Video- Steve Jobs, NeXT and the Internet

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The very next week in the same classroom I was giving my lecture on the inside story of the history of the Internet and the World Wide Web, sharing some of my interviews with early pioneers. As I gave the lecture and watched my video interviews thinking about Steve Jobs, I began to realize how important Apple and the NeXT technology was to those early innovators. Their advanced development environment and rich display capabilities led early innovators to think of the Internet, less as a text only, and more as an engaging multimedia experience.

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Hello, and welcome to Conversations with Computing. In this column I take a look at some of the second order effects of the technology that Steve Jobs produced throughout his career. And how those technologies from Apple and NeXT often served as an inspiration to many of the early innovators in the Internet and World Wide Web. I found out that we’ve lost Steve Jobs on the evening of October 5th, right in the middle of a lecture on using regular expressions in Python. I was recording the lecture for a later podcast. because you might want to go down the nerd rabbit hole later and that’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with avoiding the nerd rabbit hole but this is a nerdy thing. It’s extremely nerdy. I think it’s awesome. I have a nerdy announcement. A nerdy announcement? Steve Jobs just died. It happened 10 minutes ago. Really and, it’s kind of verified? It’s not some- That is why we are all so sad. The very next week in the same classroom I was giving my lecture on the inside story of the history of the Internet and the World Wide Web, sharing some of my interviews with early pioneers. As I gave the lecture and watched my video interviews thinking about Steve Jobs, I began to realize how important Apple and the NeXT technology was to those early innovators. In some ways, the very existence of those technologies helped propel the Internet and web revolution forward. In my 1999 interview with Robert Cailliau,the co-inventor of the World Wide Web, we are sitting in his office by the next cube that ran the very first web server. As Robert describes how the next step to development an environment allowed them to quickly build prototype versions of a web browser in 1990, you get the sense that their NeXT hardware and software was very much an equal partner in their early visions of the web. Obviously the whole of Physics has been this sort of miniature information society since way back when. Seems there were networks essentially. And so because we have this need for spreading documentation around we built these things like centralized databases. There was sudden doc you know? You could use it but whatever. We had well, we still have large database of Physics Analyticals kept by Stanford. And you could get at it before the web by knowing exactly what computer to log into over the network, blah, blah, blah, blah. But it was all very difficult. And then so when Tim invented the Web, and I had a separate proposal, I dropped it, because Tim’s proposal ran over the Internet, and that was clearly much more efficient. And when the web came, all that necessity of knowing which computer to go to, what to say to that computer and so forth, just disappeared. People put up these pages with the links and you could just follow links and get to places where you wanted to be and find everything. And it was also all in the same format. So that was very important too, that we broke this proprietary commercial system of vertical markets, which don’t let you get at anything except if you stay with this particular company or with that particular company. So that horizontal split, that cut that we made between the browser’s on top and the database is at the bottom, it was I think essential to make it useful for us, but also to make it useful for everybody else. And so that was what it was like in the beginning. And Tim and I did this all on this NeXT machine here in about 1990. So the first server was about 1990. The first, end of 1990. The first server in the United States came up about a year later at Stanford because of that database that I was talking about before. The real problem was that this development system is so much better than anything else that porting what we had here to any other platform. Took an order of magnitude more time. And, for example, every time you clicked here you had another window. Every time you clicked on a diagram you had a diagram in another window. When you clicked on the map, you got the map in postscript, scalable, perfectly printable, and so on and so forth. You try to port that to another system, you go berserk. And there is a big difference between making an editor and something that just puts out a page and you can’t do anything with that. So, our system from 1990 was also the editor. I mean I started, it’s only after NeXT stop making hardware, and I have to go back from a NeXT to a Macintosh, I have to learn HTML. Right, I mean before, we produced all the documentation and stuff but we never saw any of it. We never saw any HTML, we never saw any URLs, right? Because you linked by saying link this to that. Not by typing in the URL. There was a special window. You could call up in which you could type the URL if you needed to, but that wasn’t the usual thing. And this navigation prompt which say http dot, dot, dot. I learned all that. The hard way afterwards that you have to use that because we’ve lost that system, right? Steve Job’s NeXT workstations were essential to the creation of the earliest web software. Their advanced development environment and rich display capabilities led early innovators to think of the Internet, less as a text only, and more as an engaging multimedia experience. In my 2007 interview with Paul Coons, who brought up the first web server in the United States on an IBM mainframe at the Stanford Linear Accelerator in December 1991, we can see that he still has a working color NeXT work station in his office. When Paul was developing software for the IBM mainframe there were around 20 web servers in the entire world. If you wanted a web browser to test your server, having a NeXT workstation was essential. So, when I was at CERN in September 1991, and Tim Berners Lee dragged me into his office to show me and give me a demo of the Web. When he, at first, I wasn’t very interested, but when he demonstrated doing a query to a help system database on a mainframe, I immediately put two and two together. So as well, if you can query a help system on a mainframe, you can query a database on a mainframe. The database itself had about 300,000 entries. And was it heavily used before you put it on the web and then continued- Yeah, it was heavily used. People had signed up for half the computer accounts on the main frame so they could do their queries and from all around the world I think there was some 4,000 some registered. So did you have to write it all from scratch? I mean, did you write it from the protocol or was there software that you reused to make your first web server. Well, I used the CERN server software, which was written in C. And, fortunately, we had a C compiler on the mainframe at that time. It wasn’t very long that we had a mainframe that had a C compiler, but we had one. So all I had to do, was to write some extra C code to get the query that the user had made and turn it into a database query. Now, wasn’t the original web server on a NeXT? Yes, all the web software was originally developed on the NeXT computer at CERN. While the web and web technologies were gaining traction in the academic and research communities who often had access to powerful Unix workstations on their desks, the rest of the world was browsing the Internet using the text oriented Gopher clients and servers. In 1993 the National Center for Super Computing applications at the University of Illinois released NCSA Mosaic. Mosaic was the first graphically rich web browser that ran on Unix, Macintosh, and Windows. In my 1997 interview with Larry Smarr, he points out that the success of the NCSA mosaic browser, occurred in part because of earlier work developing the NCSA image library, to take advantage of the graphics capabilities of early Apple Macintosh computers. What we basically did during that late 80’s period was to make the world safe for images. What NCSA Image did was basically, we said we want to build a world of infrastructure in which it’s as easy to move an image around as it is to move a word. That was our design parameters, and that’s the way we talked about it back then. So that meant we had to scale the network, scale the disk drive, scale the compute power. We had to go to full color when the Mac II first came out, 256 color levels. We got 50 of them, Apple gave us 50 Mac II’s, which was stunning in those days. We were, in fact, were the largest funded group in the, academic group in the country for the Apple Advanced Technology Group. IBM at that time was telling their customers you don’t need color, we’ve already provided it as I said, you have four of them, black, white, cyan and magenta. Why would you need more? So what we did was we took, things that were on $100,000 computer graphics work stations of image processing that medical imaging people used, satellite recognizance people used. And we took all of that and put it in a software in NCSA image on the Mac. And, so you could just move the mouse and do what it would otherwise cost you $100,000 to do. And you would have to be an elite specialist. But again thank you elite people knew how to do, could afford to do, and making it available to the masses. The day after I found out that Steve was no longer with us. I happened to have a morning meeting in New York City. So I went to the Apple store in Manhattan. To get a sense of our collective reaction, to the loss of such a brilliant visionary who’s affected us in so many ways. Hello everybody. This is Chuck. I’m here at the Apple Store in Manhattan. I’ll show you kind of what we’re seeing. We’re seeing press, we’re seeing impromptu memorial for Steve Jobs that’s got apples, it’s got flowers, it’s got all kind of really, really cool stuff. But the crowd seems really quiet. There’s a media that’s interviewing all the people. You can see the media there grabbing people off the street and interviewing them. I’m sure they’re capturing their thoughts, and so here we are sort of one day after advancing of Steve Jobs. Throughout his career at Apple and NeXT, and then again at Apple. Steve Jobs was never interested in the least expensive nor the most profitable technology. He pursued the best and the most advance technology in many of his designs and decisions, he provided a road map for the entire consumer technology market place. It’s no wonder that many of us would wait with breathless anticipation for each and every Apple announcement. They were always an exciting glimpse into the future of technology. Over the past 30 years, the products that came from Jobs companies were a joy to use and perhaps more importantly, they inspired many innovators to keep their focus on the exciting and unexplored future.

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