In memoriam: excerpt from my book, The Wikipedia Revolution, talking about Steve Jobs and his role in creating the read/write Web we know today. RIP.
When Steve Jobs was forced out as the head of Apple Computer in 1987, he stayed in Silicon Valley and put his energies into a new start-up called NeXT. This was while Apple was still shipping computers with nine-inch screens and Microsoft’s most advanced product was an anemic and stiff-looking Windows 2.0. The NeXT machine, on the other hand, launched in October 1988, introduced pioneering features we’re all used to now: a high-resolution “million pixel” display, a read/write optical drive, and a true multitasking operating system. And in classic Steve Jobs style, it was clad in a sexy all-black magnesium cube form factor that made it the envy of computer science departments around the world.
The NeXT megapixel grayscale computer display was its most stunning feature. What it lacked in color it made up for in fineness and texture. It was so large and sharp, folks compared it to reading on paper. This was no coincidence—it used PostScript, a special language from Adobe Systems usually reserved for high-end paper printers.
So when [WWW creator Tim] Berners-Lee was testing out his idea for a World Wide Web to share documents, he used his NeXT cube computer that was geared toward handling high-resolution documents. The first Web browser he ever built was for the NeXT machine, in February 1991. But he had much grander plans than simply creating a “browser” for reading, and in fact called his program a “browser-editor.”
Not only did his program on the NeXT read and display Web pages, it could also alter them and save them. This was a function Berners-Lee had envisioned from the start—a read-write Web of information for sharing.
Given its rich and ambitious origins, it is then quite peculiar that the Web that became popular in the mid-1990s was known only for reading, browsing, and surfing. In the exuberance to push the reading experience, the “write” stuff, which was always meant to be part of the Web, was left behind as a cumbersome feature.
While the first Web browser from Tim Berners-Lee gained notoriety, there was a problem. The sexy features of the NeXT were not cheap. They offered only one model, and few folks could afford a $6,500 NeXT cube. Even NeXT’s follow-on budget version, the NeXT “slab,” was $4,995. It was hardly a computer for the masses.
But oh, what Steve was able to do since then. He returned to Apple, made the NeXT operating system the basis of all Macs, and came to dominate the world of music players, smart phones, and tablet computing.
RIP Steve Jobs, you really did make “computers for the rest of us.”