Mac OS into a fully modern operating system might be too much of a challenge, Apple froze development of any Copland features not already slated to be built into Mac OS 7.6 or 7.7. While some features (including an updated interface called Platinum and a multithreaded Finder) got included, most of the next-generation features never showed up. The mythic Copland was to be billed as Mac OS 8. Instead, Mac OS 8 was an incremental upgrade that included some of the interface features of Copland, but little of the underlying functions.

With Copland dead in the water, Apple executives began searching for operating systems developed by smaller companies that could be melded with the Mac OS to offer the dreamed-of next-generation operating system. Whatever was to emerge needed all of the under-the-hood technological advances promised by Copland -- and it needed to be able to run on Power PC processors. The early choice seemed to be Be, a company founded by former Apple executive Jean Louise Gasse. Be produced both hardware and an operating system that included all the features that Apple needed. Gasse began making overtures to Apple before Copland development even ended. At the same time, Apple was investigating the possibility of building a next-generation operating system based on Sun’s Solaris and even Windows NT. While Be remained the front-runner to many people, Gasse opted to play hardball. Eventually the tech world was stunned to learn that Apple had decided to acquire NeXT, the company Steve Jobs had founded after leaving Apple in 1985, and to use the Openstep operating system as a foundation for a next-generation Mac OS.

Steve Jobs Returns to Apple

As part of the deal to acquire NeXT, Steve Jobs received $100 million and 1.5 million shares of Apple stock (he had been the owner of 45% of NeXT). In the summer of 1997, Apple’s board requested the resignation of then-CEO Gil Amelio. The board asked that Jobs serve as CEO after Amelio’s departure. Jobs agreed to become Interim CEO and remained “interim” for years before taking the job officially. One of his first initiatives was to end the Mac clone era. He also helped guide the development of what would become Mac OS X and with design expert Jonathan Ive crafted the unique look and feel that we have come to expect in an Apple product.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and IT consultant specializing in Mac and multi-platform network design and troubleshooting. He is the co-author of Essential Mac OS X Panther Server Administration and the author of Troubleshooting, Maintaining, and Repairing Macs. He is a regular contributor to Inform IT and is the mobile technology correspondent for Suite 101. For more information, visit

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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